Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

Posted on 19 September 2016 at 18:18 GMT

NSSN lobby of TUC, 11.9.16, photo Paul Mattsson

NSSN lobby of TUC, 11.9.16, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

After TUC congress 2016: Mobilise the anger!

John McInally , Public and Commercial Services union national vice-president (personal capacity)

This year's Trade Union Congress (TUC) came only months after the forced resignation of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron following the Brexit vote - a major blow to the corporate and political elite - the introduction of the most oppressive anti-trade union laws in the industrial world, and the continuation of austerity. It should have been a council of war, setting out a fighting strategy to defeat these attacks on our members, class and communities. What an opportunity it would have been to take the fight to Theresa May's post-Brexit vote, crisis-ridden government.

Instead the scale of the profound crisis of leadership in the trade union movement was revealed more starkly than ever. The tone was set in the president's address when she said:

"In this past year, we held our nerve and we found our fight. Mobilising, organising, influencing - what we do best. Heart Union Week was a clever and quirky way of reminding the world and ourselves what we stand for. Celebrating our work. Showcasing our wins. Congress, we should do it more often."

It is certainly right to celebrate wins and left-led unions like PCS, RMT, the bakers' union and others have, despite the scale of attacks, shown that when workers take action and are fully supported by their union leaders, then concessions and even victories are possible.

Pay freeze

But the president's rosy picture is belied by reality. In some areas public sector workers are now in the ninth year of a pay freeze and wages have fallen by over 20% in real terms since the 2008 crash. Some workers are accessing food banks because, as one PCS member said: "There is too much month left at the end of the money".

It is a complete scandal that the TUC and leaders of some major public service unions have failed, yet again, to organise the type of coordinated industrial action - which is congress policy - capable of defeating this attack on workers' living standards.

Once again a motion from PCS was passed calling for coordinated action on pay but the fact that this motion - along with an emergency motion on the junior doctors' dispute - was pushed to the margins of the conference is an indication of the lack of intent to lead on these issues.


The gap between rhetoric and reality was cruelly laid bare when TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady stunned many in the hall with her statement on the Trade Union Act: "We can be proud of our campaign against that nasty, vindictive law. But, congress, we beat them. Not on everything. But in the big battles, we beat them back".

RMT President Sean Hoyle politely but effectively demolished that claim by pointing out that no matter how important concessions had been they were "crumbs" from the bosses' table and the worst aspects of the bill, particularly on ballot thresholds designed to severely limit unions' ability to conduct strike action, were now in law.

The truth is that right-wing union leaders do not really care about ballot thresholds; While such leaders may tolerate isolated local strikes on specific issues they have fiercely resisted generalising and building disputes through coordinated action either within their own unions or with other unions.


The congress president snapped at Sean that the concession on check-off (the payment of union subs through employer payrolls) was very important to unions. The concessions on check-off are important of course but must be seen in context.

PCS has faced and overcome a vicious government attempt to destroy the union through withdrawal of check-off. Incidentally, in contrast to union leaders who attacked PCS in this period, our union offered all unions facing this threat practical help and advice should removal of check-off make it to legislation.

The tremendous campaign run by PCS to defeat that attack gave the government cause for reflection on the issue of check-off but that was not the only factor. The relationship between right-wing union leaders and capitalist politicians is not antagonistic but in many respects symbiotic. Even the most vicious Tory understands it would have been self-defeating to withdraw check-off and weaken unions whose leaders have effectively stopped a mobilisation of the movement against austerity.

This was most clear in the pensions dispute in 2011, which revealed the potential strength of our movement when millions of workers took action, only to be sold out weeks later. This shameful retreat by the 'leaders' of the organised working class gave Cameron and Osborne, who up until then were facing huge opposition, the green light to press ahead and significantly ramp up their austerity programme.

RMT call

An RMT motion, which the right wing did not have the confidence to openly oppose, calls on the general council to convene an "urgent practical conference, as to how best coordinate our legal and industrial response to the Act in line with policy already set by congress". What an opportunity this would be, but we have to say the current leaderships in much of the movement and the TUC itself will do everything to frustrate this initiative.

