Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 17 September 2008

2008 Trades Union Congress: Pressure from below begins to show

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber declared at the TUC conference last week that "nationalisation is unpopular". This is at a time when even the Bush government has been forced to carry out one of the biggest nationalisations in history.

Bill Mullins

Capitalist representatives around the globe, normally hostile to nationalisation, were breathing a sigh of relief at that emergency action in the USA but to argue that nationalisation is unpopular among working class people is particularly wrong. Workers expect governments to act, in a period of economic crisis, to save their jobs and living standards and if that means nationalisation, then so be it.

Barber was replying on behalf of the TUC general council to a motion from Unite, after it was amended by rail workers' union, RMT, to call for the utility and energy companies, amongst others, to be brought back into public ownership.

Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said that his union was in favour of the RMT amendment and that "he would back any energy worker" who refused to cut off the elderly and others because they couldn't afford high fuel bills.

We hope that Woodley backs up his words with action (many Unite members carry out this sort of work for British Gas and other energy companies).

But after the Gate Gourmet dispute at British Airways, when he first backed sympathy strike action in Heathrow and then repudiated it, Woodley will have to be reminded of this promise and pressurised to keep his word.

In the same speech, Woodley was right when he said that what is good enough for the banks (Northern Rock in this case) is good enough for the energy and utility companies. The motion was overwhelmingly carried despite the general council's opposition.

Janice Godrich, president of the PCS and a member of International Socialists in Scotland (sister organisation of the Socialist Party), moved a resolution on tax evasion by the super rich and big companies.

The TUC has revealed that 25 billion has gone missing as a result of evasion. Janice said that at a time when PCS members in revenue and customs are losing their jobs, the super rich - with the backing of the government - are getting away with murder.

She called it "the economics of the mad house" and called for the closing of the tax gap and for investment in public services with the money clawed back, instead of job and pay cuts.

The invited Labour Party speakers were weak. Chancellor Alistair Darling made a speech which can be summarised as: yes there is an economic crisis but you will only make it worse by demanding pay rises. This went down like a lead balloon.

In a 'question and answer' session he was put on the spot by Janice Godrich, who asked how he could justify paying zero percent pay increases to her members in the Department for Work and Pensions (including herself), by including in the department's wage bill the cost of incremental payments, and then saying that wages were going up by 2% (an effective wage cut anyway).

This put Darling off his stride and he was forced to say that he would look at this again - probably the most public set of pay negotiations for many years!

Another Labour guest speaker, Diane Hayter, tried to justify Labour government policies by referring to "the weeding out of Militant" to make the party "electable". By this time most of the delegates weren't listening to this sort of garbage, especially as it was clear to all that Labour is facing oblivion at the polls due to its pro-capitalist polices at a time of developing recession.

The TUC this year marked a step change. It is dawning on many that the union link to the Labour Party is becoming a huge albatross around the unions' neck. In the week before the congress, it was revealed that of the 102 million raised by the Labour Party since 2001, 72 million came from the unions.

Last year, one union, Unite, was responsible for 40% of Labour's funding. This is partly due to the 'peerages for donations' scandal cutting off much of the funding from big business and the super rich.

In a fringe meeting organised by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), Janice, an invited speaker along with left Labour MP John MacDonnell, demanded that the unions break from Labour, and said that a new party is needed. John described the LRC as having a dual policy of trying to reform the Labour Party at the same time as preparing an alternative means of getting political representation for working people, which puzzled most of those listening.

Nevertheless, the fact that the LRC had invited Janice, someone who didn't agree with their position, indicates how things are beginning to change. Some union leaders who backed a reformed Labour Party are now beginning to have second thoughts.

Unfortunately most of them do not yet see that their role could be key to bringing about a new party and they shouldn't just wait for events.

The TUC, as reported in last week's paper, has been committed to organising action around the public-sector pay campaign. This was one of the most important decisions at the conference, despite the right wing opposition to it.

PCS has called for a national demonstration and united industrial action against Gordon Brown's pay freeze. The NUT has committed itself to a new strike ballot in October, the PCS ballot is around the same time.

It is possible that at least those two unions will be taking some form of joint national strike action in November.

Massive pressure should be put on the Unison leadership in particular to join in the action.

In the next few weeks, the TUC public-sector forum is due to meet to discuss how to put into practice the decision adopted at the conference, including organising a national pay demo.

Socialist Party trade unionists are calling for the demo to be part of the build-up to the expected strikes in November. We could indeed be in for a winter of mass action.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 17 September 2008:

Credit crunch

It's time to fight back!

Socialist Party editorial

Capitalist crisis - Karl Marx was right


No to racism: Yes to decent jobs, homes & services!

Socialist Party campaigns

Socialist candidate gains 40% of vote, stuns Usdaw leaders

Conflict in Georgia - independent position needed

Brown's feeble fuel package

Labour Party conference protest

Protest at war and occupation

Welcome to the real Manchester

Fighting city needs a fighting party

Panicky MPs turn on Labour

Privatisation and closure

No to post office closures

Protesters tackle Metro privatisation

Socialist Party feature

Middle East: End imperialist aggression!

Socialist Party workplace news

London bus strike: "Showing them our power"

Pickets cheer in West London

Ford workers meet to defend jobs

Journalists win union recognition victory

2008 Trades Union Congress: Pressure from below begins to show

Swansea rail workers fighting for a living wage


International socialist news and analysis

Interview with Cindy Sheehan: "Some kind of populist uprising needs to happen"

Scotland: Tactical questions for local government pay battle

Socialist Party review

'Bob Marley' reviewed by Jason Toynbee


Home   |   The Socialist 17 September 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleCovid crisis boosts union membership but TUC leaders want to cosy up to the bosses!

triangleUnion independence must be maintained - a reply to the TUC

triangleNational Shop Stewards Network TUC rally

triangleLow Pay, Long Hours. Bosses rip us off. Organise the fightback now!

triangleDefend the right to strike


triangleLessons from the Corbyn experience

triangleHull Trades Council debates workers' political representation

triangleCrisis in council services: Labour must fight or stand aside

triangleTrades council debates workers' political representation


triangleMore blunders and profiteering in Tory track-and-trace scheme

triangleTransport workers and passengers mustn't pay the price

triangleFurlough cut-off could force millions back to unsafe workplaces

Brendan Barber:

triangleStand with the RMT: unite against Southern Rail and the Tories

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns


Fighting Fund

We need readers' support to fight capitalist crisis



Fight P&O's billionaire bosses' jobs cut plan



Schools aren't safe



Energy firm plans to make 2,600 redundant



Hull Trades Council debates workers' political representation



Eerily quiet before second wave - don't reopen schools!



No return to unsafe construction sites



Mick Cotter 21-9-57 to 20-5-20


Rolls Royce

Strong union response needed against job cuts



Postal workers' action results in double victory for union



Organising to fight for workplace safety



Posties walk out in Peterborough after manager tests positive



Johnson claims workplaces safe but HSE cancels inspections



Safe protests against Tory corona chaos continue



Trades council debates workers' political representation

triangleMore Reports and campaigns 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: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020