Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TUC Monday afternoon - Trade Union freedom

Here at Congress, debates have to squeeze their way in between speeches from visiting worthies and TUC back-slapping sessions. But on Monday afternoon, a very important debate did squeeze its way in - on trade union rights and freedom.

Proposing, Bob Crow pointed out that Gordon Brown's speech had made not one promise to extend trade union rights. He plugged the forthcoming RMT strike on One rail in defence of a sacked guard, and pointed out that the employer will be using managers from different sections and companies to help them break the strike through scabbing. If bosses have the right to take solidarity action, then so should workers. Bob also encouraged delegates to come to the rally against the anti-union laws on 18th October.

Seconding, Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association quoted Gordon Brown's speech from earlier in the day - "no injustice can last forever". Prison officers are denied trade union rights, but are still determined to fight privatisation and underfunding of the prison service. Interestingly, Brian blamed violent reoffending on the lack of government funding and support for rehabilitation programmes in prisons.

Steve Kemp of the National Union of Mineworkers argued that because of the anti-union laws, "Unions have been taken over by lawyers and judges". He reminded Congress of the Gate Gourmet strike two years ago - when Heathrow baggage handlers took solidarity action, the anti-union laws "came to the rescue of the employer". While the media decries 'wildcat strikes', Steve decried 'wildcat employers' and 'wildcat judges'.

A CWU speaker described how the anti-union laws were affecting their current dispute. The employer can use scab labour, but it is illegal for the union to picket the depot that labour comes from to dissuade the scabs, because that would count as 'secondary picketing'.

This subject comes back to Congress every year. Two reasons. One, its continuing importance. Two, the TUC does so little about it from one Congress year to the next. The POA had some text in the composite that asserted that the TUC must campaign for its policies even when the government opposes them (especially when the government opposes them, you might think). It shouldn't need to be said, but it strikes at the core of where the TUC is going wrong. Whether it is on the Trade Union Freedom Bill, the minimum wage, agency workers, Trident replacement or a host of other policies, the TUC must stop acting like a beaten dog that keeps crawling back to its abusive owner.

Oh, and the composite on trade union rights and freedom was passed unanimously. Most things do. Mostly, the General Council 'supports'. Sometimes it 'supports with reservations'. Occasionally, it 'opposes'. I wonder whether there should be a new category: 'supports with no intention of implementing'.

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