The truth about the TUC congress and days of action

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Unions large and small are currently meeting, with each other and internally, to decide on what motions they’re going to back at this year’s TUC Congress in Manchester. There’s a raft of motions up for debate which call for varying degrees of campaigning and co-ordinated action to defend against public sector job, pay and pension cuts.

However, reports in today’s Times that there’s to be an autumn of strikes by angry unions strike me (no pun intended) as a little overblown. (The Times article is behind a paywall, but it’s been heavily borrowed from for this piece in the Daily Mail.)

It’s one thing to propose a motion to the TUC. It’s another to get that motion passed. It’s yet another – if it does pass – to do something substantial to put that motion into effect.

The “day of action” on October 20 called for in one of the motions – which led the Times to talk of an autumn of strikes – cannot be a strike, because you need to hold a ballot to call a strike. And because unions have to give lots of notice to bosses for strike ballots and their results, it’s safe to say that an autumn of strikes is now looking near-impossible. They would have to agree joint strike action at Congress (no motion calls for strike action as such), then plan strikes, give notice of ballots, hold ballots, get yes votes, give notice again… you get the idea.

And sometimes there are upsets. In September 2008, as I reported at the time, the Prison Officers’ Association pushed an amendment that would change a vote for “joint action” to “joint strike action”. It failed to go through, after the Unite delegates voted for the amendment by a show of hands, Dave Prentis in the chair called a card vote, and they then “lost” their voting cards. The POA general secretary said Prentis should “get new glasses”.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, the GMB, RMT and Unison have all put up motions against the cuts. Those motions will almost certainly be composited together into one in the next few days. How strong the motion is and how much support it’ll get remains to be seen. However, the FT is already reporting that the TUC’s general council is going for a day of protests in March next year, rather than October. The PCS union, which tends to take a hard line and favour joint action where possible – is pressing ahead with protests on October 20 and 23.

Another year, another TUC, another spate of motions calling for action. We’ve been here before (as I wrote two years ago). There hasn’t been solid joint industrial action in the UK in defence of jobs, pay or pensions for a few years. Of course this year is different – there are Tories in power and big cuts on their way – but wait and see.

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