This year’s T&G biennial delegate union conference was the last in our union’s 85 year history. The union is about to merge with Amicus, to create Unite, the largest union in the country.
On the face of it the conference was quite a left leaning affair, electing the first ever woman to chair the conference and passing resolutions in support of those in struggle in Columbia and Palestine.
A motion calling for the boycotting of Israeli goods was passed overwhelmingly.
The Stop the War Coalition was presented with an award from the union for its campaigning efforts in opposing the war in Iraq. T&G general secretary Tony Woodley spoke at the Stop the War fringe meeting.
Many delegates referred in their contributions to the democratic, member-led traditions of the T&G, and its proud tradition of being a fighting union.
They will certainly need to fight hard to maintain that tradition if Amicus leader Derek Simpson’s address to the conference was anything to go by.
Simpson’s dismissal of militant action, and his scorn for public demonstrations of support for workers fighting back was allied with his support for New Labour.However he was canny enough in his speech to acknowledge the many disappointments that Tony Blair had dished out to his supporters.
When it came to the questions of industrial action and support for Labour the real ongoing problems emerged.
A delegate from a production plant in Wales highlighted how the anti-union laws had limited effective action against the employer and called for our union to support workers taking unofficial action, effectively calling on the union to break the anti-union laws.
Speaker after speaker lined up to oppose the call, with Tony Woodley sympathetically but firmly rejecting any challenge to the law. The vote went against the motion, but with a substantial minority voting for it.
On the union’s relationship with New Labour, the leadership showed their determination to prevent any attempt to undermine the link with Labour, issuing an “explanatory executive statement” in an attempt to pre-empt real debate.
T&G deputy general secretary Jack Dromey introduced the statement, six contributions were allowed from the floor, mostly critical, then Dromey wrapped it up, re-affirming that Labour was “the only game in town”.
Once again the executive carried the day, but once again a substantial minority voted against them.
Throughout the conference there were repeated references critical of the government, and at best, a lukewarm welcome from the conference floor to Gordon Brown’s succession to Tony Blair.
At every mention of workers in struggle there was enthusiastic applause.
Woodley and Simpson may have steered their respective conferences into a position of support for Labour. But it remains to be seen whether they can keep the lid on the anger and frustration of their respective memberships who daily face bullying bosses, aided and abetted by a compliant Labour government.
As a final act of contrition before the merger, the union finally acknowledged the injustice done to the Liverpool dockers under the Bill Morris regime.
It was conceded that at the 1997 conference, the vote to support the dockers was overwhelmingly carried, although the chair ruled that the motion had fallen.
The dockers fight eventually went down to defeat, in spite of massive support for their struggle at home and internationally.