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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
2012 TUC Congress Addresses Serious Issues
From the TUC Congress 2012
The Fight to Safeguard the Future of NHS Intensifies as TUC Meets for Future that Works
The Need for a New Direction for the Economy
Britain Must End its Intensified Warmongering Activities against Iran
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The 2012 TUC Congress addressed serious issues on which workers must take a stand.
The Congress has a lot of latent spirit, which is ignited when the conditions are created for the delegates to be inspired. That inspiration comes when a path is opened for them to see the possibilities for taking action for what is just, when they can see how the future might be transformed by a change in the direction of the economy and society. That was the overriding lesson of the Brighton Congress of 2012.
It had to address the depth of the anti-social offensive which is being carried out under the pretext of implementing an “austerity” programme. But it did so consistently from the point of view that there is an alternative. In fact, it could be said that the debates and the motions which were passed all centred around how to resist the anti-social offensive from the point of view of organising around the alternative. It was groping towards the conceptualisation of the need for the independent politics of the working class to be taken up in the working class movement.
If the theme of the Congress, “A Future that Works”, was not in fact addressed or elaborated consistently, nevertheless it provided the underlying theme that Congress could not help but return to. It could not help but provide an underlying unity, with an excitement and anticipation for the future and the class battles that lie ahead which centre around the future direction for society.
The spirit to resist and organise which lay beneath the surface of much of the Congress debates was brought to the fore when Motion 5 calling for the General Council to investigate the practicalities of a general strike was debated. This motion was moved and debated not in the spirit that the working class is at present lying prostrate before the attacks not only the workers but society as a whole and especially its most vulnerable members. Rather it was from the point of view of what actions of the working class movement can be effective in turning around the anti-social offensive being carried out under the dictate of the Coalition government.
The motion was debated in the wake of the speech to Congress by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls which tried to suggest that to take strike action would be to fall into the trap of being provoked by the Coalition. That Motion 5 was supported by the General Council and was passed with enthusiasm by Congress demonstrates that in fact the workers grasp the necessity to take a stand for the alternative, and to mobilise the whole of the working class behind this stand. In that sense, the carrying of the motion further opens the space to plant the alternative and to elaborate the independent politics of the working class.
WWIE will continue to elaborate the issues raised in the 2012 Brighton TUC of September 9-12 with the perspective of preparing for the national demonstration on October 20 under the banner of “A Future that Works”.
The decisions of the 2012 Congress are to be found [here].
Video: TUC Brighton
Film made by RCPB(ML) on debates at the TUC Congress which took place on Tuesday, September 11. These were the debates on Motion 77 “Trade union rights and UK membership of the EU”, and Motion 5 “Resisting austerity measures”.
reproduce a cross-section of interviews carried out
by Workers’ Weekly at the TUC Congress in Brighton.
Joyce Still, Unite delegate:
It has been very positive how at this Congress all the unions have stood together. I am a public sector worker, so obviously I am not very happy with being expected to work longer and then be paid less pension. … What the government has been doing in health and education is absolutely disgraceful. They have no mandate for these attacks. People never voted for that when they went to the polls in 2010.
Lindsay Williams, Portsmouth City Branch Unison delegate:
There were some very interesting debates which I found really worthwhile. This is the first time I have been to the TUC Congress. It is a little bit different from national conferences, with less heavy debate, but still really interesting and worthwhile.
Delegate (name withheld):
The Congress debated some very important issues. It was significant that Congress condemned the Coalition government’s misguided and wrong policies based on reducing the deficit that have impacted so much on people’s lives.
Len McCluskey, general secretary Unite:
I think Congress went very well indeed this year. I think you have seen expressed here a lot of anger, which of course reflects the mood of ordinary working people out there, fed up with the government’s austerity programme and wanting to do something about it.
It is really down to the trades unions and trade union leaders to give a lead and try and make certain that the anger of workers is properly co-ordinated, a coalition of resistance with community groups and student groups, senior citizens’ groups, so that we can resist this government’s path to poverty.
