Stand Up To Racism supporters at TUC congress in Liverpool (Picture: AntiRacismDay on X/Twitter)

Some trade union leaders became household names. Despite attempts by the media and press to ridicule the leaders of the strikes and portray them as dinosaurs, public opinion was, and still is, firmly behind those who take strike action. Unions and striking are popular.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Millions are using foodbanks, those in work are struggling to pay mortgages and rent while chief executives reward themselves with six figure salaries and million-pound bonuses. 

We are ruled by a corrupt government that uses racism on a daily basis to attempt to divide us. 

Therefore, the TUC, described by some as the workers’ parliament, should be the place where the leaders of the movement learn the lessons from the past year and then put forward a strategy on how we can do better in round two.

Unfortunately, this discussion did not happen. Trade union conferences are only the echo of the battle and the TUC even more so. 

This is the 14th time I have attended the TUC, and some things have changed. It was not that long ago that attempting to get a group of striking workers into the conference hall to speak directly to delegates was virtually impossible. Strikers were kept outside with their collecting buckets and only the most left wing of general secretaries would come to address them.

Today striking workers are given space on the platform to call for support for their strikes. General secretaries will speak at rallies as workers ballot for industrial action, such as the one the UCU union organised for the launch of the further education lecturers’ strike ballot.

Delegates passed motions calling for non-compliance with the Tories’ minimum service legislation. Previously the TUC’s general council might have headed this off by grave warnings of the dire legal consequences if congress were to pass such a motion.

The strike wave has ensured that the echo has become louder. 

But there was no attempt to answer the question of why we have not broken through. There have been notable local strikes that have won significant pay deals but no national union has broken through yet. 

The stop-start strategies adopted by most unions over the past year clearly showed the potential but they allowed the government and the employers to ride them out. We glimpsed the potential to unite millions of workers but there was no serious strategy to achieve it. 

The focus of the TUC was not how can we build upon the strike wave and prepare for round two but instead how do we ensure that we get a Labour government into office.

But that won’t satisfy everyone. There are tens of thousands of workers who voted to reject the deals their union leaders recommended to end their strikes. They are unhappy with the way the strikes have been led.

 It is these workers, and many others who agree what them, that we need to bring together to map out a way to win.

But there is also a pernicious and conscious strategy to move the trade union movement politically to the right. 

The GMB union leaders are constantly trying to push the most right wing, pro-imperialist positions into the trade union movement. 

At the last three TUC congresses they have successfully moved motions to support nuclear power, increase arms spending and at this congress a motion on Ukraine that effectivley backed Western imperialism. There is a pattern here.

The Stop the War Coalition, which held a successful fringe meeting, has made some headway over the last year. That was reflected in the original GMB motion, which called for arms to be sent to Ukraine, being softened when merged with other union’s motion (“composited”). 

But sadly, in his last speech to congress before he retires, it was left to Mark Serwotka of the PCS to make the most bellicose pro-imperialist speech in support of the motion.

The motion was passed overwhelmingly. You could hear the arms dealers cheering.

The passing of this motion is a real setback for internationalism and peace. We need to start organising now to stop the GMB leadership at the bequest of Keir Starmer, the arms dealers and the fossil fuel companies pushing through more support for imperialism and fossil fuels.

Those who oppose imperialism and racism must bring motions to next year’s congress to reverse the motions that place the British trade movement in the pro-imperialist camp.

Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, made an excellent speech in support of refugees and attacked the government for attempting to use racism to divide the working class. 

The last morning of congress saw 150 delegates attend a photocall in support of refugees. 

If the movement is going to be successful in stopping the divide and rule tactics of the government then we must make the links between war and racism. The dogs of war unleash the dogs of racism. 

And crucially we must fight for a strategy that leads our battles over the cost of living crisis to victory to avoid the bosses and the far right feeding off workers’ despair.


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