Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to fight Tory austerity was greeted with rapturous applause by TUC conference delegates in Brighton today, Tuesday.
Corbyn proudly declared to the conference, “I am and always will be an active trade unionist. Unions are not just about the workplace – union are about the right of the working class to have a voice in society.”
Unison union delegate Jane Carolan summed up the mood. “It was a breath of fresh air,” she told Socialist Worker. “Jeremy said all the sort of things we haven’t heard from a Labour leader in a very long time.”
The atmosphere was tense as people waited for Corbyn to arrive. The historic win has enthused rank and file members and wrong-footed many union leaders.
More than 100 local supporters from Brighton were ready to greet him outside the conference centre. But the crowd quickly moved to line the road outside the back entrance when they got wind the media was waiting for him there.
They chanted “Jez we did!” and “2020 – Jez we can!” to the bewilderment of right wing journalists.
Corbyn’s speech reinforced delegates’ sense that politics is changing. Rob Goodfellow, UCU lecturers’ union president-elect, told Socialist Worker, “It’s been an amazing turnaround in the last few days.
“That speech was so refreshing, but now he needs to keep the momentum going by continuing to reach out to people.”
Corbyn’s support for workers’ struggles is an important part of his popularity. He said, “I want to welcome those strikers from the PCS union at the National Gallery – well done to your campaign.”
One National Gallery striker, who was on a solidarity delegation, told Socialist Worker, “It was brilliant to get a shoutout from the Labour leader.
“He’s someone who’s actually fighting for people and this will give everyone who’s fighting back, not just us, a real boost.”
To rapturous applause Corbyn took apart the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. He pledged, “We’re going to fight this all the way and at every opportunity –and when we’re elected in 2020 we’re going to repeal it.”
The numerous right wing attacks on Labour’s shadow cabinet didn’t convince delegates.
Jane said, “They’re always going to find something to pick on. He’s got some really strong people in the shadow cabinet who will put forward good policies – and that’s what it’s about”.
Many are joining the Labour Party – since Saturday the party has 30,000 new members. Ucatt union delegate Tracey Whittle told Socialist Worker, “I didn’t sign up to vote for Corbyn, but now I would consider joining the Labour Party.”
But others think trade unions a key to keeping up the momentum. RMT union delegate Chris Davidson told Socialist Worker, “The TUC needs to properly get behind Jeremy and make sure the Tories know what they’re dealing with.”
Corbyn rushed off to vote on the Tories’ welfare reform bill and said Labour would put forward an amendment against the benefit cap.
He told conference, “Above all, we’re going to win in 2020.”
One National Gallery striker said, “Everyone thinks there’s hope for the future – it’s just a shame the election isn’t tomorrow.
“We’ve got to fight now against austerity and the Trade Union Bill in any way we can. And if it gets through we’ve got to have civil disobedience against it.”