It is therefore important to campaign in the branches and workplaces to build support for this conference. Such a conference could not only set out a strategy of opposition to the Act in general but commit unions to concrete action - if one union is singled out then all unions should respond in a coordinated campaign.

What is more, such a conference should plan to take the offensive to the Tories by implementing the policy on coordinated action in the public sector over pay, including the demand by PCS for the TUC to organise a national demonstration to build support for joint action over pay which the TUC is committed to, and generalising the campaign in defence of the NHS and junior doctors.

Jeremy Corbyn

It was no accident that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was not invited to address congress. Much is at stake in the battle against the Blairite MPs, who as PCS President Janice Godrich pointed out at the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) rally, owe their very careers to ties to the corporate and political establishment.

PCS, although not affiliated to the Labour Party, has been unequivocal in supporting Jeremy and John McDonnell who have stood on our picket lines and given unstinting support to our members over the years and who have consistently argued for an alternative to austerity.

During the TUC, PCS hosted a #JC4PM rally which attracted well over 1,000 local people and congress delegates, at which Janice Godrich called for reselection of Labour MPs.

The battle in the Labour Party is a reflection of the opposing class interests in wider society and its outcome is of huge concern to those on the right of the trade union movement who have rejected the necessity for a fightback on the industrial and political fronts. They are terrified of the Corbyn phenomena for many reasons but none more so than because of the contrast with their worship of the status quo and their 'there is no alternative' mind-set.

The sharpest contrast was that between the lacklustre self-congratulatory and complacent tone of the congress, and the NSSN rally. No junior doctors were invited to speak at the congress, but two junior doctors spoke articulately at the NSSN rally about their determination in defending the NHS and calling for solidarity from the rest of the movement, including a national demonstration to defend the NHS.

It would be a fatal error by the bosses and Tories to think that the seeming calm that has characterised the leadership of the trade union movement, with the obvious honourable exceptions, is reflective of the real mood of the rank-and-file activists and members.

There is deep discontent and anger in workplaces up and down the country. The capitalist system cannot deliver for the millions, only for the millionaires and billionaires. It is being increasingly exposed in all its brutality. In addition, the Tory government, post-Brexit vote, is in crisis.

The task of the left is to build the widest possible anti-austerity alliance throughout the trade union movement and within our communities and to link the fightback on the industrial and political fronts in order to build a genuine socialist alternative.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 September 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

Related links:


trianglePCS general secretary election

trianglePCS union general secretary election

trianglePCS union ballot closes 12 December: Marion Lloyd for general secretary

triangleElect Marion Lloyd!

triangleGeneral secretary election: Enthusiastic support for Marion Lloyd


triangleCorbyn promises 'power in the hands of workers' - how can Labour do it?

triangleTrade union movement must put its stamp on swirling events

triangleLobby of TUC: Upbeat meeting calls for trade union lead to boot out Tories

triangleTUC: Lost opportunity to organise a united struggle


triangleThe Activist Issue 82 - for retail workers

trianglePay Deal: ACAS sides with management

triangleThe Great Big Socialist Party Quiz 2019


triangleUndervalued gritters to walk out

triangleTata announces 1,000 job cuts - Steel unions must fight for every job!


triangleSocial workers lobby Hull City Council

Janice Godrich:

trianglePCS Left Unity assistant general secretary election rerun

National Shop Stewards Network:

triangleIt's a strike to ensure the safety of the travelling public

John McInally:

trianglePCS Left Unity election: All votes should count

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Stand firm for socialist policies to stop Tory attacks



End profiteering from health - nationalise big pharma



Prepare now for the struggles after 12 December


The Socialist

Keep up to date with our election coverage



News in brief



Hillsborough justice eluded



Unite against terrorism, racism, war and austerity


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland: strike action by NHS workers



Resist attacks against free speech on campus



End council cuts now, to end Tory austerity!



Tories launch 'non manifesto'



Labour's manifesto: fight to transform hope into a socialist society



Prince Andrew outrage exposes establishment



Tory election campaign's dirty tricks and lies



Wages flatline, while shareholders profit

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

December 2019

November 2019

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019