New Deal for Workers plan brings Congress to its feet

Union Matters

Brief round-up of Monday morning at TUC…

“Let’s go forward united and let’s deliver that New Deal for Workers – Solidarity!” was how TUC general secretary Paul Nowack ended his keynote speech to Congress in Liverpool this morning, sparking cheers and a lively standing ovation from delegates.

Paul, addressing his first Congress as general secretary, praised those workers and their unions who have been involved in strike action over recent months, “voting for action, taking action and winning for workers” and slammed the Government for introducing yet more anti-union legislation. The TUC leader vowed resistance to the new law requiring trade unionists to break their own union’s strikes and vowing that if anyone is sacked as a consequence of that law, “we’ll fight in the workplaces and on the picket lines.”

Noting that “employers co-ordinate and so we’ve got to co-ordinate as well,” Paul unveiled some of the TUC’s plans for campaigns, which will include organising seafarers alongside the Nautilus and RMT trade unions – “there must be no more P&Os” – and working to recruit outsourced workforces as well as training new reps.

Our movement needs to recruit and to grow, he continued, saying that our message to workers who are not yet unionized should be: “Join a union today – when you join us, together we win.”

Congress had opened its first full day with an enthusiastic standing ovation for striking NHS workers in dispute with their employer over gradings and pay. One of the group, Nikki Stockwell, winning cheers and applause when she told Congress that she had come straight from an early-morning picket line and that her message to the employer was: “We will strike again and again until you pay us what we’re owed. This is about recognition and respect.”

It was a fitting start to the day’s business, which started with a section focused on health and education, with motions on defending the NHS, preventing burnout through excessive workhours and the need to recruit and train more nurses and midwives, followed by a composite motion urging solutions to the growing recruitment crisis in the UK’s schools and demanding better resourcing.

And this was followed by debates on the continuing struggle against sex discrimination in employment and pay, and of the need to step up the fight to stop harassment and even violence against women in the workplace. There were several powerful and moving speeches during this discussion and delegates from various public-sector unions spoke on this matter, as well as more general assaults faced by prison officers, teachers and others in the course of their duties.

A composite motion as well as a separate motion on these issues were approved unanimously by Congress.

Sunday Summary

Congress 2023 formally opened late yesterday afternoon and CWU Leicestershire’s Adam Alarakhia was the first member of the our delegation to speak at this year’s gathering, with an intervention in support of a composite motion demanding an end to child poverty and in support of moves towards the introduction of universal free school meals. Adam reminded the hall that the UK is among the world’s top five or six richest economies, but with 4.2 million children living in poverty. “Think for a minute about this please,” he asked delegates and urged them to vote for the motion.

Watch Adam’s video interview here

In her role as TUC president, Maria Exall of CWU Greater London Combined Branch delivered a wide-ranging speech in which she welcomed delegates to Congress with a look back over the previous 12 months of struggle and forward to the challenges ahead.

“We meet at a time of crisis, of real-terms pay cuts when bills are soaring,” she said, adding that the same workers who had been clapped and applauded during the pandemic were now being accused of causing inflation.

“But,” she insisted: “It’s not workers causing inflation – it’s the big profiteering bosses.”

Maria continued: “Over the past year, we’ve seen a vision of hope – hundreds of thousands have taken action and we’ve seen what solidarity means in practice. And this year, alongside CWU colleagues, I took strike action in BT/Openreach for a proper pay rise.

“We were supported by other trade unionists – and by the public. Our experience was reflected by others too – workers in the public and private sector standing together marching together and winning together.”

And our CWU general secretary Dave Ward moved Congress’s formal vote of thanks to Maria, saying: “You will never ever see Maria backing away from something she believes in – it’s sometimes earned her a reputation as a ‘troublemaker’ – but by God we need more of these in our movement.”

And to Maria, Dave said: “We’re so proud of the work you’ve done as TUC president, your work in our trade union and as a campaigner and activist.

“Long may you continue being ‘a bit of a troublemaker’.”

Other motions approved yesterday covered issues including funding and investment for public services, pay review bodies in the public sector and pay restoration. And Congress also gave a warm round of applause to visiting guest speaker Liz Schuler, president of the USA union confederation AFL-CIO.