Monday, September 10, 2007

TUC Congress: Sharks And Other Sea Life

As promised, here I am in Brighton, blogging from TUC Congress, as I did last year and the year before. It starts this morning, when we will be blessed with an oration from our beloved new Prime Minister.

Yesterday, the various union delegations held meetings to go through the agenda, and then 'networked' in the evening at receptions. Our first grief happened even before these, though. The union had booked all the delegates in to the hotel from Saturday, and the full duration of the stay was paid up in advance. My partner is also an RMT delegate, so we have our entire family with us for Congress, and given that we live in London, there was no need to come down until Sunday morning. But on arrival, we discovered that because we didn't show up on Saturday, the hotel had cancelled our booking and given our room to someone else! Some people will tell you that being involved in the labour movement when you have young kids is fraught with obstacles - and you know what, they're right.

And due to the lack of out-of-formal-conference-hours childcare (which will be debated later in the week), our kids joined us in the delegation meeting. Fortunately, they managed to entertain themselves in a reasonably non-disruptive way - which earned them an afternoon trip to the SeaLife Centre.
The TUC Women's Committee reception in the evening was an opportunity to meet up with some good women trade unionists who I hadn't seen for some time. We were also treated to a speech by Harriet Harman (my son was disappointed to find out that she was not Harriet Jones, the PM from Doctor Who). Harriet's speech made much of the small steps of progress that the Labour government had made, and admitted that "we still have much to do" in a way that suggested that progress is naturally, unchangeably slow rather than a product of a government's unwillingness to legislate genuine steps to improve working-class women's lives for fear of offending the employers. I bent her ear about the need for the legal right to paid time off work for parents of kids with special needs to attend traning courses.

Next door was Not-At-All-Red Ken Livingstone's reception. He remains the master of posing to the left even while acting to the right. So he slagged off Metronet's payment of fat-cat salaries to its bosses, shamelessly overlooking the fat-cat salaries he pays to himself, his advisers and his TfL big cheeses. And he promised to bring Metronet into public ownership, but didn't repeat his denunciations of RMT's strike action last week. And he demanded that Tube cleaners should have the London Living Wage despite having done nothing to actually enforce this.

His transport chief - and therefore, my boss - Peter Hendy was present, so I took the opportunity for some more ear-bending, sounding off to him about London Underground's ticket office closure plans. He says he'll get back to me - then I, dear reader, will get back to you.