It is time for us to stand up and be counted, and I think it has been a good conference.
Andrew Murray, Unite delegate (chief of staff):
I think it was an important decision that was taken to consider the possibilities of a general strike. And I think that otherwise the movement is united around progressive policies. I think we could have done with a bit more spirit in the hall sometimes.
It was also an historic decision to have the first woman general secretary of the TUC in Frances O’Grady.
Les Woodward, observing Congress as National Convenor for the Remploy Trade Union Consortium, former shop steward of the former Swansea Remploy factory:
We have had a cracking conference. There has been lots of support from the TUC, as you would expect. We had a great fringe meeting yesterday where we put forward a set of demands that we are going to put forward to an incoming Labour government: to re-open the closed Remploy factories, to take into public ownership and control the Remploy factories that would have been bought out, and to pay compensation back only on proved need, and to re-open them on the basis that would be completely different from the last time. It would be a company run by disabled workers for disabled workers, benefiting disabled workers. ... Of course, the icing on the cake for me personally yesterday was the passing of Motion 5 moved by the POA for looking at the practicalities of a general strike. I think that the comment made by one comrade in the debate that the sooner we stop running the sooner they stop beating us is a very pertinent comment, and I look forward to taking part in it. Onwards and upwards! All the best!
Dunja Knezevic, Equity delegate:
It was my first time at Congress, so it was very exciting, with much food for thought. There is so much to talk about, with the economy in the state it is and how to oppose the cuts. So it has been really interesting and educational as well.
I moved the motion on organising in the fashion industry, which was a petrifying experience! I have never spoken in public before, so it was scary, but everyone was so supportive!
Agnes Hildich, Unite delegage from the south west:
This is my first time at Congress, and I found it a worthwhile experience and very interesting with many delegates speaking from the rostrum. I hope I can attend as a delegate again next year. I was very enthusiastic about the debate on the practicalities of a general strike, Motion 5, and I will be marching on October 20 for a future that works!
Mark Thompson, Unite delegate:
It has been quite a vibrant conference, with many important motions passed ...
Tommy Grimes, observing Congress from the Jim Connell Society:
I am from Ireland, over in Brighton with the RMT. Jim Connell is the man who wrote The Red Flag. The Jim Connell Society runs a weekend festival every year in Ireland. I have to say that the English unions come over to us every year – the RMT, the GMB, the miners. I’d have to say that the conference was most enjoyable.
In the week that followed the TUC Congress, on Sunday, September 16, 2,500 people marched along the seafront in Brighton to prevent core services being cut at their local hospital in a move to down grade it. Entitled Shaping Our Future, this plan is to centralise stroke care, unplanned general surgery and unplanned orthopaedic services in either Hastings or Eastbourne when all these services at present are provided at both General Hospitals in Hastings and Eastbourne.
In the same week, on Saturday, September 15, in west London thousands of people brought Ealing to a standstill against plans to close the Accident and Emergency, maternity and intensive care departments at four hospitals across west London. Accident and emergency departments at Charing Cross, Ealing, Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals have all been marked for closure under proposals outlined in Shaping A Healthier Future. NHS north-west London warned that they will have more than £300 million in debt by 2015 if the changes do not go ahead.
In fact, there are plans across the whole of England for closures, cutbacks and rationalisation of services. For example, in Tyne and Wear the South of Tyne Trusts, at the Queen Elizabeth, Sunderland Royal and South Tyneside, have issued a “discussion document” Accelerating the “bigger picture” – the way forward where District General hospitals will no longer provide core services at each hospital. Instead, these will be spread across almost the whole county in the three district general hospitals.
