Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TUC Congress: Wednesday morning

Last night’s bad news was that Bob Crow was voted off the TUC General Council. He was on last year, off the year before, on the year before that, so they are obviously going to have to fit a revolving door with his name above it. Despite my several criticisms of Brother Crow, it is obvious that he was voted off by right-wing union leaders’ votes because he doesn’t accept the TUC bureaucracy’s kissing of newLabour’s arse, and because he quite likes strikes. So yes, it is bad news, not least so because his exit may strengthen those isolationist voices with the RMT who would have us pull out of the TUC altogether.

Sadly, in an attempt to come out fighting this morning, Bob – seconding a Prison Officers’ Association resolution about prison officers’ union rights – made a comment about electing banjo players above strikers which misfired as an insult at the Musicians’ Union which had won the seat he used to occupy. Next time, Bob, stick to the subject of the resolution you are speaking on.

The next resolution was about the Shrewsbury pickets, 24 building workers convicted in 1973 under the 1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, who have still not had justice. Congress unanimously demanded a Parliamentary enquiry into their conviction, imprisonment and treatment behind bars.

Next up was an NUT resolution entitled ‘organising and independent trade unionism’. Although it didn’t explicitly say so, I think this is about NUT’s isolation following its correct decision not to sign up to a ‘partnership’ agreement that other education unions signed up to thus neutering themselves and helping the employers to attack their members. It was odd, then, that the GMB managed to second the resolution by doing a speech in favour of ‘partnership’. Honestly, I think their speaker would have claimed that a pork chop was a pig and butcher partnership (to paraphrase someone else’s joke).

The debate on migrant workers saw a TUC video and some determined speeches from the rostrum, the most notable of which was NUT delegate Kevin Courtney’s, as he pointed out that migrant workers are exploited not just by gangmasters and cowboy outfits, but by large corporate agencies and by governments.

On to minimum wage enforcement. After much welcoming of Gordon Brown’s pledge on Monday to improve enforcement, a PCS speaker reminded us that Brown made much the same promise last year, and told us what had happened to it. A promise to increase enforcement resources by 50% has translated in reality to the 80 compliance officers in post last December soon to be increased by a measly 8. HM Revenue and Customs has the resources to bring only six prosecutions per year, leaving all other cases for individual workers to challenge alone through the Tribunals. The poverty-paying employers must be well and truly not shaking in their shoes.

The snottily-named First Division Association had a wee moan at the PCS for daring to criticise HMRC management for failing to deliver enforcement. Apparently the senior managers are union members, and apparently that makes them immune from criticism. All I can say is that there are bosses where I work who hold trade union membership cards, but I won’t hold my tongue on their mistreatment of workers just on account of that.

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