Socialist Worker

Fighting unions are needed to beat May

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans at the TUC in Manchester
Issue No. 2621

Frances OGrady

Frances O'Grady (Pic: Pic: johninnit/WikiCommons)


The Trades Union Congress met in Manchester this week and one of the main discussions was over Brexit. But there were also many other debates.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady challenged Theresa May to call a general election after accusing the Tories of “bankrupting” public services and doing “absolutely nothing” to help workers.

O’Grady said nothing had been done to stop Universal Credit cuts, tackle zero hours contracts, build enough council homes or improve wages.

But the Tories won’t disappear without a massive struggle.

The TUC, and the individual union leaders, have to do far more to encourage and support resistance.

Instead far too often they have told workers to accept rotten deals.

O’Grady also accused Boris Johnson of “dog whistle racism” over his recent appalling comments about burqas.

She won loud applause from delegates when she said, “A woman who wears a niqab or a burqa is still our sister.

“We defend the right of Muslim women, and all women, to wear whatever they want.

“Wherever the far right marches or tries to attack mosques and synagogues, the trade union movement will be there.

“Defending communities. Standing firm. Let’s send the message—they will not pass.”

nIndividuals involved in the collapse of construction giant Carillion should face an immediate criminal investigation, urged Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. She said the Insolvency Service was only just starting to investigate if laws were broken, eight months after the company went out of business.

“This is simply too little too late,” said Cartmail. “There must be an immediate criminal investigation into Carillion, and we the trade union movement must lead that call. If no laws were broken, then we need, better, stronger laws.

“While thousands of workers have been thrown on the scrap heap, those responsible for driving the company into the ditch have dusted themselves off and started again as if nothing had happened.”


Women’s rights must be a priority issue

Fighting attacks on women’s rights was a theme of the TUC conference.

Delegates called for a fight against sexual harassment and abuse across workplaces, and decriminalisation of abortion.

Vicky Knight of the TUC women’s committee said, “The rise of the #MeToo movement shows us sexual harassment is alive and well. It goes from the Presidents’ Club to the President of the United States.

“This must be a priority union issue and one of epic proportions.”

Maureen Beattie, president of the Equity actors’ union, moved a motion on fighting sexual harassment in the creative industries. “No one should be made to feel unsafe in their workplace,” she said.

She pledged, “When the media spotlight moves, Equity will still be there.”

The motion called for unions to “redouble our effort to bring changes to the law”. Silence

These would include investigating “Non?Disclosure Agreements”, which bosses have used to silence victims of sexual abuse, and for the Equality Act 2010 to extend to self-employed workers.

Delegates also talked about the importance of taking on sexism in workplaces and unions.

Mary Herbison from the RMT transport union said, “I work in a male dominated industry and had to endure the ‘banter’. I was strong enough to answer back, but many are not.

“Education and training of union reps is very important so they can support members who are brave enough to speak over this abuse.”

Congress passed a motion to “support the We Trust Women Campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK”.

Women in Northern Ireland—part of the British state—do not have rights under the Abortion Act 1967.

Claire Mullaly, a Prospect union delegate from Belfast, slammed the Tory government for refusing to do anything on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. “We call for free, safe legal abortions to be provided,” she said. “Time to act!”


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