Unite executive officer and conference delegate Sharon Graham made the case for unions to intensify their core industrial work as she spoke in support of a motion on Monday (September 9) at the TUC conference in Brighton.
Graham said such work was vital at time when workers’ wages have stagnated, the distribution of wealth has gone back to proportions not seen since 1930 and there has been massive increase in job insecurity, fragmentation and automation.
“It cannot be now business as usual,” she said. “We are trade unions and the industrial must be our first task. We need to be much more industrially prepared – in actions as well as words.”
Graham highlighted how Unite has 36,000 agreements with employers, and the union sits at the bargaining table 33,000 times a year.
“Can you imagine how many times that is replicated in his room?” she asked conference. “Is there a way we could widen and deepen this collective? Is there a way we could co-ordinate our collective bargaining? Could we do some or all together?”
Graham made the case for co-ordinated work across sectors and employers and the sharing of industrial information so that unions can build a common industrial strategy.
“We know every time an employer pushes back, sacks our stewards, or stays non-union, it hurts us all,” she said. “They get stronger, more emboldened and they learn. No-one can win unless we all win.”
Graham noted that “collective bargaining still remains the tried and tested method of pushing up pay and conditions, with “unions acting collectively and stewards acting collectively, driving pacesetting agreements through sectors”.
“We cannot wait for the law to change on sectoral bargaining,” she added. “We need to force it. We need to build it, bottom up — so it cannot be dismantled, workplace by workplace, sector by sector.”
Graham called on conference to consider joint campaigns “if it makes industrial sense” and further pursue alternative strategies like leverage. She urged unions to be bold – to not be risk averse and to build confident stewards and strike -ready workplaces.
“Let’s re-energise the industrial; build thousands of leaders,” she said to thunderous applause. “Let our heroes be the Collective and begin the co-ordinated push back.”
The motion was carried.