The TUC congress saw union leader after union leader get up to pledge coordinated industrial action against austerity.
Such is the rage at the government that the congress meeting in Brighton looked set to vote in favour of considering backing a general strike.
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey vowed to fight the government. He said, “The mask of new-Toryism is slipping and the Conservative dog is returning to its vomit.” He called on workers to “rise like lions and let our roar be heard”.
Outgoing TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said, “The coalition has to stop vilifying public sector workers. The lid will blow off on the way in which the austerity agenda is pressing down on wages.”
The TUC voted to carry out coordinated strike strikes if talks over public sector pay break down. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said the coalition had “declared war on our people” by freezing public sector pay.
Prentis added, “We are never stronger than when we coordinate action... Make no mistake.” Referring to the Paralympics crowd’s reaction to George Osborne, he added, “The time has come to do more than booing—more than talking.”
On that he is right. The question is, can the rank and file build enough pressure to make that happen? The Unison and GMB unions announced on Sunday that they were preparing the logistics of a strike if pay talks with the government fail.
This is as the two unions move closer towards merging. They are currently “living in sin” as GMB general secretary Paul Kenny put it.
However, while there is a commitment to doing something about the Tory attacks, the question of what and when is more divisive. The union leaders’ unanimity breaks down when it comes to the timing of action.
Unison and the GMB say they will take action by next April if negotiations fail. The risk is that this essentially leaves the government to get on with their attacks in the meantime.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, told delegates that a “sense of urgency” was needed. He said, “We need to turn the words in the resolution into reality before it is too late. We all agree what’s wrong—the question is, what are we going to do about it?
“We need mass coordinated strikes of public and private sector workers. We need to march together, strike together, and consign the government’s austerity to the dustbin of history.”
The potential is clearly there. The NASUWT and NUT teaching unions announced action short of a strike on Monday. Other unions, including the UCU, PCS and RMT, have said they would join them if they struck before Christmas.
The TUC reflected the anger—but it will take pressure from below for action to beat the Tories to actually happen.