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TUC: A jamboree by the sea?

10 September, 2012

Author: Warren Town

Brighton Pier

Déjà vu is a phrase that comes to mind when you have been at the number of Trade Union Congress events that I have.

In 40 plus years in the trade union movement I have seen much change but the one constant is the level of rhetoric that continues to pervade the halls of the successive congresses. Calls for collective strike action, opposition and dissent against public policy, that we hear every year, means that the public are right to be sceptical about how much we can deliver.

But, equally, that same public should not underestimate the strength of feeling that trade unionists across the UK feel about the coalition; about the way they intend to cut benefits, cut care and destroy employment rights, about their high handed attitude towards any opposition to their ideas and their patronising attitude to us all when they say they know what we need, when we know they will not share that pain.

In three days at Brighton the TUC [England] will debate, argue and condemn the Government and wait for that same Government  bite back and with similar rhetoric and condemn the TUC as ‘out of touch’, as ‘not reflecting the opinions of members’.

In 40 years and as a trade union activist and officer in two countries, the tragedy is that nothing changes and innovation is on the far horizon and rarely realised.

But the TUC must recognise that the  times they are a changing and affiliate trade unions need to see this before it is too late. The young want to belong, they want to make and be a part of change, as they watch Ministers feathering their own nests at their expense. Trade union membership is at an all time low and so now is the time for unions to rethink what they are and how they are perceived.

The SoR has changed over the 30 years I have been around and we are now looking to change further to meet the challenges of the future. Our membership is not down; our membership is engaged and like many professional and specialist trade unions,  we have the capacity to develop and to change.

We are at this TUC and we are in the debates, but the challenge is not a jamboree in a seaside town - it is having the guts and the foresight to motivate members to drive change and not think it will just happen.

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