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Union leaders-‘join this demonstration’

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Trade union leaders at this week's TUC congress in Brighton laid into Blair over the disastrous occupation of Iraq and they urged people to join the national demonstration, called by the Stop the War Coalition, on Saturday 27 September
Issue 1868

‘WE WANT as many CWU members on the demonstration as possible. We don’t need more British troops sent to Iraq. We need more Iraqis running their own country.’
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the postal workers’ CWU union

‘UNISON IS fully supporting the demonstration on 27 September and I urge as many people as can to go. I hope it will show that the British people think this war was unjustified and want the troops out of Iraq straight away.’
Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of Unison, Britain’s largest union

‘WE NEED to be raising the demonstration at work, in our unions and in our communities. The Stop the War Coalition has shown we have got the power to change things. As the government sends more troops to maintain a collapsing occupation, it is vital we show in huge numbers that most people in Britain are opposed to what Blair is doing.’
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists

‘MY UNION will do whatever it can to support the Stop the War Coalition. There is no more important issue than world peace. War is about capitalism working at its very worst, or I suppose you could say its very best. If the warmongers in the White House are not removed they will strike again. That’s why it is important the movement against the war continues and that we work to make its events successful.’
Tony Woodley, general secretary elect TGWU

‘IT’S CRITICAL that we bring the feeling shown on 15 February onto the streets again in two weeks time. Many people who reluctantly went along with the war now see it was wrong and they were lied to. The anti-war movement has been vindicated. Now we need a massive show of strength in London on the eve of the Labour Party conference.’
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the college lecturers’ union Natfhe

Brown disappoints delegates

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown spoke to the TUC on Tuesday of this week. He got a very lukewarm reception from delegates. Dave Prentis, the leader of Britain’s biggest union, Unison, said, ‘You didn’t leave the hall feeling there was a united front. He told us about his achievements, but we already knew about those. There was nothing about the pensions crisis, privatisation and the issues that divide us. We’re not just wanting a dialogue with the government-we need the government to move towards us. There is not much time left. There’s only 18 months to two years before the next general election.’

Greg Charles, a CWU postal workers’ union delegate from London, said, ‘I’m very disappointed by the speech. I was hoping for a lot more. I joined the Labour Party after the 1997 general election. Everybody I know is bitterly disappointed with the government. Tony Blair hasn’t got long left. But today I didn’t see a realistic alternative to Tony Blair. If Tony Benn could be brought out of retirement, that’s the kind of Labour leader we need.’

TUC in brief

Top-up fees fury

DELEGATES AT the TUC united to campaign over two issues which threatened to blow up at the Labour Party conference in three weeks time. Top-up fees for students and foundation hospitals in the NHS have become rallying points for opposition to New Labour.

The TUC reaffirmed its ‘fundamental opposition to the introduction of different ‘top-ups’ for students. ‘Students will end up owing vast sums of money when they graduate and the prospect of such debt levels will undoubtedly deter many working class students and underrepresented groups.’

It went on to challenge the essential reason why the government wants to charge students up to £3,000 a year for going to university-the refusal of Gordon Brown and New Labour to increase taxes on the rich. The TUC called for proper education grants for young people from the age of 16 paid for ‘through a system of progressive taxation’.

It also demanded ‘a levy on employers as a means of ensuring higher participation in education and training beyond 16’. Even before the debate on higher education delegates identified fees as a key breach with the government.

Baljeet Ghale from the National Union of Teachers told Socialist Worker, ‘Top-up fees caps an appalling record on education policy. But there is a real feeling at this conference that people have had enough. The challenge is to translate that into effective action.’

Rebellion grows

THERE WAS a similar angry feeling at the TUC over privatisation. George Brumwell, general secretary of the Ucatt construction union, slammed the government’s obsession with privatisation, which is biting deeper into the NHS with foundation hospitals.

Unions came together to support a motion opposing foundation hospitals, which was due to be heard the day after Socialist Worker went to press. It rejected the ‘idea that foundation hospitals will democratise the NHS and are a form of common ownership. Instead they will leave other hospitals worse off, attracting staff and resources away from them and competing against them for patients and entrench inequalities in health outcomes.’

Its call for a campaign against foundation hospitals comes just as opposition to the scheme is mounting among back-bench Labour MPs. Barry Camfield of the TGWU union argued to take opposition to Blair’s policies ‘right into the heart of the Labour Party’. Many delegates also wanted to see action over those issues now.

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