A future that works: that will be the theme of this year's Congress. It will also be the concept that drives our work throughout the next Congress year and it will be the slogan behind which we will march through London on 20 October in what is sure to be a massive demonstration of support for our alternative to the Government's austerity-driven economics.
The importance of developing forward looking policies that offer hope for the future has been a prominent feature of our campaign over the past year, though in fact it was already acknowledged in our 'march for the alternative' that captured the public mood in the spring of 2011.
The central place of the campaign in the work of the TUC and the campaign's constituent elements were determined by the decisions taken by the Executive Committee at a special meeting held in October 2011. The purpose of the meeting was to take forward the commitment made at the 2011 Congress to undertake a two-year campaign to win support for our economic policies. A number of different elements were identified at that special meeting. These were: the need to win the battle of ideas -making the intellectual case for our policies; the importance of getting across our message on a day-to-day basis; and the need to communicate our message in a way that makes sense to the public and especially the substantial number of people who are neither convinced by the Government's message that austerity is a medicine that needs to be taken in order to cure our economic ills, nor committed to our alternative view that such an approach is counterproductive and what is needed is investment on a scale that will stimulate growth. A full report of our campaign work is set out in the first chapter of this report.
Campaigning and the development of new and more effective techniques of getting our message across are threads that have run through the TUC's work over the past year. This has been particularly noticeable in the area of employment rights. Here we have seen the growing influence of those like venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft who believe that the way to improve business efficiency is to make workers less secure. There is a battle going on within government at present between the 'ultras', who would hand all power to the bosses, and others who recognise that a return to the days before the law protected workers from employer excess is not the way to take the country forward and neither is it the way to electoral success.
We have sought to strengthen the hand of those who take the more civilised approach and we have tried to show how unpopular and counterproductive the other approach could be. There have been some successes: there appears to be less enthusiasm in government for regional pay in the public services than there was a few months ago and we have seen a rowing backing on plans to introduce detrimental changes to regulations on parental leave. But the debates within government on both issues continue and there are other big changes that are definitely going through. For instance, there are now firm proposals for the introduction of fees for workers taking cases to employment tribunals. Such charges will have a serious impact on some of the most vulnerable workers. Many other changes in employment rights are in the pipeline too and the coming year will be one in which we need to make our case for better rather than worse employment rights and win allies, for instance amongst the more sensible employers, as well as alerting the public to the threat to their rights at work. A full report on our work on employment rights is set out in Chapter 2.
That chapter also reports on our work on organising. The loss of jobs in the public sector, the difficulties of organising in large swathes of the private sector and continuing pressures on union resources make organising both more difficult and at the same time more essential. The TUC therefore continues to give support to unions in their efforts to recruit and organise in the workplace. The development of a thoroughly professional approach to organising is now an important, indeed essential, part of the TUC's work.
Equality is central to the TUC's mission and a report on our work in this area is set out in Chapter 3. As our research shows, the austerity-based policies have had the greatest impact on those least able to bear them. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is facing cuts that will make it harder to do its work. The overall reductions in public spending are having the greatest impact on women. Disabled workers are under pressure as are LGBT workers and the impact of rising unemployment amongst young people raises the prospect of a generation of disadvantage.
Meanwhile we cannot forget that periods like this have frequently seen the rise of extremist groups and, whilst vigorous campaigning over a long period has denied the far right the electoral gains for which they yearn, again we must not be complacent.
As we report in Chapter 4, there is a growing respect for our economic analysis as commentators struggle to make sense of the signals about the state both of the UK and world economy. Each day appears to bring fresh signs of crisis, whether in the failure of Britain to come out of recession, the growing numbers of young people left with precious little hope of a job, never mind a career with prospects, or, on a wider canvas, the whole European project teetering on the brink.
Alongside all this, we occasionally catch a glimpse of another world, one where a rich elite float above the concepts of taxation, honesty and obligations to each other whilst they move the wealth that they have milked from the work of others around from tax haven to tax haven. The time has come to reassert not just trade union values, but values of decency and honesty; values that recognise that public services are the means by which we share a common burden: we put in according to ability and take out according to need. There are some things that we cannot provide for ourselves, but if we all club together then that is the way to provide the common services that we all need.
The 2011 Congress concluded with the debate on public service pensions. This difficult and complex issue has occupied a prominent place in our agenda over the past year and especially over the early part of the Congress year. Getting clarity on what was being proposed and what it would mean in practical terms was not easy. The implications were different for different groups in different schemes and even for different sets of workers within a single scheme.
Many unions were involved and, rightly, they all had their own negotiators and their own decision-making procedures. At the TUC, our job was to help unions keep in touch with each other and encourage them, as far as possible, to respect each others' decisionmaking processes and their own conclusions. A report on our work on this is also included in Chapter 4.
That chapter also reports on our engagement with health, where, despite some sterling work by our supporters, especially those in the Lords, the Health and Social Care Bill was enacted. Implementation is however not straight forward and there are battles to be fought and principles to be defended across the country over the next few months and perhaps even years.
Education too is in the midst of a crisis of the Government's making, as ministers seek to impose ideological blueprints across the education system, irrespective of the practical objections of parents, teachers and communities.
Transport is another area in turmoil and where we are working with unions on campaign priorities. The establishment of the Action for Rail campaign, with the TUC and all rail unions working together, has been a positive development arising out of a resolution carried at last year's Congress and support from the travelling public shows that here we are indeed all on the right lines.
