Trade unionists from across Britain gathered in Liverpool this week for the conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The first two days were dominated by anger against Tory austerity and the unions’ campaign for higher pay.
The news that MPs had been offered a 10 percent pay rise only deepened the anger over pay.
Union leaders promised a series of strikes, called for big marches on 18 October and backed coordinated action.
But there is also a pull to simply get behind Ed Miliband and Labour.
Whenever there was talk of industrial action, delegates greeted it with loud applause.
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, called on people to “march in their tens of thousands” on 18 October and said, “The Ritzy cinema and Care UK workers are all a proof that solidarity works.”
Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said, “We will move towards industrial action in all our sectors.
“On 10 July 400,000 Unison local government members were out. It was the start of a campaign.
“Now 460,000 local government and schools members will be out on 14 October and we’ve also started balloting 350,000 health workers to begin coordinated action with members in local government.”
The conference passed a motion that included supporting coordinated industrial action as part of the pay campaign.
Prentis told delegates to loud applause, “If we don’t reach a deal, we will continue action throughout winter and into spring.”
Unison, Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Midwives are also balloting health workers and could strike for four hours on 13 October. There is now also the possibility of other trade unions such as the PCS coming out on 14 October.
Chris Baugh, PCS union assistant general secretary, said, “The most effective way to win a pay rise is to strike.
“We recognise a common threat and we need a massive response. With the general election looming now is the time not just to make the case for a pay rise, but to back it up with serious coordinated action.”
Further education lecturers in the UCU union are also voting on whether to be part of strikes.
But unfortunately the NUT teachers’ union executive decided by a majority not to join the October strikes.
The speeches at the TUC need to be turned into massive strikes on 13 and 14 October with as many unions as possible involved.
These must be the start of sustained and escalating action.
The conference also passed a motion calling on unions to campaign against fascism, racism and the rise of Ukip. Given the rising danger of the racist right this is very welcome.
Frustration with Labour
Union leaders called on the Labour Party to be “bold” and “radical”.
TUC president Mohammad Taj said, “I want Labour to rekindle the ‘spirit of ’45’”—the Labour government that set up the NHS.
But there is also “realism”.TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, said, “The choice is clear” who to back in the coming general election.
Labour MP Angela Eagle promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and abolish the bedroom tax.
But some were not impressed. Kathy, Unite branch secretary for local government workers in Bromley, south east London, said to applause, “I never want to see Ed Miliband on the news saying public sector workers shouldn’t be on strike.
“I want MPs supporting us on the picket lines.”
Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s address to the TUC provoked outrage.
Mick, a TSSA union delegate, told Socialist Worker, “Mark Carney is arguing for pay restraint—but what about his pay? We know that the banks are not our friends.
“The only people that will stand up for working people are working people.”
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) held a fringe meeting at TUC conference on Tuesday of this week.
Delegates discussed how trade unionists should respond to the far right and fascists’ rise in the European elections.
On Monday a motion was passed calling on unions to campaign against racism, fascism and Ukip.