Anger and bitterness at the scale of the Tory assault flowed through the TUC Congress in Bournemouth this week. But frustration with the effectiveness of Labour’s opposition did too.
TUC leader Frances O’Grady said, “The government seems intent on dividing Britain, Thatcher-style, between those in work and those out of it.”
Union leaders demanded mass joint strikes and civil disobedience across Britain to “wage war on the politics of austerity”.
Congress unanimously backed a motion supporting unions’ coordinating action, including strikes. A large majority of unions backed a motion pushing for a mid-week day of action and to keep the option of a general strike on the table.
Last year the TUC passed a motion to look at the practicalities of a general strike. So far this has looked impractical to union leaders.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that the Tories know “that their divine right to rule is being questioned across society.
“And they know that trade unions are at the heart of any alternative.”
The TUC backed the People’s Assembly and similar local initiatives resisting austerity.
Unison leader Dave Prentis said, “We will campaign, we will organise and move to coordinated action across sectors.
“And when we move to action, we expect the Labour Party, our Labour Party, to be there with us, supporting us.”
But the Labour Party is less sure of that. Labour leader Ed Miliband told Congress on Tuesday that unions are “not the enemy within. They’re the people who make Britain what it is.”
Yet in reality the unions are an obstacle within for Miliband. So he pushed ahead with his attack on union influence on the party.
He repeatedly referred to former Tory leader Disraeli when arguing that getting rid of union affiliations would help recruit 300,000 trade unionists to Labour.
He gave vague promises to ban zero hours contracts—but not to repeal the anti-union laws or Tory cuts.
Delegates cheered militant speeches during the congress.
RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said, “We can either stand in the middle of the road paralysed like a frightened rabbit or get off our knees and fight for what we stand for.”
Tony Kearns of the CWU said, “You either put up with the situation or you do something about it.”
They are right. But the question for the unions, since waiting for Labour seems an increasingly forlorn hope, is when?