Trades Union Congress, September 2017
Brighton welcomed the first NEU delegation to TUC Congress with a very windy but sunny start on Sunday. How the weather was to change!
NUT and ATL section delegations met separately to consider the recommendations of their Executives regarding attitudes to motions and composites. At what may have been the first meeting of lay officers, executive members and staff, from both NUT and ATL, delegates met to consider the NEU response to motions and composited motions. There were differences on only two motions: Worker Representation and NHS Breast Screening. After a well argued, reasoned debate and discussion, agreement on our voting on these motions was reached. This was to set the tone for meetings of delegates on the conference floor, to decide on emergency motions and late composited motions.
The NEU delegation was one of the larger delegations, with approximately 60 delegates (NASUWT sat behind us). I certainly enjoyed having designated seats and not the scramble that occurs at NUT conference to keep a delegation together.
Mary Bousted, Joint NEU General Secretary, was Congress President and chaired the proceedings efficiently and fairly. Her president's address covered many of the themes that reoccurred throughout Congress: insecure work, poor wages, housing, poverty, organising young workers, funding public services, the public sector pay cap, health and safety, and privatisation. The lack of progress, action or negotiation in the Brexit was again a common theme of motions and speakers, with the very real concerns of preserving and improving workers' rights.
These themes were echoed in other addresses to Congress by Frances O'Grady, Glenys Wilmott and Jeremy Corbyn.
Columbian Trade Union leader, Huber Ballesteros, was finally able to deliver a speech to Congress following his release from three years imprisonment; Justice for Columbia and the TUC played a key role in securing his freedom. Whatever the recent developments in the Columbian peace process, there are ongoing threats to trade unionists and activists.
The fringe meetings were wide and varied in their topics, but a free lunch always draws in the crowds!
The NEU School Cuts - what's the damage? meeting was very well attended (free lunch) by parents, grandparents, educators, activists and the curious, and demonstrated the impact of the School Cuts site in raising the profile of education during the general election campaign.
Pay and Privatisation organised by the Trade Union Organising group (free lunch) not only had Matt Wrack and Mark Serwotka speaking, but an excellent address to the meeting by one of the young striking Mc Donalds' workers. Young people are the future of trade unions and are taking on the issues.
Trump, US blockade and intervention: solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela, organised by the relevant solidarity campaigns (free Havana Club cocktail) - reiterated that international solidarity is crucial and what we can do to stand up to Trump.
Monday afternoon saw a very moving tribute to the victims of Grenfell Tower, presented by Frances O'Grady, celebrating Public Service workers. A fire fighter, a nurse, ambulance driver, a coordinator, Clinical Psychologist and a hospital chaplain, who had all been on duty during the Grenfell Tower fire, or the Manchester Arena bombing, or the attack on Westminster Bridge, represented all those public and emergency services that we all rely on everyday and yet whose pay remains frozen and therefore cut.
57 motions were debated with only one defeated (decriminalisation of sex work). Memorable motions and speakers were the motions on School Buildings (sprinklers in all new and refurbished schools) and Mark Serwotka's speech on Public Sector Pay, where he informed us that there will be a consultative ballot and if that result is positive a ballot for action. There were 3 emergency motions: The Royal Mail, Birmingham refuse collectors and upholding ACAS agreements and the final emergency motion at Congress was the NUE motion, Academies in Crisis. This motion was submitted as response to the Wakefield City Academies Trust abandoning its 21 schools, a reflection of the failure of the academies programme. Sally Kincaid, who works at one of the schools, proposed the motion which was passed unanimously.
Proceedings in Congress are quite slickly managed, probably for a variety of reasons, but some aspects did raise the concern of how democratic the whole process was; amendments to motions are neither debated on or voted on, they are simply incorporated into the main motion. There is no suspension of standing orders on emergency motions; composites to motions were presented throughout congress and finally there were no signers. Having said that, matters move at a pace and three minutes to speak for or against a motion certainly concentrates the mind and the content.
My first attendance at Congress coincided with the first appearance of NEU, and on reflection a very positive debut for all. With Mary Bousted chairing proceedings and 21 speakers from both sections speaking to support or oppose motions, a successful fringe meeting and the very relevant emergency motion the NEU, made an impressive debut.