Socialist Worker

Anger at Tory austerity at GMB conference

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans in Nottingham
Issue No. 2407

THE GMB union’s national congress in Nottingham was dominated by anger against Tory austerity and the bosses’ attacks – and what an incoming Labour government should do to stop it.

Tensions in the union’s strategy were visible.

‘‘We want a manifesto that represents the Spirit of ‘45’’, said Mary Turner, GMB president. Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, in his address had a message for Labour, ‘‘If you want our help and our cash, then we demand your loyalty.’’ 

In a session on welfare, Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, would only commit to stop abuses of zero hour contracts, not get rid of them. There were loud cheers when the chair suggested banning them all together.

Many members were not convinced that Labour leader Ed Miliband would deliver. A motion called for the union to cut all of its funding, except the affiliation fee if Labour did not accept a radical programme. 

Paul Kenny argued ‘‘New Labour’s dead, we’ve changed the landscape of the Labour Party. For the first time in my lifetime, it’s possible for us to recapture the Labour Party for working class people.”

The motion was voted down, but a minority voted for it.

One delegate told Socialist Worker, “Why should we carry on giving money to the Labour Party for not delivering the policies our members need?’’

Rob Daniels told conference, ‘‘Ed and his colleagues cannot simply be different doctors dispensing the same medicine." The debate on fighting austerity was largely confined within these terms.

The pressure was to plough resources into ensuring the Tories don’t get re-elected in 2015 - one motion called on all unions to campaign for Labour.

GMB is balloting its members in local government and schools for strike action against the 1 percent pay freeze. It is likely to be discussed in the public services sector conference on Tuesday of this week.

Jim, a GMB member in Milton Keynes council spoke to Socialist Worker about the ballot. He said, ‘‘Workers were more frightened of losing jobs, but the days of job security are long gone.

‘‘We’ve moved passed fear – we’ve had enough and will strike’’.


Ukip and immigration 

The cloud of the Euro election results hung over conference. Ukip’s success was discussed in the fringe on Labour’s manifesto. Speakers included right-wing ‘Blue Labour’ MP Jon Cruddas and Tim Roache, president of think tank CLASS. 

Roache said ‘‘we need to regain control of our borders’’ to tackle Ukip, and claimed immigration was a top issue for GMB stewards. Yet members in the fringe meeting said Labour’s priorities were ‘‘building houses’’, ‘‘stopping the outsourcing of public services’’ and ‘‘taxing the rich till the pips squeak’’.

Congress passed four motions the same afternoon against the scapegoating of migrants.

London GMB member George Woods said, ‘‘Mainstream politicians say all they want is an honest debate about immigration, but they never shut up about it. Judging by the comments of some Labour MPs, not everyone got the message we put out on the March 22 demo.’’

One motion resolved to ‘‘lobby the Labour Party not to be drawn in to anti-migrant rhetoric’’ and ‘‘review straight away’’ support for any MP that takes a stance in contradiction to GMB’s.

‘‘There must be no pandering to anti-migrant rhetoric, which gives confidence to Ukip’’, said delegate Jim Shield.


Scottish independence

Conference voted to support the No campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. Mary Turner, GMB president said: ‘‘GMB is the only major union that has taken a definite position – we’re better together.’’

Glasgow MP Margaret Curran urged delegate to campaign for a No vote and warned that it wasn’t a done deal that Scotland would remain part of Britain.

But Zaff, a GMB member in Scotland, wasn’t entirely convinced. He spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.

‘‘Independence would give people the government they elected – we never voted for the Tories. It could be a driver for social change.

‘‘I’m still undecided, I think it all depends on what sort of Scotland we’d get after independence’’

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Article information

Tue 10 Jun 2014, 20:37 BST
Issue No. 2407
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