Socialist Worker

TUC conference: Union leaders reflect growing pay anger

Simon Basketter reports from Brighton on a changed mood among union leaders and growing calls for action at this years’ TUC conference

Issue No. 2118

The growing frustration and anger against Gordon Brown’s determination to make workers pay for the economic crisis broke through at the TUC conference this week.

Union delegates in Brighton unanimously voted for a fight over pay.

The backing for coordinated action, a national demonstration and joint days of action came as the PCS civil service workers’ union announced a ballot of its 270,000 members for a “rolling programme of industrial action”.

Some 250,000 teachers in the NUT union will also ballot for strike action.

More than 600,000 local government workers in the Unison union and 30,000 college lecturers belonging to the UCU union could all join coordinated action in November.

Meanwhile thousands of local government workers in Scotland are set to strike for a second time later this month.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the public sector was “crippled by pay awards that do not begin to reflect the true cost of living”.

Union leader after union leader queued up to condemn the government over pay.

Keith Sonnet, Unison deputy general secretary, said, “We expect our Labour government to get its act together, stop squabbling over the leadership and instead seriously address the problems of working people – people who feel let down.”

He added that public sector workers “deserve better than the shabby treatment they are getting from a government that appears to listen more to the voices of their fair weather friends in business and the CBI than it does to those of its core supporters.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturers’ UCU union, pointed out that money could be found to bail out banks but not for public sector pay.


Acting general secretary of the teachers’ NUT union Christine Blower said the union would be very happy to coordinate strike action with other unions.

Joyce Still of the Unite union argued that the government’s action to limit pay increases to around 2 percent was “a betrayal of the faith and trust in the Labour government”.

But it was not just in sorrow, but in anger, that some spoke of the Labour government’s determination to keep wages down.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “The government has totally gone to pot.

“We have done a lot of talking about coordinating our industrial action and campaigning over the government’s draconian public sector pay policy. Now is the time to put those words into action.”

He called for “tens of thousands” of people to “turn out on the streets to show their anger”.

“If the Tories win the election and industrial strife breaks out, the fault lies with Gordon Brown and the government,” he said.

The agreed motion endorsed a plan for days of action including a major national demonstration against the government’s pay policy.

There is no reason why the first TUC day of action could not take place on the same day as a joint strike between the teachers and civil service workers in mid November.

That could provide an opportunity for groups of workers to hold protests, rallies and strikes on the same day under the banner of the TUC day of action.

It would be a major step forward for the campaign for decent pay. But it will not happen automatically.

For the TUC motion to be made real, the pressure across the unions has to start now to name the day and to seize the initiative over pay.

Brian Caton calls for strikes

The POA prison officers’ union put an amendment to the motion on pay adding the word “strike” to the call for days of action and a national demonstration.

In a powerful speech Brian Caton, general secretary of the POA, accused the government of “lying and lying again”.

He said, “We don’t think this Labour government listens. We don’t think the Labour government is for turning.

“Let us hurt them – that’s the only way we will get fair pay.”

The amendment appeared to have been narrowly passed after the speech, with the Unite and GMB unions supporting at the last minute, but on a card vote the motion was defeated after Unite then abstained.

In the debate on the anti-trade union laws, the main motion calling for a stepping up of the TUC campaign to repeal the laws was passed.

An amendment from the POA calling for a general strike against the anti-union laws was backed only by the RMT transport workers’ union and was defeated.

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