The TUC conference next week will see major discussions about how workers can best respond to the looming economic crisis.
The scale of the crisis has led to a real and serious drop in workers’ living standards.
The rising cost of essentials, especially food and fuel, means that more and more people are finding it impossible to make ends meet.
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling insist that workers must pay for the crisis. Brown’s public sector pay curbs, at a time when RPI inflation is running at 5 percent, mean that the wages of thousands of workers are worth less in real terms.
Private sector bosses are also trying to force their workers to swallow below-inflation pay deals.
But workers have already begun to fight back. Thousands of teachers, lecturers and civil service workers took coordinated strike action in April over pay.
There is now a live debate within the working class over where the fight goes next and how to strengthen the trade union movement – which is reflected in the motions up for debate at next week’s TUC conference in Brighton.
A number of unions are pushing for joint strike action against Gordon Brown’s pay curbs. The NUT, Unison, UCU and PCS unions have submitted a motion to the TUC conference calling for coordinated action.
Sue Bond, a vice-president of the PCS civil service workers’ union, said, “Our motion calls for a demonstration and coordinated action right across the public sector, which a number of other unions are also calling for.
“This united action will be the best way to challenge an increasingly vulnerable government, which is attacking six million public sector workers.”
Kevin Courtney, a member of the NUT union executive, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “We’re really pleased that the NUT is backing the motion for coordinated action at the TUC and hope that it will have the overwhelming support of TUC conference,” he said.
“When the government is taking a stance that affects the entire public sector it’s clear that we need to respond together.”
Other motions aim to increase trade union freedom. The Prison Officers Association (POA) is moving a motion calling for a general strike against the Tory anti-trade union laws, which weaken the unions. POA union members walked-out illegally and unofficially over pay in August last year.
Justice minister Jack Straw has used the high court to impose an injunction on the POA’s right to strike.
Brian Caton, the general secretary of the POA, told Socialist Worker, “We don’t class ourselves as headstrong militants. We are public servants in prisons and hospitals who are dealing with significantly damaged people, who know that we need good and strong trade unions.
“The biggest imbalance we face industrially are the trade union laws.
“It worries the POA and likeminded trade unions that we are betraying our forebears.
“They fought for freedom for trade unions, so working men and women in this country could demonstrate their opinions by withholding and withdrawing their labour, which is a fundamental human right.
“There is a feeling that the trade unions are irrelevant and powerless. But this is not the case with the POA. We have grown since our unofficial walkout over pay one year ago.
“We have got more members now than we’ve ever had. The general public also learned the most about the POA when we had our illegal strike.
“Our motion is aiming to change the way the unions campaign against this. We have done the job as we should have done, and it’s all been to no avail.
“These laws restrict us, but there is an opportunity here if we are prepared to grasp it. We need to choose freedom over oppression by breaking bad laws. We call on the TUC to call on workers to do that.
“We can also see the blue sails of a Tory government on the horizon, and they will try to destroy the trade union and labour movement. We have to be ready to take on that fight.
“Gordon Brown said there will be no going back to the 1970s on trade union laws, but my members are not prepared to sit in the 1780s.”
Many of the demands to be put forward at the TUC conference are also backed by the People Before Profit Charter.
The charter was launched recently by trade unionists and campaigners in response to the increasing attacks on workers’ living standards.
Hundreds of people have already signed up to the charter, with writer George Monbiot and former Labour MP Alice Mahon being the latest high profile people to support it.
Brian Caton has also signed up to the charter.
He said, “The government has shamefully locked up mentally ill people, while privatising prisons. It is putting profit before people.”