Congress 2022 – Day One round up

Union Matters

As more and more groups of workers become involved in strikes, ballots and action, could the UK be heading towards a general strike?

Radical protesters have been chanting: ‘TUC, call a general strike’ outside Congress for many, many years, but delegates hearing them as they arrived for the first day of Congress 2022 yesterday may well have reflected on the old adage that even a stopped clock is right for a moment, and may have wondered if we could be approaching that moment. Whether or not the TUC calls one, the current industrial relations situation in the UK certainly seems to be heading in that direction.

With our own members in Royal Mail, BT and the Post Office regularly on the picket lines in the midst of long-running disputes over pay, jobs, terms and conditions, our fellow trade unionists on the railways, on the buses, in local authorities, dockyards and elsewhere in action too, this year has already seen more days lost to industrial strife than any other year this century.

And the opening session of the annual gathering of all UK trade unions reflected this heightened situation. Huge applause greeted speeches from RMT general secretary Mick Lynch and our own Andy Kerr (DGS T&FS), as they talked of the struggles that transport, mail and telecoms workers are involved in, while speakers representing healthcare and education workers told Congress of upcoming strike ballots which could bring hundreds of thousands more workers into the battle.

The TUC’s ‘compositing’ process mixes submitted motions together, which means we get delegates speaking to different parts of each ‘composite’, rather than the more direct ‘for or against’ debates we get at our own CWU Conference – but despite this, the event still presents a unique opportunity to hear from every sector of the nation’s economy and of the struggles that workers everywhere are up against each day.

Autumn strike wave growing across the country…

The National Education Union is starting a national strike ballot at the end of this month, reported its general secretary Kevin Courtney, while their University and College Union colleagues will hear their national strike ballot result next week and their leader Jo Grady won huge cheers when she asked Congress for its support for members. Public-sector union Unison leader Christina McAnea told Congress that, before the end of this year, 400,000 NHS workers will be balloted, saying: “We have a single goal, to end this pay crisis,” while speakers from the specialist ‘Royal Colleges’ also talked of how their members were being forced to consider industrial action.

Unite and GMB, both of which have extremely large memberships, but in diverse groups of membership in different businesses and varying sectors, have also seen increasing levels of disputes. And it was both instructive and inspiring to hear from Unite’s Ruth Hayes and GMB’s Barbara Plant about some of these strikes, several of which have been won with significant pay awards.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka gave a typically passionate speech, telling delegates that his union is organising 214 strike ballots, which report in November and, while fully respecting that different unions are in separate disputes, he pledged that: “If we win (these ballots), we stand prepared to take action on the same day as any other union.”

Andy Kerr told Congress of the sheer economic injustice at the heart of our union’s disputes with both Royal Mail and BT. Facts familiar to our own members, but new to our fellow trade unionists – the £758 million and £1.3 billion profits, the hundreds of millions handed out to both sets of shareholders, the enormous amounts of cash pocketed by the respective CEOs and the insulting, far-below inflation pay rises imposed on our members.

“Both these companies can well afford proper pay rises for their workers,” he insisted, receiving a huge round of applause when he added that “this Thursday, there’ll be some 160,000 of our members on strike and we ask for your solidarity.”

Mick Lynch also roused delegates in the conclusion to his address, when he said that further rail strikes would be announced imminently and that “we need a wave of industrial action – and a wave of community action.

“Let’s win for our people and change this country for the better.”

Standing ovation for CWU Voice columnist…

Frances O’Grady – also well known as the TUC general secretary – got a lengthy standing ovation after her speech, her last in this role after serving at the top of the UK’s trade union movement since 2013. Frances has supported and also assisted the CWU in several disputes and has been very warmly welcomed when she has attended and spoken at CWU events.

In her speech, Frances criticised our current Prime Minister Liz Truss for having “crashed the economy” and noted that the PM “didn’t even turn up for work yesterday.” In response to the many calls for Ms Truss to resign, Frances said: “I say this whole rotten Government must go” and looked ahead to the planned TUC rally at Westminster on 2nd November, at which she predicted there would be demands for a general election.

Frances warmly praised UK workers as a “nation of grafters” who had “got us through the pandemic” and fully deserved a decent pay rise. “If that means they strike, then so be it,” she pointed out, adding that the TUC is “for all workers.”

 Anti-racism and international solidarity…

CWU member Nadeem Khan made his first speech to Congress in the afternoon, in a thoughtful contribution to the debate on the TUC’s anti-racism strategy. In a debate that had been preceded by a presentation from Neville Lawrence, the father of murder victim Stephen Lawrence, delegates discussed the work of the TUC’s Anti-Racism Task Force and the implementation of its recommendations to all affiliated trade unions.

Nadeem, from our Prestonbrook & Bury Branch, expressed our union’s full support for the Task Force’s work and went on to explain the specific initiatives that the CWU is and has been undertaking in order to push this equality agenda forward and actively fight against racism and discrimination.

In the international section of the day’s business, Congress heard a video address from Colombia’s new Minister of Labour Gloria Ramirez, who told the hall about the south American country’s newly elected progressive government and its plans for reform. The TUC long supported the Justice for Colombia movement during the dark days of repression and Ms Ramirez voiced her appreciation for this solidarity.

Other subjects covered in this session included the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – with specific references to Ukrainian trade unionists and of the work that has been done and is being done to try to establish links and build support – as well as the growing protest movement by Iranian women against their country’s oppressive regime. UCU general secretary Jo Grady made a moving contribution to this discussion, drawing Congress’s attention to murders and beatings of women in Iran for opposing the regime and its misogynist and repressive nature.