Socialist Worker

TUC union conference—we need a fightback

by ​​​​​​​Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2772

NHS staff and supporters gather for a lively protest in Sajid Javids Bromsgrove constituency

NHS staff and supporters gather for a lively protest in Sajid Javid's Bromsgrove constituency (Pic: Bob Moloney)


The TUC union federation congress this week heard plenty of denunciations of the government, but very little sign of a serious fightback.

In her opening address on Sunday to the online conference, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Covid must be a ­catalyst for real change.”

She called for Universal Credit cuts to be cancelled and for better pay and ­conditions for workers.

But her claim that during the pandemic “unions have shown the value we bring” is not based on reality.

Instead, many union ­leaders spent their time talking about a supposed “national interest” and ­prioritising a return to work.

The new Unite general secretary Sharon Graham moved a motion on combating fire and rehire. This is when bosses sack and re‑employ workers on worse contracts.

Where next after Sharon Graham’s victory in Unite?
Where next after Sharon Graham’s victory in Unite?
  Read More

Graham described fire and rehire as, “One of the scandals of our age.”

She said she’d been elected “on an industrial mandate to refocus my union on jobs, pay and conditions”.

She added, “Our ­priority must be to co-ordinate a fightback at the workplace.

“No politician is coming to save us,” and there should be “no more political tail wagging the industrial dog”.

The promise to see more militant unions focused on struggle over parliamentary manoeuvres is welcome.

But it takes real battles to defeat fire and rehire, such as the forthcoming strikes at Weetabix—and no more compromises dressed up as victories.

Graham is wrong to talk about good and bad bosses—all bosses are involved in a competition to survive and grow. They all put workers’ interests behind profit.

Discussion of the climate crisis saw a retreat from the positive motion passed two years ago that called for cooperation with school ­climate strikers.

This year there was no call to join the protests in November at Cop26 and even worse the motion passed backed nuclear power and praised the ­virtues of gas production.

Kevin Buchanan from the GMB union called for a “clear commitment from the politicians to save the nuclear industry”.

UCU union president Vicky Blake rightly argued nuclear power can never be safe.

The motion did call for a “just transition”. But it was saturated with phrases implying climate action is a threat to workers and there must be a fight “to protect British goods and jobs”.

But without urgent change, climate chaos will mean global disaster and poorer people will be hit hardest.

And genuine climate action would create huge numbers of jobs rather than removing them.

The motion passed with the GMB, Unite, Aslef, NEU, FDA and Community voting in favour.

The unions that opposed it included CWU, UCU, Unison, RMT and TSSA.

Unions should be fighting for climate action, not ­shoring up a killer system.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.