Monday, September 13, 2010

TIGMOO 2010: “This Great Movement Of Ours”

I’m trying to follow the TUC conference which is taking place this week in Manchester as best as you can from London. I thought the call beforehand by Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU for radical reform of the TUC and the wider movement was a breath of fresh air.

Yes, we should have only one union per sector. Easier said than done of course - what sector are private companies in that also run public services? But it is a complete nonsense to have two, three, four or even more recognised trade unions in the same organisation. Good employers are confused and frustrated about who to negotiate with and bad employers openly boast about being able to “divide and conquer”.

I’m not sure about having a directly "elected" TUC General Secretary by all members since essentially Congress is a coalition of independent trade unions who also hold all the TUC purse skins. Sally rather accurately compared the current process of electing a TUC leader with that of the “Pope”. If we did go down the road of direct elections I think you would find if it came to the push, that like the Pope, the TUC Secretary would not have any “divisions” or real power.

Yes, definitely to Sally’s ideas about setting targets and priorities over achieving the holy grail of increasing density and membership. Density and internal organisation (the number of trained local stewards/safety reps backed by effective national union resources) is absolutely the most important issue that should be debated at Congress. Everything else is actually secondly. Without density and organisation we can achieve nothing and resist nothing.

Personally (since I have it on unreliable evidence that I love the sound of my own voice) I wouldn’t get rid totally of the conference “motion based format” but I think we need to change the emphasis to building and organising.

This morning while listening to my Walkman while running (aka jogging very slowly) around my beloved Wanstead Flats I heard TUC Secretary, Brendan Barber, being interviewed on “Today” by a rather over dramatic, John Humphrys, who was on Daily Mail Lite mode trying to provoke Brendan to say something stupid. He didn’t fail into this trap and came over I think very well – as a modern, sensible, thoughtful and constructive trade union leader. He made it very, very clear that TIGMOO will not be bankrupting itself in a series of glorious defeats but can and will, mobilise effective and telling industrial action and political opposition to the cuts.

Some trade unionists (and the Daily Mail) will be disappointed that he did not bang the Radio 4 podium with his shoe and threaten to bury the Condems. But until we build our density and organisation we cannot threaten what we cannot deliver. What the wider Labour Movement and its allies can deliver is widespread, co-ordained and SMART opposition which will include targeted industrial action.

We are ironically facing an opportunity and not only a threat. UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, speaks about the Raison d'être of Unions and that they are there for the bad times not just the good. Surely, now we are all facing this massive threat of cuts that there cannot be anyone in work who cannot say, hand on heart, they do not need to join a trade union? We recruit and organise or die.

(picture is of the first General Secreatry of the TUC - Mr C W Bowerman in a rather modern pose!)

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