Sunday, September 16, 2012

TUC 2012: the long march towards the workers idyll?

A week ago the 2012 Trade Union Congress opened in Brighton. I was there as a UNISON delegate although I missed the final day (Wednesday). Here are some random and personal thoughts on this year's Congress.

I suppose the yardstick for deciding if it was successful or not is whether the movement is in better shape after Congress now than before?

Did "ding dong Thatcher gone", heckling Ed Balls and calls for a national strike wreck our image and credibility? or did the election of Frances O'Grady, the consensual chairing of El Presidente Kenny and the lack of blood on the carpet mean that a workers idyll is just around the corner?

Neither is true. While I have my doubts that it is indeed possible or desirable to call a national strike, the threat of it drew more media attention to Congress than even Liz Cameron's savaging of Ed Balls.

The media are even more obsessed with strikes than the most enthusiastic of ultra left newspaper sellers. The ding dong row was of course a complete and utter ring wing media invention that had nothing to do with the TUC itself.

I do think that Frances O'Grady as General Secretary is a huge advance for the movement. Apart from her many personal qualities and with all due respect to all the good work carried out by Brendan Barber and his predecessors, we finally have a GS that looks and speaks like one of our members and not just one of our activists.

It also seemed to me that the speeches and fringes at Congress this year were more hard headed and realistic than in previous years. There was less grandstanding and pontificating. We still talked to the converted too much and there was some completely off the wall wishful thinking but the starkness and enormity of the threat that faces us concentrated many minds.
We are against the wall. We have less than 6 million members out of a total workforce of over 30 million. While austerity, redundancies, pay freezes and attacks on employment legislations mean we either get our act together and organise effectively or we turn into just another protest movement. This makes me think that Congress was a "success" in these terms although it is only the start of a long, long road. During which we need to consider what works and what doesn't?
Is the traditional Anglo-American trade union "model" (aka the bosses are all bastards)"fit for purpose"? Do we continue to not want to dirty our hands by providing welfare or financial services pensions to the general public like they do in countries with much greater union density (and income equality)?  

Hat-tip caption Hope Not Hate

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