Delegates packed out a vital fringe meeting on the need for a New Deal for Workers in Brighton during TUC Congress on Tuesday, hosted by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF), and chaired by Sarah Woolley of the BFAWU and CTUF.
The event was also marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Pentonville 5, with different speakers effectively linking the lessons of those historical disputes with the deepening class struggles of today.
The event was opened by Professor Keith Ewing who highlighted the importance of putting pressure on Keir Starmer to implement a pro-union agenda – including the New Deal for Workers agreed by the 2021 Labour Conference – if he wins a future election, cautioning the example of how Blair and Brown’s Government didn’t repeal anti-union laws the Tories had introduced.
Next speaker Dr. Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, emphasised that if we are to deliver real change, we must rely on our own strength and organising up and down the country, including in terms of defeating the upcoming anti-union laws.
Delegates cheered as she closed her speech by urging all unions and community groups to back all those “rising up” at this important moment, including upcoming RMT, CWU and UCU strikes.
Lord John Hendy QC focused much of his contribution on the importance of strong trade unionism and collective bargaining in terms of exercising collective strength and defending living standards.
Since a peak of 85% of Workers covered by collective bargaining in 1979, collective bargaining now stands at only 23%.
To change this now means we “have to reverse the changes that brought about the destruction of collective bargaining,” including through the repeal of the anti-union laws.
Moving forward, we need to link up all fronts “in the battle against capitalism,” joining together in solidarity to resist the ruling class offensive.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch then received rapturous applause as he explained all politicians need to make it clear “what side you’re on” in the battles ahead – the simple equation is whether you’re on the side of the workers or the bosses.
The Tories may be in crisis but they “have us in their sights,” and are seeking to stop the revival in confidence of working people in resisting austerity, including through even more anti-union laws.
This means “we need to call for the repeal of all the anti-union laws… Every single one of them,” and be clear that what we want now is a bill of rights for workers and a real new deal for workers that gives positive rights across the board.
General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) General Secretary Doug Nicholls gave an important historical outline of the attacks on working people and their rights since the 1970s, and linked this to those who represent finance capital today and are now seeking to even further destroy our communities, with an inevitable new wave of cuts coming.
A new deal for workers must also be a new deal for our communities and the country as a whole.
Part of winning this must be a new wave of labour movement political education. Trade unions must again “be schools for socialism.” And they must work permanently in alliance with those organising in our communities, and for social action.
And we must oppose those Tories who are “beating the war drums” against China in particular in a bid to district from their disastrous failures and the deepening crisis.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka focused on the important theme of learning the lessons of recent decades, including victories and defeats our movement has faced.
In terms of the period of austerity so far, he argued that we have to be honest and say that we have failed to effectively challenge the Tories enough and win big disputes that could make a societal shift.
“We are at a turning point. We are at a moment when everything could change… when victories for union members can become victories for us all.”
The Tories know how high the stakes are, which is why they want to shackle us with even more anti-union laws.
This means we must go on the front foot, not only seeking to defeat the Tories, but building a different society.
Closing the fringe, Justice for Grenfell campaigner Yvette Williams joined others in paying tribute to Carolyn Jones of the IER, whose much-deserved retirement party followed the event, and then made a vital contribution outlining what solidarity means and why it matters so much.
“We need to organise ourselves in a constructive way” and inclusively, not least because our enemies are organised and gang up together to not only defend their class, profits and privileges, but to demonise struggling workers and criminalise them through anti-union laws.
To win real change and be effectively organised, we all have a duty to understand “anti-racism as a verb, not a noun” and recognise the disproportionate effects Tory attacks are having on black and minority ethnic workers.
She concluded by saying let’s be unified, never give up and fight to win.
Heading out of the event, people speaking to this correspondent were enthused to build on the summer of solidarity by campaigning for free trade unions and real change.
As Mark Serwotka said at the event, “There is a world to win.. let’s make sure we win it!”
The 50 Years after the Pentonville Five – Now is the Time for a New Deal for Workers event was organised by the Institute of Employment Rights and Campaign for Trade Union Freedom on Tuesday October 18 at #TUC2022.
This report was first published on the Labour Outlook website.