The national conference of the Trades Union Councils met in Manchester on 9th and 10th June and Doug Holton, Equity delegate to Hackney TUC, was there.
The Trades Councils conference debated the expected and entirely necessary motions addressing issues and challenges facing the trades union movement in its 150th year. It also held a number of workshop sessions to pool experiences and put trades councils in a better position to organise and focus on the impact of national policies on local people and build campaigning and resistance.
Resolutions and plans hatched in central ‘smoke free’ rooms among the great and the good mean nothing unless they are have a resonance with workers struggling to make ends meet, to access health care and breath clean air and educate their children. Fighting low pay, NHS campaigning and building successful trades councils were among workshop topics. Groups were animated and discussions were lively but rarely divisive. Who would not want to fight privatisation of the NHS along with cutbacks and underfunding?
Opposition to local government cuts, ‘outsourcing’ and privatisation, Tory or Labour, was not a controversial issue either. There are all the obvious and crucial issues facing local government and the communities they are supposed to represent. Additionally the burden of arts funding is ‘devolving’ to local authorities and this is a public service in terms of the quality of life and the undeniable therapeutic uses of arts skills. The Tory government is shrugging off its responsibilities here as in most other things that don’t turn a fast profit for its friends.
It would be wrong not to report the depth of feeling about bringing the railways back into public ownership. Conference went further. It called for “employees and the public to be engaged in their governance”.
Nationalisation spilled over into a motion on Brexit. Established and evolving EU legislation and practice would make that very difficult. However, the motion from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils was thoughtful and raised genuine concerns over the effect Brexit could have on UK regions. The debate was more constructive than the all too familiar glib neo-liberalism versus tub thumping chauvinism. The motion was fairly narrowly defeated. It may well have been passed if it had called for an investigation into the political and economic consequences of remaining in the EU as well as of Brexit. It was the best debate on the subject I have participated in and the movers are to be applauded with at least one hand for raising the tone of argument.
Delegates were urged to campaign for more trades union activists to become candidates for local and general elections, to bring more of the values of the organised working class into the Labour Party. The disconnect is only in the interests of the Labour Right and the Tories.
A crowded fringe meeting demonstrated support for the Palestinians and calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions were applauded as were calls for Trades Union Councils affiliation to Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Trades Councils are the point of contact between the movement and the community. The Conference demonstrated that this was a responsibility taken seriously. Not perfect, but making honest efforts to take forward the fight for freedom, justice and socialism.