The GMB union congress meeting in Brighton was clear in its opposition to the austerity measures of the government.
The pace and nature of the resistance to those measures was less clear.
GMB president Mary Turner warned over 500 congress delegates that the government was intent on taking workers “back to Victorian England, where there were no public services”.
She added, “We don't want to rely on charity to provide education or to heal the sick. David Cameron is a Bullingdon Club Flashman who’s tricked his way to the top.
“We don't need Cameron to tell us about the Big Society. We are the Big Society—it’s the working class.”
Turner attacked the government’s assault on the NHS, saying, “This isn’t a reform of the NHS, congress—it’s the destruction of the NHS.”
She spoke of the need to build on the huge TUC protest on 26 March and called on the Labour Party to “reconnect” with working-class voters. “We want to work with a Labour Party that isn't afraid to stand up against the media barons,” she said.
Other speakers echoed her sentiments. Tom Watson MP received a warm reception when he made a speech attacking News International over the recent phone hacking scandal.
There was a both optimism and anger over the prospects for the Labour Party. Many delegates repeated that they had been right to be critical of New Labour’s pro-business agenda.
Delegate George Murray argued, “The Labour policy review has to be meaningful. There can be no more sham consultations.”
A majority of delegates want the party to strengthen its links with the unions.
But there was anger too. Delegates passed a motion arguing for further pursuing the Trade Union Freedom Bill. And condemned the fact that many GMB sponsored MPS hadn’t bothered to vote in favour of the motion.
Dick Pole from London said, “All across our union there is agreement, but not among GMB-sponsored MPS. If they can’t support the most elementary trade union rights, they shouldn’t get our support.”
John Hendy QC addressed the conference. He pointed out that the existing changes from the government to employment law would mean, “Three million more workers are excluded from employment protection”.
He pointed out that 50,900 people make employment tribunal claims, but only 10,900 get a hearing and 5,200 are successful. Only 2,900 get any financial award. And last year only six people had a reinstatement order issued in their case.
He warned that the government could take away even more workers’ rights: “Vince Cable threatened you this morning with further repressive legislation.”
Delegates passed motions on trade union recognition and the right to strike. John Hall from the Northern region argued that instead of lengthening the time before workers have employment rights, 'workers should have employment rights from day one.'
Anger against the Tories ran through the conference.
Tim Sheilds from Yorkshire said, “The enemy is back in power. They want to finish what Thatcher started. They talk about red tape but they mean cutting health and safety and smashing collective agreements.”
Congress also passed motions against the ravages of private equity and hedge funds, and in defence of manufacturing industry.