It can be seen that the battle is on for the future direction of the NHS. All of the changes being implemented are driven by a year-by-year enforced 4% “cost savings” and refusal by government to budget hospitals to meet their needs. This is coupled with the huge investment in mechanisms, such as the commissioner provider split, to fragment and drive health services more and more into the control of the private health monopolies. By wrecking those services that have been provided by each district general hospital the authorities hope to accelerate the degeneration of the NHS as a public service to impose their business model. This is the consequence of the market driven policy of successive governments which is being accelerated by the present Coalition government. Its result is that core health services will no longer be available in each district of the country. Instead, people will have to travel large distances for routine treatment, operations and for emergency services, intensive and specialist care.
It was in this context of the fight for the alternative and a future that works that TUC Congress 2012 debated the NHS. Among other things, the Congress called on the trade union movement to fight for credible alternative policies “to keep the NHS safe for future generations and to keep alive the vision of a publicly funded, publicly provided national health service on the principles of co-operation and not competition”. The TUC Motion 55 called on the working class movement to build on its resistance by “continuing and intensifying the All Together for the NHS campaign against the Health and Social Care Act and its impact”.
The whole direction of the running of the NHS must be changed. The government must be held responsible for the chronic deliberate underfunding of the NHS and its consequences. The future of the NHS must be fought for by affirming that health care is a right, and that the people have a right to decide on the future of the NHS. The government has absolutely no mandate for its wrecking of the health service. Fight to safeguard the future of the NHS!
The government claims that the only way out of the crisis is through making more sacrifices; its call is for further “austerity”, privatisation and financial measures as a means of paying the rich.
“Britain is at a historically important crossroads,” said Brendan Barber in his final speech as TUC General Secretary at the 2012 TUC. “The choice we face is clear. In one direction are decline, depression and despair. In the other are recovery, regeneration and renewal.”
Over half a million people demonstrated for the alternative on March 26 last year, a demonstration of the new, the social and human spirit of the working class, expressing the consciousness that there is an alternative, and that it is the working class and its allies who represent and provide the essence to this alternative. This alternative is a different way of running society and a new direction for the economy.
The dead-end nature of the present capital-centred direction has been amply exposed by the current crisis.
The unemployment rate of 8% continues to fluctuate around its highest level since 1995, while a massive 19% of under-24s are now jobless. Yet commentators have been drawing attention to the so far lower than expected unemployment brought about by the current crisis. This is the flipside of the coin to the phenomenon of “jobless growth”, which emerged as a feature of the economy in the early 1990s. Just as in that case, underemployment has risen sharply over the past four years. According to the TUC, drawing from Office of National Statistics data, the number of people “trapped in jobs that don’t have enough hours to provide the income they need to get by” stands at 11%, or 3.3 million, up from 2.3 million in early 2008.
Further, according to the Business Sale Report, in the month of August alone there were some 892 companies in liquidation with fixed assets totalling over £5.4 billion.
The tired refrain of “all in it together” rings hollow when confronted with the facts on the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, where the top 1% of the British population own 21% of the wealth, while the bottom 50% own just 7%. These figures compare with 18% and 8% respectively in 1991.
More than one in five lives in relative poverty, defined as 60% median income, after housing costs are taken into consideration. Perhaps the most damning indictment is the level of child poverty – 3.6 million after accounting for housing costs.
Personal insolvencies, bankruptcies, individual voluntary arrangements and debt relief orders totalled nearly 55,000 in the second quarter of this year. Outstanding personal debt stood at £1.4 trillion at the end of July, up 0.3% from a year earlier. This is comparable with the entire GDP of the country. Over the next five years, personal debt is predicted by the Office of Budget Responsibility to reach over £2 trillion.
The living and working conditions of the working population are also under attack through reduced pay and increased working time.
Total pre-tax earnings fell by 7.1% in real terms in 2010-11. The result has been the largest one-year decrease in average household income in thirty years over that time. Meanwhile, the hours worked by full-time workers has been increasing, currently 42.7 hours per week, up 3% on five years ago.
Restricting workers’ wages, while at the same time, trying to squeeze more out of the working class through more intense working conditions and longer hours is the most direct method by which private owners of capital enlarge their claim on the added value produced by the workers at the point of production.
