Saturday, October 18, 2008

SERTUC Regional Council – “Nationalise Liabilities, Profits remain Private”

This morning (Saturday) I attended the Trade Union Congress, Southern and Eastern Regional Council (SERTUC) as a UNISON delegate with my fellow Greater London Regional Council Officer, Gill Brown, who is our Equalities convenor.

The TUC is divided into regions and each region will hold quarterly Council meetings of affiliated union and trade council delegates. SERTUC meets every 3 months in Congress House, London. There were 76 delegates present. I will not pretend that this post is a full report on this meeting but I will mention bits and pieces I thought interesting.

The Council President, Martin Gould, in his introductory presentation referred to this anomaly about the current financial crisis, that while we have nationalised the liabilities or risks, the ability to take any profits from this nationalisation remain in private hands? A fair point I think. Martin made a number of other good points although I didn’t agree with everything (of course!). He brought up the fairly widespread view that the current problems had effectively destroyed the “Private Good, Public Bad” argument. We now have people who beforehand continually attacked the “nanny state” now begging and pleading for state aid. He also pointed out that it had been claimed that a public sector pay claim of over 2.5% would be inflationary. However, it appears that pumping £500 billion into the economy is not??? Martin argued that it was time for a “new approach”. To overcome a recession we need to increase demand by increasing pensions and pay. A wealth tax on energy to help pay for the renationalisation of utilities. To address rising unemployment he referred to Lenin’s “what is to be done”, which is the first time in recent times that I have ever heard that “name” mentioned in the hallowed grounds of the TUC!

We also had a minutes silence for 5 comrades who are no longer with us. Including John Onslow, who was Tower Hamlets GMB steward and member of SERTUC executive. John was a trade union and Labour party stalwart. He was old School labour movement from fingers to toes. He lived only 100 yards from where I work and we use to bump into each other from time to time. He is one of the very, very few activists that I have never heard a bad word against. RIP Comrade.

However, Martin came back to earth by saying that if we can’t get socialism during this crisis then we should at least take a step in the right direction and demand “Social Justice”. The creed of Greed, Parasites and the pursuit of profit at all costs has been shown wanting. The trade union movement needs to provide leadership. There can be no partnership with the multinationals. The door is open for change; all we have to do is push it.

The new regional secretary of the PCS (whose name I did not catch – apologies) reported on future strike action over pay. Interestingly he claimed that there were 52 billionaires in the UK and that 32 paid no tax last year. I think he meant income tax? He also spoke about united strike action in the public sector over pay. I’m afraid that I am not holding my breath.

My former Tower Hamlets JCC colleague (with John Onslow), Alex Kenny, from the NUT, spoke about their strike ballot over pay and united strike action. He criticised the supposedly independent teachers pay review board as being under the control of the government and exercising pay restraint.

The SERTUC regional secretary Megan Dobney reported that the new Mayor of London, Boris had agreed to meet SERTUC representatives next year in January, May and September. That should be fun.

Adrian Weir from UNITE reported on the House of Lords reversal of a section of the Employment bill which means that trade unions cannot expel Nazi’s. I will do a separate post on this important topic. All unions should use any influence they have with MP’s to overturn this measure.

Steve Hart, the regional secretary for UNITE gave a presentation on the finance and banking sector (75,000 members) and how they are coping with the financial crisis. Steve is someone you should listen carefully to and take note. He pointed out that UNITE not only have members facing problems in the financial sector but their members in UK car and van factories now face short time working after years of 24/7 shifts and unlimited overtime. Many building sites are now being shut up and moth balled. One good thing from this present crisis is the collapse of the neo-liberal fantasy. It is now important to have Keynesian measures in place. It is a “patriot duty” to increase wages rates to increase demand to prevent recession. He prased the chancellor for bringing forward big public building projects. Protect home owners from eviction by taking over their properties and renting it back. Take over insolvent private sector builders. Tax the rich. “The moment is here”. He finished by reporting back on the London bus dispute for pay parity across the capital which has run into problems with the Royal Court of Justice Judges (tell me about it).

During questions I did my party trick and reminded Council about the role that workers capital can play in preventing the misuse of our money and savings in the future.

Karen Livingstone gave a good presentation on the East of England development agency.

Finally, Chris Green from the White Ribbon campaign to end male violence against women gave a cracking presentation. 89% of domestic violence is by men against women. A woman is seriously injured by a man in this county every 10 seconds. After every football game that the England football team plays there is an increase in violence against women – won or lose. The 25th November is their action day. It is really positive to see men taking responsibilities for their actions. Their aim is to change attitudes, especially amongst young men. Mind you a speaker did point out in this country there were only 300 refuges for women facing domestic violence while there are over 2,000 sanctuaries for animals. Makes you think...


Charlie Marks said...

These times demand of us the determination to work together. (Hint: less Trot bashing, please John)

With the collapse of the neoliberal fantasy, I am hopeful that the labour movement can return to an old debate about democracy in the economy. (Let's hope our generation can better the Bullock report!)

I note from the US elections that the candidate who John McCain calls "the tool of organised labour" is talking about investing in the US workforce, increasing wages and union membership. Will an Obama win be a bump for the labour movement here? I think so.

On that last point, the Cat's protection league had 11 million in Icelandic banks...

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie

Trot Basher? Moi?

As you are aware Tom P at Labour & Capital has been musing at the lack of any decent “left” analysis about what has gone on and what we ought to do about it. Rerunning the battles of the 1970’s isn’t an option. Maybe linking Myners with Bullock?

I can’t bear to watch or read anything about the US election at the moment. I fear that Obama will so something silly and I will wake up and find out it really was all a dream. Fingers crossed that the most powerful democracy in the world will acknowledge that they have amongst the most oppressive Labour laws in the “free” world.

I heard the Cats protection boss being interviewed on “Today” and I definitely got the impression that he was being a bit shifty about why they had so much money in reserves. I think they get so much dosh that they do not know what to do with it. Amazing.

Charlie Marks said...

"Rerunning the battles of the 1970’s isn’t an option."

Because the social and economic conditions are not the same, obviously.

That said, the labour movement needs to have a vision of a democratic economy (support for cooperative and mutual forms of ownership and strengthening of workers' rights) as well as an enhanced democratic polity (decentralisation of power, strengthening of local govt, etc).

And we can't have a situation like that of the late 70s when the Labour party's leadership said they'd not spend their way out of a recession. Hopefully, the return to Keynesian mechanisms announced by the Chancellor means that Darling and Brown have learned lessons. The tory poll lead is already in decline...

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
Apologies for not responding sooner – things been a bit busy lately.
I actually think for once you are not being radical enough! Yes, but.. no... but.

These are yesterday arguments - Where, who has the 2008 Left analysis? Where are the modern day Keynes or Bevins?

Hello, there anyone out there?