Throughout this week, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has met virtually for the first time in its history.
General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, in conversation with Morning Star editor Ben Chacko, argued “At EVERY level this virus has exposed the injustice of inequality and the impact of class, gender and race. A decade of cuts left us unprepared, and governments allowing health and safety to become a subject of mockery, cutting inspectors and Health and Safety Executive budgets — and local authority budgets — has led directly to some of the sweatshop scandals we saw in fast fashion and food processing, where, as we know, there were outbreaks of the virus,”
She continues “Going back to that famous assertion that there’s ‘no such thing as society.’ What’s now very clear is that there has to be. You cannot separate people’s health from the economy. You need strong unions to look after people’s rights. You can’t exclude people from decision-making. This is about decency and dignity, at work and in the community As Britain faces a looming jobs crisis, a number of trade unions have reported surging membership over the course of the pandemic as workers realise that without union representation they are more likely to be made to work in dangerous conditions.”
As O’Grady highlights- “The evidence is clear. If you’re organised at work, you’re much more likely to be safe and avoid accidents and injuries — and, in this case, avoid being exposed to the virus.“
Speaking to the virtual TUC conference yesterday O’Grady said: “too many of those who kept this country going through the crisis don’t get the respect they deserve.” She called on the Government to increase the minimum wage, which currently supports over two million key workers, and launched the TUC’s new campaign for key workers in support of a £10 minimum wage. The Government announced last week that plans to increase the minimum wage next week had been shelved.
This week has seen the near collapse of the UK’s testing system, similarly cases are rising significantly in schools, and local lockdown measures are having to be implemented across different part of the country. All because the Government were so desperate to reopen the economy.
Despite this, analysis has shown that, as well as having the highest death rate in Europe, the UK is also experiencing the deepest recession. Plans to scrap the furlough scheme remain in place for next month.
Other union leaders have followed suit in condemning the actions of Johnson’s Tory Government. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “I have no doubt in saying the actions of this government have contributed to thousands of deaths that could have been avoided.”
Similarly, UCU leader Jo Grady said that the government was reopening universities not for the benefit of students but “because they’ve constructed a marketplace for education that needs its ultimate consumers, our students, to pay fees and rent”. There are serious concerns over the return of students to campuses across the UK.
YCL General Secretary, Johnnie Hunter, said “A combative tone from this week’s TUC will be welcomed by trade unionists, workers and young people up and down Britain – but we need more than warm words and slogans to tackle the crisis we’re facing. The TUC can’t take its lead from Keir Starmer on ‘responsible opposition’, which in reality is no opposition at all“
He added, “Johnson’s Tory government are opening continuing the anti-working class offensive against living standards and rights that’s been ongoing for a decade already . Meeting the Tories in the middle – class collaboration – isn’t an option and never has been. Now is the time for the labour movement to seize the initiative and propose bold policies. Britain’s communists are calling for a fight for real health and safety during the pandemic, full employment and a new apprenticeship system to prevent another lost generation of youth.”
He concluded “This will only be achieved if the TUC and trade unions adopt a militant line, prioritising recruitment among unorganised workers, increasing density in organised sectors and preparing strike ready workplaces and industries to enforce these demands. Policies on these lines and a determination to lead from the front will reverse the longstanding decline in trade union membership – especially among young workers.”
For further analysis of the TUC conference, head over to the Morning Star, with reports from MP’s, Union General Secretaries and Frances O’Grady as well.