Not only are the claims of active workers under attack, the claims of retired workers are also being restricted via their pensions.
The average annual return on British pension funds has decreased by 0.1% every year between 2001 and 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Most of that period was before the current crisis. The effect of quantitative easing since the onset of the crisis has been to greatly accelerate the wiping out of the value final-salary pension schemes. This loss in value comes to £270bn in total so far according to the National Association of Pension Funds. Furthermore, a worker retiring with a £26,000 pension will receive £1,320 per year, which is £440 less than what that person would have received on retiring four years ago.
At the same time, the government has been directly and systematically wrecking pensions in the public sector. The largest manifestation of the opposition to this attack on pensions so far was on November 30 last year, when up to 2.5 million public sector workers took part in the largest mass industrial action since the 1926 General Strike. This was followed by a major strike over the issue on May 10 this year.
Pensions form part of the issue of social programmes in general, which from the health service to education and welfare, are all under constant assault under the signboard of “austerity”.
The economy is currently directed to the needs of capital in the form of the claims of fiercely competing private interests. These needs of capital are ever more exposed as standing at odds with the needs of society as a whole.
The alternative means a change in the direction of the economy, centred on the needs of society as a whole. This is not just about defending what was previously won, but about bringing something new into being, in place of the old, defunct system. This starts with the human-centred perspective of working class, who must begin, in the midst of their ongoing struggles and growing resistance, by examining what is the nature of value and who has claims on the social product. These are the claims of workers according to their work and work-time on what they produce; government claims on social product to finance social programmes; and claims of owners of capital to profit according to their private ownership and control.
On the basis of this perspective, a Workers’ Opposition can organise to deprive the owners of capital – the monopolies, the financial oligarchy – of a portion of their claim on the social product, the total added value produced by the working class. This would increase the amount available to be claimed by the working class and government to be used for pay and pensions to guarantee living standards and for social programmes. Further, it points towards the working class having first claim on the economy and the use to which the wealth it produces is put.
An alternative financial system is required that serves the kind of economy desired by the working class and vast majority of the population. The existing private, for-profit banking system, which uses of the pooled savings of the public for private gain, must give way to a new not-for-profit system under public control, which uses these assets in the public interest.
Workers should discuss a new direction for the economy where the charging of interest is no longer permitted. Workers should also call for a moratorium on national debt repayments and abolish any further use of public securities, either locally or nationally, for private gain.
The direction of handing over the entire assets of the country to the monopolies, directly through privatisation and indirectly through public-private partnerships, private finance initiatives, and other arrangements being brought about should be reversed. The need is for the infrastructure and planned investment that will serve the socialised economy.
This requires an effective workers’ political movement that is able to renew democracy in the favour of the working class and people, providing itself with the decision-making power required to change the direction of the economy.
[Sources: AccountancyAge, BBC News, Business Sale Report, Credit Action, The Guardian, HM Revenue and Customs, Institute for Fiscal Studies, National Association of Pension Funds, New Policy Institute, Office of National Statistics, Pension Protection Fund, The Telegraph, Trades Union Congress]
As an addition to your excellent articles on the fight for pensions and the NHS, I would like to highlight the current struggle of those on Incapacity Benefit (like myself) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The government has been pushing through its drastic cuts to benefits for the disabled and unable to work, while simultaneously making its presence felt even more obviously, and without any sense of tragic irony, at the Paralympics than it did at the Olympics. Everyone on Incapacity Benefit is being re-assessed, with over a third of those re-assessed so far being found “fit to work”; DLA has been scrapped altogether; many people are being put on to a means-tested benefit; benefits advice services are being cut, as are schemes like Remploy, designed to help disabled people into work.
