Friday, 16 September 2011

TUC Congress 2011

I was at Congress House this week as part of the UNISON delegation. This was the second time I have been a delegate at TUC Congress as I attended 2 years ago at Liverpool this time I was an NEC delegate.

I arrived in London on the Sunday the day before conference started and went straight to our pre-meeting. As I was not scheduled to speak I thought I was just going to absorb the conference and listen to the debates but on arrival Jane Carolan who is Chair of Policy, asked me to speak on Composite 4, An Alternative Economic Strategy needless to say I took this challenge on and you can read my speech as published on John Gray's Labour blog if you click on this link.

This years Congress was the first to be held at Congress House, under the new rules adopted last year. The conference lasted three days, instead of four, and delegation sizes were reduced. Despite the changes to conference we received a lot of press coverage and kept a high profile in the media.

To me the venue was to small and you felt like you were tripping over the press at times.

The conference opened with Brendan Barber. Below is a brief account of his speech.
He started by giving us a brief history of Congress House and how the building was bought as a home for the TUC for £25,000 during the Second World War on a 999 year lease. He then went onto condemn the recent riots and pointed out the vast majority of victims were frightened ordinary people in working class communities. He also thought that the cuts were not to blame for the riots but said it was obvious that they will make the underlying causes worse. The government says nothing about the morale disintegration of the rich. The super tax breaks that steal from hospitals and schools.

The cuts are “hurting” but are not “working”. In America the President has a new initiative to promote growth but is being opposed by the republicans. It is about time that the Tea Party crazies woke up and smelt the coffee. Growth is the answer to the deficit. The government is putting the long term pension security of public sector workers at risk for the short term cut in the deficit. Brendan called for affiliates to help form a mass movement for an alternative that no government cam ignore and build on the diversity of anti-cuts campaign.

On the second day Ed Milliband was our guest speaker and no doubt you heard his speech or least part of it. It really didn't come to any surprise the things he said and all I could think was I've heard it all before about how the link was so important.

The one thing I was curious to know was his relationship with our General Secretary, Dave Prentis as it seemed as though he wasn't aware of how the talks around pensions were progressing. But now I know that only a week before Dave and Ed had a meeting, so he must of been well briefed of our position and how un-productive the talks with the government have been.

Then he also stated that he favoured academies and there was some good examples of working academies in his constituency, which went down like a lead balloon.

Commenting on Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech to the TUC, Dave Prentis, General Secretary, said:

"The Labour leader delivered a measured, serious speech to Congress today, a tone that reflects the difficult times facing our members - job and service cuts, pay freezes and the Coalition's attack on their pensions.

"It was Labour that renegotiated public service pensions back in 2008 to ensure that they remain fair and sustainable - I would have expected Ed Miliband to give his full backing to our fight for a decent pensions deal.

"We want to negotiate - I have always said that strike action is a last resort. And Ed is right to say that talks have to be meaningful - sadly the progress of the pensions talks has been glacial.

"Ed's speech hit some of the right buttons - fairness for the workforce, the right to join a union and he paid tribute to the daily, unrecognised work of trade unions.

"He had harsh words for the bankers whose greed caused this recession. It is deeply unfair for the Government to try to make public service workers pay the price for their folly."

On our final day we had our very own Norma Stephenson speak as the Chair of Labour's NEC and the challenges she has faced as a woman in politics.

UNISON intervened 13 times in Congress and as usual the standards were high but no more than we expect. Finally Dave Prentis made an excellent speech to Congress and voted unanimously to support Composite 5 - Pensions. UNISON General Secretary proposed the composite and in his speech announced that UNISON (and the other public sector unions) will be writing to over 9000 employer’s that they will be balloting for strike action over pensions. Over one million UNISON members could be called out.

Dave reminded everyone that the average pension for women workers in Local Government is only £59 per week. The 57% increase in pensions is a tax on public service workers who have saved for their future. Not a penny of these rises is going to the schemes but to the treasury to pay for the deficit created by the failure of the banking system. Enough is enough. The unions will still negotiate anyplace, anytime and anywhere but it is now the time to take our stand. It will be hard and we will be attacked and vilified. Now is not the time for gesture politics or hollow rhetoric. We are determined, we are united – fighting for what is right, fighting for our members: Hands off our pensions!'."

There was a standing ovation for Dave when he finished.

No comments:

Post a Comment