Everyone at the TUC kept saying this is a critical moment for the trade union movement.
Yet at the same time there was a deep sense of inertia. And there are sharp debates about how to respond.
The disputes at Gate Gourmet and Rolls Royce have highlighted just how bad life is under New Labour.
That feeling was reflected in the motions passed at the TUC. They have become more radical over the last few years. Several union leaders used the opportunity to lay out their stalls over what they want from the third Labour term.
There was very little mention of the Warwick agreement between unions and New Labour, which was supposed to be the basis of a “radical third term”.
Instead, there were calls to scrap the anti-union laws and to introduce decent workplace rights — all far more radical than Warwick.
But the government is also setting out its stall. It is saying openly that it is going on the offensive. It is pushing more foundation hospitals and city academies, which are the nail in the coffin of state provision.
The post is in the firing line for privatisation. Tony Blair says he will press on with raising the pension age across the public sector.
No sooner had Tony Woodley of the T&G union called for the legalisation of solidarity action than trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson ruled it out.
Yet bizarrely we hear Johnson being touted as a left alternative to Gordon Brown when it comes to replacing Blair. Faced with a government that is hell bent on pushing neo-liberalism, there is a real sense of many union leaders in turmoil over what to do.
We have policy to scrap the anti-union laws, but the Labour government refuses to do it. They’ll have to be forced. That means a major industrial struggle breaking through those laws.
It also means a full on political challenge to the government. Most of our members don’t understand the focus on Brown versus Blair, or on who will be the next leader of the Labour Party.
They want a total change of policy. That’s not on offer from anyone who is being put forward as a potential leader of the Labour Party.
That dilemma is sharpening all the time. The only way to resolve it is to recognise we are in a gloves off fight with this government and to move sharply towards campaigning and action.
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