There are important issues too in the areas of energy and environment and here, again, the TUC has been working closely with the unions in the sector, engaging with government and employers. A year ago the Leveson Inquiry was establish to look at the culture and ethics of the press. It has been a year of revelations, a glimpse of relations as unhealthy as those that we see in the finance sector. We have worked closely with unions in the media industries and with campaign groups and we made our own submission to Leveson. We called for stricter limits on ownership and a system of redress that is open and fair for all, whether celebrity, union activist or someone who becomes newsworthy through no fault or desire of their own. The inquiry report will be produced later this year and the battle will be on to ensure that the opportunity for real change is not missed and the year of Leveson is not seen as a hiatus before the press barons and their friends in high places return to publishing as usual.
It is eight years since the TUC backed London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Over the intervening period we have been working closely with unions and the bodies responsible for delivering the Games. It has been an interesting journey with some successes and some frustrations. Congress meets on the closing day of the Paralympic Games but that will not be the end of our engagement. Our support was on the basis that the 2012 Games would provide a lasting legacy and we will be working to ensure that the benefits are felt in East London, which has been physically changed but where the economic gains are still to be felt, and more widely so that the lessons we have learned are carried forward to Rio in 2016 and beyond, making the Olympic movement one that lives up to the standards it celebrates not just on track and field but in the workplace too.
International work has always been a key part of the TUC's purpose and today as economies across the globe are linked so closely, it has never been more important for us to work together both with other national centres and through the global bodies with which we are associated. The battle between growth and austerity is one that is not just been fought in the UK but is worldwide in scope. There are some signs of success. Over the past year support for the financial transaction tax has grown. We have also been able to provide practical help to trade unionists in many countries, including those involved in the Arab Spring. But as figures from the International Trade Union Confederation show, trade unionists are under pressure in many countries and international standards too often disregarded.
One event worth celebrating in a difficult year was the election of Guy Ryder as the new director general of the ILO. A good trade union colleague, Guy faces a formidable task and one in which we wish him well. Guy was elected in June, but just a few months earlier Bill Brett, another great British trade union internationalist, died. It was a shame he could not have been there for Guy's election, but we did hold a celebration of Bill's life, organised with his former union Prospect, and it was fitting that Guy was among those paying tribute. The report on our international work is contained in Chapter 5.
The world of learning has always been of importance to trade unions, but as we report in Chapter 6, never before have unions devoted such a high percentage of their resources to helping members improve their skills and so help themselves, their workplaces and the economy. One important piece of work in this area undertaken over the past year was the report that we titled German Lessons. This contrasted industrial policy and the training and apprenticeship systems in Germany and the UK. The report prompted a tripartite visit to Germany, instigated by the TUC and supported by the Skills Minister and BIS officials. It was clear to all that took part in the visit that there are lessons that we could and should learn. We cannot simply transfer the German system here but we can do more together to improve our own systems. This is very much work in progress.
Health and safety too continues to be an area where the TUC and unions have been very active fighting off the all too frequent attempts to associate the health and welfare of workers with petty rules and unnecessary restrictions on freedom. The lessons of the Olympic Park - built on time, on budget and with high regard for workers' safety - are ones that deserve to be trumpeted. A report on all our campaigns and engagement in this important area is given in Chapter 7.
Our regional work is important too and, as our campaigns have demonstrated, there is great potential for increasing our reach to communities and helping union members to work together at local level. A report on this work is contained in Chapter 8.
Chapter 9 sets out our campaign work and the work we have done on parliamentary liaison and the organisation of events. The growing importance of electronic campaigning and communications both for the TUC and unions is also reflected in this chapter.
Last year we held Congress at Congress House and whilst the arrangements met all the tests we set, we readily acknowledged that holding the event 'at home' did not have the same buzz as going away and so we have returned to the traditional format and will do so again next year - though some important changes are being introduced from this year, including a Sunday start and a Wednesday afternoon finish. There are changes too in the composition of the General Council coming into place from this Congress with a slightly larger General Council taking the reins at the end of the event and with more unions having seats as of right. These changes are reported in Chapter 10.
This will be my last report to you, because as I am sure you all know, I will be retiring at the end of the year. As I said when I told the Executive of my decision, I think after ten years in this job the time is right for a change, both for me and the TUC. The TUC has been my working life and I will move on with so many friendships and with deep gratitude for all the opportunities the TUC has given me over 37 years. I was delighted - though frankly not surprised - that Frances O'Grady was the only nominee as my successor and that the support for her was overwhelming. Frances has outstanding talent and I am sure that she will bring to the job not only some fresh ideas but also a deep commitment to core trade union and TUC values.
Leaving us at this Congress will be three colleagues that I have worked with throughout my time as general secretary, and indeed some time before that. Paul Noon joined the General Council in 2001 and has led our work on the environment and sustainability. Jonathan Baume, who was once a TUC staff colleague, also joined the General Council in 2001 and has made an important and often distinctive contribution to our work over the past eleven years. Finally Alison Shepherd is stepping down after 17 years on the General Council. She has served as President of Congress and spoken up as the voice of the lay reps, who are the backbone of the trade union movement. I am sure that we wish all three of them all the best for the future.
TUC General Secretary
Minutes and agendas (2,700 words) issued 28 Aug 2012
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