Paralympic sponsor Atos is the private company (a status which means that they are almost entirely immune from any real accountability, as, despite being paid by public money, they are protected by private contract laws that prevent any genuine transparency in how they carry out their role) contracted by the government to perform these “re-assessments”, and it has come under consistent criticism for failing to provide an adequate service. Having undergone this process myself, I can testify to how pathetically inadequate the questionnaire and accompanying interview were for my illness (M.E.), as they are for the majority of people on Incapacity Benefit, and how it is almost impossible to score the necessary “points” to qualify outright for support. With the Atos “healthcare professionals” under even more pressure to meet their targets (the existence of which a number of whistle blowers have testified to), the percentage of “failed” applications is unsurprising.
Many people will of course appeal their “fit to work” decisions, and many of those will be successful (a number of benefit advocates who specialise in these appeals claim to have an over-90% success rate), but will have sacrificed months to this most stressful of processes. But many (and one can’t help but think this is the government’s true plan) will be defeated by the strain of it all and will slip through the cracks. The appeals process has also been made harder by the government’s cuts to services designed to support people through this pro~ess, which for some will be critical.
On the cutting of DLA, Neil Coyle, the Director of Policy at Disability Alliance has said, “The Government’s decision to continue on a path which will deny help to thousands of disabled people and leave many more families in poverty is a bitter blow. It is hugely disappointing for the many disabled people and their families who have raised concerns with MPs and charities in an apparently vain attempt to ensure their voices were heard. …We believe the Government’s approach will not only cause significant hardship for disabled people and their families, but is likely to bear longer-term costs for public services – especially the NHS – but DWP appears to be ignoring this issue.”
By putting people on to a means tested “Employment Support Allowance” the government is shifting the responsibility of care onto the families and partners of those affected; the threshold for the means testing is set at a mere £7,500 p.a. Households already struggling with very low incomes will be further impoverished, and people who are unable to work will lose what little financial independence they currently have.
The cuts to schemes like Remploy not only removes vital support from disabled workers, but are also grossly short sighted in regard to the economy, as it drives up unemployment and makes people who were contributing re-dependent on state support.
All of which is causing great and needless suffering for many people. The accounts of people with mental health problems being driven to suicide as a result of having their benefit cut, people with serious heart conditions being told they are fit to work and then suffering fatal heart attacks, and other sickening stories continue to multiply. Doctors also continue to complain of being inundated with people who have been told to work, are clearly unable to do so, and are in a sorry state as a result. Disability charities are highlighting how the government’s anti-benefit rhetoric is leading to a sharp increase in violence towards the disabled. This rhetoric that claims that there is mass fraud in the benefits system is of course not substantiated by any studies, which actually suggest that only a tiny fraction of benefit expenditure is lost due to fraud, a sum dwarfed by the amount of legitimate benefits that go unclaimed every year.
Those who are unable to work are also least able to fight back against the cuts that affect them. Despite this, there have, impressively, been nationwide protests against the cuts to Incapacity Benefit and DLA, and Atos in particular. I implore all those interested in a progressive, human-centred society to stand shoulder to shoulder with those on benefits when they are coming under increasing fire, for unlike the government, illness and disability do not discriminate.
On Sunday, September 2, the Burston annual celebration of the longest strike in British history too place. A wonderful day with a family centred feeling, with in excess of 500 citizens attending. Part of the celebration was a march round the village of Burston stopping at the various points that the schoolchildren stopped at on the day of their rebellion against the sacking of their much loved and respected school head and assistant, Kitty and Tom Higdon. The Higdon’s were sacked because they promoted Socialist and Trade Union ideals. A pleasant walk in sun-dappled tree lined lanes of Norfolk.
At the present moment, we are going through a time of confusion and indecision about the future of our children’s education and surely Burston is part of the struggle to decide how our children are educated. The children of Burston decided that the authorities were wrong to sack their head teacher and her assistant and showed the desire to decide for themselves what form their education should follow.
The Burston Strike rally is a chance to remember the struggles our forefathers went through and reminds us that we must keep the ideals against the exploiters who think they have the upper hand at the moment because of the economic crisis brought about by their collapse of their unsustainable economic system.
