The TUC’s campaign plan sets out what our movement will do together, over the coming year. It’s our manifesto for working people. It complements the campaigns and industrial priorities of individual unions, and offers a platform for members of different unions to work together on campaigns locally, through trades councils, regionally and nationally.
As you plan for the coming year, think about the practical actions your branch, trades council or region can take to promote our common priorities, show practical solidarity to workers in dispute and lend our support to wider campaigns that share our values. Whether it be at Workers’ Memorial Day, May Day, heartunions week, Durham Miners’ Gala, International Women’s Day, Black History Month or Tolpuddle, trade unionists stand up for equality, justice and working people all year round. And throughout the year to come, there will be tools and resources to support you at tuc.org.uk.
For over a decade, working people have seen their pay packets hammered and public services cut, and now there is growing uncertainty about the UK’s post- Brexit future.
A year on from the snap general election that delivered a hung parliament, prime minister Theresa May’s government endures, but all government focus is on Brexit alone, with almost all domestic policy priorities crowded out. The rhetoric of concern for the “just managing” that characterised the start of her premiership has all but disappeared – and the disastrous policy of austerity continues to decimate our public services and welfare state. In contrast, the Labour party continues to set out a bold policy agenda, often rooted in trade union concerns.
Amid this upheaval, trade unionists have won some important political battles – not least the end of the pay cap for many (though not all) public servants, following determined union campaigning after the general election. Unions also won a landmark case at the Supreme Court, which ended fees for employment tribunals. And our movement continues to challenge companies that break employment law, winning important cases about bogus self-employment at Hermes and in the building trade, amongst others. The collapse of Carillion highlighted the failures of outsourcing – and unions were closely involved in ensuring that workers and apprentices were treated fairly in the aftermath. We are still waiting to see whether the government will implement any measures from the disappointing Taylor Review on modern employment practices.
But the major public priority preoccupation of the government is Brexit, with less than six months before we leave the EU. The prime minister’s red lines that the UK should leave both the customs union and the single market have prevented her coming up with a Brexit that works for working people. There is no majority in parliament for plunging over a cliff, but her control over her party, and her unstable majority might lead to another Conservative party leadership election to determine
the course of Brexit – or even another general election, if the government falls.
Amid the political upheaval, workers still bear the burden of government indifference. We are in the longest wages squeeze since Napoleonic times. More than three million workers face extreme insecurity at work, in a labour market that has shifted the risks of work (but none of the rewards) from employers to workers.
The UK remains profoundly unequal – with the differences between regions and nations, towns and cities, showing the impact of uncontrolled globalisation and years of deregulation, cuts and underinvestment on poorer and middle-income communities. BME workers and migrant workers continue to bear the brunt of longstanding racist and anti-immigration sentiments, and the far right has gained confidence from the rise of nationalist and populist politicians in other countries.
The world of work continues to change fast, as new technologies become commonplace and customer expectations of speed and convenience continue to rise. Digital could be used to create more productive and satisfying work, but too often it serves the interests of business owners rather than workers.
In the face of these challenges, the UK trade union movement has responded, stepping up organising in multiple sectors and scoring some notable victories such as winning recognition at Ryanair for both pilots and cabin crew. The strike of university staff over pensions led to huge numbers of young lecturers joining their union, and exciting new campaigns have launched to organise McDonald’s and TGI Fridays workers.
But still, the union movement is shrinking – and aging. The most recent annual figures show that despite a small increase in membership to 6.23m members, union density has fallen to 23 per cent. Just 16 per cent of young workers aged 21–30 are members of a trade union. Over the last two decades the proportion of union members aged 50 and over has almost doubled.
Extending collective bargaining is the best pay policy there is: yet on current trends the union movement will represent just one in five workers by 2030. To deliver for working people, the union movement needs to change.