All across Europe workers have been fighting EU-imposed austerity measures. Over 10 million workers staged a general strike in Spain, following the six general strikes held by Greek workers. A recent day of action against the cuts brought over 100,000 workers from 24 countries to Brussels impressed on members of the YCL in the British contingent the need for workers across Europe to coordinate action against these devastating cuts.
Many people in Britain find themselves ill equipped to deal with government austerity measures. Access to housing, education and healthcare is already overstretched. One particularly big issue is unemployment and underemployment. The Office for National Statistics also reported that the number of people classed as economically inactive has reached a record high of 8.17 million. Young people are overrepresented in the unemployment figures and those in work are more likely to be in casualised, precarious agency or short-term contracted work.
Trade unionists came from all over the country on the 13th of September to Manchester a city whose vibrancy cut through the rain. Yet despite the sights and sounds a grim mood hangs over many inhabitants of the city. The shedding of manufacturing jobs has deeply affected the old industrial city and has been accompanied by a huge rise in poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. It could be argued that the city would be receptive to a TUC that would start the fight back against the biggest assault on working people in living memory.
The mood for a campaign against austerity was set in the backdrop of a joint statement by Unison and the PCS to campaign together to defend public services and jobs. Many developments at congress were welcome.
Delegates unanimously gave their support for John McDonnell's Private Members Bill which seeks to prevent the disgraceful practice of employers using small technicalities against democratic ballots for strike action. Court rulings have been used against overwhelmingly support for strike action from Unite’s BA cabin crew, RMT and others recently without any appreciation of the difficulties of maintaining the records of up to thousands of workers who constantly move house or job. The composite motion reaffirmed Congress' commitment to ending the harsh anti-trade union laws by standing behind the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill.
TUC delegates also pledged support for the Communication workers Union’s (CWU) campaign against the privatisation of the post office. ‘Competition equals a better, cheaper service’ is the familiar excuse for the privatisation of public services and has been used in regards to pawning off of our post service. Similar arguments were used to justify the privatisation of Britain’s railways yet we have been left with a more dangerous service that is the most expensive in Europe. The same will become true of our postal service if the Post Office is privatised, not to mention the forfeiting of thousands of postal workers’ jobs.
Another good achievement came from a motion concerning the Middle East. Congress voted for boycott and disinvestment from firms that profit from the occupation and illegal settlements in Palestine. The composite motion, which was unanimously passed, denounced the Israeli government’s attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla in May which resulted in the deaths of nine solidarity activists and its continuing support for illegal settlements. The motion issued an important condemnation of the reactionary Israel’s Histadrut trade union federation.
A packed Morning Star fringe meeting was held with many more people listening outside the door than were inside the room. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow defended his call for "general and co-ordinated strikes" against attacks by the mainstream media by pointing out that without civil disobedience women would not have the vote.
Conference delegates and members of Manchester CPB and YCL attended a Communist party fringe meeting at the mechanic’s institute which housed the founding meeting of the TUC in 1868. Communist Party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths forecast 2010 might be seen in future as the "class war Congress"
"Not in the sense that the TUC has declared class war but that it resolved to unite in defence of the working class against the Tories' class war," he explained.
While progress has been made on some issues more work needs to be done particularly in regards to organising resistance to the cuts. Unfortunately some negative trends distracted delegates from this.
The decision to invite David Cameron was an insult to those who will lose their jobs as a result of the coalition government’s attack on the people. The withdrawal of the invitation was no victory to celebrate it should never have been issued. Similarly it was outrageous to give a warm welcome to Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, as he justifies the scrapping of people’s jobs and services.
Regrettably for the democracy of Britain’s labour movement Manchester TUC 2010 was the last annual full congress. There will be no TUC congress held next year when the brunt of the austerity measures will be unleashed.
The labour movement must be organised in order to stop the austerity measures and defeat this government. As Bob Crow, who was re-elected onto the TUC general council, has stated "the government started this fight with the working class - but we are up for it." It is paramount that a conference is organised as early as possible in order to coordinate resistance to the cuts.
Young communists must help to fight the EU imposed austerity measures in two ways;
Firstly the battle of ideas still needs to be won in rejecting rhetoric surrounding the false claim that "we're all in it together". The wealth of the top 1000 richest people in Britain rose last year by almost 30 per cent so much for universal belt-tightening. It is clear that this remedy proposed by the European Union is a naked attack on the lives of working families. Instead of austerity measures, the government could close tax havens and ensure that tax-dodging millionaires pay their share. The implementation of a wealth tax and a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on bank transactions could raise billions. More could be saved by cancelling the Trident missile replacement and bringing British troops home from the increasingly aimless war in Afghanistan.
Secondly young communists must contribute to the coordinated response to the austerity programme. We must get involved in local anti-cuts groups. It must be acknowledged that the Con-Dem government’s plans for privatisation were built upon existing labour policies, such as the Academy schools programme. Likewise, a Labour government would have introduced cuts in line with other social democratic governments in Greece and Spain. Nonetheless, in the interests of unity, the broadest possible anti-cuts campaign is required and must involve socialists, communists and trade unionists together with labour party members, dissident liberals and Tories as well as local community and religious groups.