It was good to be in Burston and see the many stalls representing the strands of the Trade Union and Socialist and Co-operative movements that come to Burston to promote their ideas and allow the citizens to speak to them and discuss the points of view offered. It is my policy to pick up every free leaflet or inexpensive tracts and keep them to read and digest when I am back home. It is good to meet the comrades that I might not have seen for years. The march around Burston is called the Candle Walk and was led this year by a brass band from the North East of England.
After the Candle Walk there were a number of speakers of which Bob Crow of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union was the most well known. The point he made when he pointed out that it is 98 years since Burston but the same class is still attacking the working class in the same old way I think is important. Cath Speight, Unite the union’s national officer, said Burston was a chance for activists to come together and re-energise their actions and take inspiration for future struggles. In two years time it will be the centenary celebration of Kitty and Tom Higdon’s and the schoolchildren’s stand and the organisers and Trustees are hoping for a memorable event that will stand out in the calendar of Trade Union activities.
Last week, the navies of the US, Britain, France and over twenty other countries, known as the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) began to converge on the Strait of Hormuz in order to carry out the largest-ever military manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf, the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (ICMEX 12). As reported in The Telegraph of September 15, under the headline Armada of international naval power massing in the Gulf as Israel prepares an Iran strike, “Cruisers, aircraft carriers and minesweepers from 25 nations are converging on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz in an unprecedented show of force as Israel and Iran move towards the brink of war.” This military provocation lasting nearly two weeks is the latest in a series of warmongering acts directed at the Islamic Republic of Iran and carried out under the leadership of Anglo-American imperialism.
According to news agencies, the sabre-rattling in the Gulf is in preparation for war in the region. There is increasing speculation about the likelihood of a military attack on Iran by Zionist Israel sanctioned by the US and its closest allies. Iran has been the subject of sanctions and other hostile measures by the US, Britain and their allies because of its advanced nuclear programme, which the government of Iran claims is only intended for peaceful purposes and which is permitted for all signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Only last week the majority on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), under the influence of Britain and the US, passed a resolution on September 13 expressing “serious concern” about Iran’s nuclear capability and urging that country to comply with US Security Council resolutions tabled mainly by the governments of the US and Britain. It is noteworthy that Cuba voted against the IAEA resolution, while Egypt, Tunisia and Ecuador abstained. For its part, Iran stated it was ready to comply with the resolution but would not compromise its national security.
The British government also continues to play a leading role in the economic sanctions and other attacks against Iran that are tantamount to a war against its civilian population and are designed to prevent the importation of medicine and other necessities. Last week, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that EU countries were planning to unleash yet more economic and other sanctions against Iran. Hague was also critical of Iran’s involvement in attempts to resolve the crisis in Syria, as part of quartet of neighbouring countries alongside Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The government of Zionist Israel has amassed a nuclear arsenal with the support of the governments Britain, France and the US and is openly issuing threats against Iran. There is now open speculation in the media that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran either shortly before or shortly after the presidential election in the US. In response to such an attack, it is claimed that the government of Iran might take measures to close the Strait of Hormuz to international shipping, thus cutting off oil and other vital supplies. It is in order to prepare for such an eventuality and to heap further pressure on Iran that the CMF is carrying out its current manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf. In response, the Iranian government has announced that it will carry out its own military manoeuvres next month.
Although the Coalition government is claiming that it is acting to restrain Israel, the latter is once again being used as a cat’s paw in the region and is an integral part of the warmongering stance of Britain, the US and others intent on regime change in Iran, just an in Syria. Anglo-American imperialism is not content to allow the gains of the Iranian revolution to be further developed and wishes to secure a geo-political advantage in central Asia both in its own interests and to the detriment of Russia and China.
The sabre-rattling and brinkmanship of the British government and its allies are creating an extremely dangerous situation in Asia with their warmongering and the fostering of violence and instability that could have unforeseen circumstances. Therefore the workers’ movement and all democratic people in Britain must step up the struggle to stay the hand of the warmogers, remove the threat of new war, and establish an anti-war-government.
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