PLEAS AT last week’s TUC conference to rally behind Labour could not hide the gulf between the unions and the government.
The composited motion on Iraq, for example, slammed the continuing occupation.
Speaking for the motion Keith Sonnett, deputy general secretary of Unison, said, “It’s George bloody Bush and Tony Blair who are to blame. There will never be peace in Iraq unless US and British troops leave.
“We must keep the pressure up at home for withdrawal. It is important to build the anti-war movement, including the demonstration on 17 October.” He and other speakers made the same point at a successful Stop the War Coalition meeting.
When it came to domestic issues there was also stinging criticism of New Labour, despite TUC leaders talking up concessions they had won at Labour’s policy forum in Warwick in July.
From pensions to rail renationalisation and civil service job losses, there was little sign of a “new partnership” with the government.
There was unanimous support for the PCS union’s campaign against job losses, and there was an appetite for action over the pensions crisis. But no dates for protests or strikes were set or even mooted.
Most union leaders want to avoid confrontation with the government until after the general election.
Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union emphasised taking action in support of the civil service workers. There were few voices highlighting the part of the motion on union rights that called for a national rally and protest “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
The growing disillusionment with the idea that the European Union somehow guarantees workers’ rights meant that pro-European TUC leaders felt unable to argue for backing the proposed EU constitution.
But a motion moved by the RMT union criticising the EU from the left was defeated as unions such as the GMB argued, in effect, to avoid taking a position.
Debate did come alive in fringe meetings. A rally on fighting racism reflected the serious campaigning work many union activists have been involved in.
There was a whiff of how unions in some areas are trying to connect with the wider radicalisation, especially among young people.
There was more than lip service paid to issues such as organising migrant workers and building unions in new workplaces and industries.
Discussions away from the conference floor focused on how a serious organising campaign will mean abandoning the notion of partnership with the government.