The Trade Union Congress in Brighton from September 13th– 16th September 2015
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) met in Brighton on 13 to 16 September to face its greatest challenge. The Cameron government wants to introduce their Trade Union Reform Bill which is intended to shackle the Unions and seriously curb their rights and privileges.
The trade union bureaucracy recognises this fact. In the TUC campaign plan of 2015 presented to the congress it states: “The government’s proposals set out to undermine the right to strike by letting employers use agency workers as cover for striking workers”. (1)
Further on they state that the government plans to “introduce unreasonable hurdles such as fines if workers set up a Facebook account without giving two weeks’ notice in advance of a strike, or letting an employer claim damages against a union if a picket supervisor forgets to wear their armband”. The government also intends to “introduce undemocratic strike ballot thresholds”.
The trade union bureaucracy is in a crisis. It continually fosters illusions that British capitalism is in recovery and through a bit of tinkering the bureaucrats are hoping that a few reforms might come their way. In their Campaign Plan document the TUC bureaucracy continues to amplify these illusions: “Britain is back in recovery” and “We will make the case for a strong balanced recovery that is fairly shared and where improved growth and tax revenues allow the public finances to improve while services are protected”.
In fact the Marxists prognosis of the rate of profit to fall has been confirmed and the UK, as well as the world economy, is heading towards a new recession which will be even worse than that of 2008/09.
The Trade Union Reform Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons on November 2nd. The TUC General council’s response is:
1) “To Demonstrate at the Tory party Conference on the 4th October in Manchester”
2) “Mass lobby of parliament on November 2nd when the Bill is being discussed in the House of Commons”
3) “Lobby your MP to oppose the Trade Union Reform Bill”
While such actions should be supported by socialists, it is necessary to point out that they will certainly not be sufficient to stop the government. This is why the RCIT Britain argues that the trade unions must organize an indefinite general strike until the Cameron government withdraws its bill.
Trade Union Bureaucracy
The total membership in trade unions in Britain has dropped to a total of 5,766,187 million people in Britain. This fall in membership reflects the cowardice and betrayal of TUC leaders since the miners’ strike of 1984-5.
Leon Trotsky observed in 1938 that “the historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” (2) That still remains the case in the 21st century. The trade union bureaucracy is incapable of understanding the crisis of British capitalism. The Tory government wants to atomise and destroy the working class in Britain by ensuring that workers and youth are reduced to slavery. They intend to transfer wealth to the rich in Britain. To achieve this they must eliminate state support through their welfare reform proposals and their Trade Union Reform Bill.
Unfortunately, the potential of the working class to fight back is seriously hindered by the chronic deficits of the labour movement. For example, the majority of migrants and the most oppressed in Britain are not organised into trade unions. There is a two tier workforce in Britain. The structure of trade unions with its undemocratic and bureaucratic structure favours the bureaucracy and the labour aristocratic workers who benefitted out of British capitalism during the boom years.
The two main centrist groups in Britain – the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) – have developed a very close relationship with the trade union bureaucracy in Britain. The National Shop Steward’s Movement (NSSN), the industrial arm of the SPEW, has built an alliance with a number of left trade union leaders including Mark Serwokta of PCS, Matt Wrack from the FBU and Ronnie Draper from the Bakers union. They always speak on their platforms usually calling for a 24 hour General Strike.
The SWP also has an industrial arm called Unite The Resistance which, like the NSSN, has a close relationship to the left trade union leaders and they similarly always invite trade union leaders onto their platforms. The SWP usually adopts a more militant attitude but generally they have the same outlook in their relationship to their trade union work.
The most recent development has been the formation of a broad left organisation comprising ‘Left Unity’ in PCS (SPEW supporters) and ‘United Left’ (left bureaucrats and Stalinist fellow travellers in Unite around Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite).
However the election of Corbyn as Labour leader has shown that with imagination and a popular campaign youth and workers will respond in a fight against austerity.
As a first step, the RCIT in Britain calls for an end to a two tier workforce. It is crucial to organize workers of the lower strata – the precarious, poor, migrant and ethnical minority workers – in the unions and to give them a decisive influence in the unions. Likewise socialists must struggle to kick the bureaucracy out of the unions. An important step in this direction is the construction of a serious rank and file movement in the trade unions. Revolutionaries should try to establish communist fractions in every workplace and factory. The task for revolutionaries is the building of a pre-party organisation to overthrow imperialism and capitalism. We urge all workers and youth, migrants and the oppressed to study the platform of the RCIT and help us to build a revolutionary party.
The RCIT in Britain advocates the following demands.
* Stop the Tory’s racist immigration policies! Open borders for refugees! For equality of black, Asian and migrant peoples! For all migrants’ full citizenship rights, for the right to use their native tongue, and the right to all their cultural rights including the right of dress!
* For the nationalization of major industries and corporations under workers control! Nationalise all banks and corporations under workers’ control without paying compensation! Reinstate all public utilities that have been privatised by both Labour and Tory led Governments!
* Cancel all household debts! Occupy empty housing and oppose evictions if carried out by local authorities and Housing associations!
* Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws! Legalise the right to strike and withdraw your labour!
* Oppose all imperialist wars! British army and air force – out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Northern Ireland! Support the resistance!
* For a general strike to bring down this hated Tory government! For the defeat of the Trade Union Reform Bill and the Welfare Reform proposals!
* For a workers’ government based upon councils of action and for an armed workers militia!
* For a workers republic in Britain! For a United States of Europe!
(1) TUC Campaign Plan 2015 New Challenges Changing Priorities TUC Publications. All quotes from the TUC Congress are from this publication
(2) Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The
Transitional Program (1938); in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 181