By Charlie Kimber
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TUC congress should reflect a year of more class struggles

Union leaders won't be honest about the past year of struggle and they won't seriously ask where to go next at the next TUC congress
Issue 2871
TUC congress workers

Keir Starmer was applauded at the TUC conference last year

The Trade Union Congress meets soon in Liverpool after a landmark year for ­workplace struggle. But you would never know it from ­looking at the agenda. The TUC matters. It assembles general secretaries, senior officials and some grassroots delegates. It’s always a battle to turn the positive words of speeches and resolutions into action. 

But a lousy motion acts as an alibi for the unions to draw back from struggle. Unfortunately the TUC agenda has hardly any sign of the energy, initiative and enthusiasm of the fights in the last year. 

And in some ways, more ­importantly, there is no attempt to draw up a balance sheet of what has been gained and what ­opportunities have been missed.

There are only flashes of the highest level of strikes since 1989 on the agenda.  An RMT motion, for example, “commends our magnificent rail and tube workers who have ­repeatedly smashed anti-union ballot thresholds and taken action over the last year and beyond”.

But the problem for the union leaders is that an honest ­assessment would reveal that the national strikes all ended with ­below‑­inflation deals.

And the strategy of intermittent action, mostly disunited from other strikes, didn’t win clear victories. Any real assessment would say that in some cases, hundreds of workers have been victimised and sacked by the bosses following and during disputes, yet union leaders have done little to stop it. 

The most reflective motion comes from the CWU—whose ­leaders ­presided over the worst deal of all that came from the strikes.

It says, “Congress believes it is time for unions to have a proper debate about how we can introduce models of trade unionism that can take cooperation, solidarity and the organisation of workers to the next level.”

It wants to “ensure that ­democracy is reflected at every level of the TUC” and “for the TUC General Council to establish and agree a collective bargaining strategy for multiple sectors across the economy, to be published in the next six months.”

And it calls on the TUC “to create and endorse trade ­union-backed media to fight back against the right-wing bias in traditional media”. 

This probably doesn’t include endorsing Socialist Worker. All of this is an important debate. But it has to start from the base of members, not at the level of general secretaries. There are several motions on the new anti-union laws.

The Unite motion calls on an incoming “Labour government (if elected in the next two years) to repeal all anti-trade union laws within 12 months of gaining office”.

The FBU’s one is best, saying, “Congress supports the campaign for mass non-compliance, up to and including industrial action, to defeat these pernicious laws”.

On the war in Ukraine, the Aslef and GMB unions must be defeated. Both denounce the Russian ­invasion—as they should—but they ignore the role of the Nato military alliance, and Britain in particular, in fuelling the war.

The GMB one says it is for the “continuation and increasing of moral, material, and military aid from the UK to Ukraine”.

Lord Falconer sold out miners and is set to do the same to post workers  

Royal Mail workers who were victimised and sacked during the recent bitter strikes will face a review of their cases by Lord Charlie Falconer. The CWU union agreed this as part of the rotten deal to end the dispute accepted in July.

Union activists should know the detail about Falconer’s past, and every aspect of it underlines why they can expect no justice from this process.

The miners’ strike of 1984-5 was the key battle between Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the working class. It divided society on class lines, and everyone was asked “Which side are you on?” Falconer lined up unhesitatingly on the wrong side, as a lawyer boosting the National Coal Board (NCB) bosses.

He first played a role in allowing the NCB to win a high court injunction to stop picketing by Yorkshire miners outside their area. Marching to the Fault Line, a mainstream history of the strike by Francis Beckett and David Hencke, said Falconer was a lawyer for the NCB in the case.

It adds, “Falconer was later to play a much bigger role in the dispute and to make a significant contribution to the miners’ defeat.”

This role was to tell coal bosses how they could safely recognise the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) without provoking a legal challenge from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) headed by Arthur Scargill. TUC

Beckett and Hencke said, “Falconer’s advice played a crucial role in the creation of the UDM, which was to become a running sore for the NUM  for the rest of the century.

“For Falconer the work was particularly lucrative as he went on  to advise the privatised British Coal before joining the Blair government in 1997.”

When scab Nottingham miners, led by Roy Lynk, began talks with the NCB, the NCB legal department privately suggested that their surest course of action was to break from the NUM.

The NUM and the UDM fought over assets and membership. Minutes of a private conference between the NCB and Falconer and another barrister show that they stressed it was fundamental that the Lynk “union” was not seen to be a bosses’ creation.

Falconer helped the UDM escape from NUM legal challenges and cemented the collusion between Lynk, the government and the NCB.

Falconer’s pro-boss work did not begin or end with the miners.  During 20 years at Fountain Court chambers in London, his clients included British Nuclear Fuels, for whom he fought a series of cases against leukaemia patients and Greenpeace activists.

He also helped to formulate advice on the supposed legality of the Iraq war from the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith. 

Goldsmith’s evidence to an official inquiry suggests his parliamentary statement giving backing to the invasion was “set out” by Falconer, by then a Home Office minister, and Baroness Morgan, the prime minister’s director of political-government relations.

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