TUC Congress highlights
Monday's highlights from Unite speakers
On the second day of TUC Congress on Monday (September 13), Unite delegates moved and supported a series of motions on a variety of pressing industrial issues. Here are some of today’s highlights.
Defending disabled workers’ rights.
Unite delegate Dave Allan moved a TUC Disabled Workers Conference motion, in which he highlighted the struggles disabled workers have faced throughout the pandemic and well before.
“Society has changed beyond all recognition [since the pandemic began],” Allan noted, highlighting how so many of us have lost friends, family and colleagues to coronavirus.
He noted how the pandemic has had a massive impact on disabled people – more than 6 in 10 people who died after contracting coronavirus were disabled. What’s more, an untold number of non-disabled people have since become disabled after suffering now from long Covid.
He went on to explain how the home working revolution precipitated by the pandemic has presented many opportunities for disabled people, many of whom were told that the reasonable adjustment of working from home was not possible pre-pandemic. The huge shift to home working has shown that it can be a reality.
Allan acknowledged that home working does not work for everyone, and has left many feeling isolated. He called on home working to be “a workers’ request and not an employer’s demand.”
Reminding conference how successive Tory governments have failed disabled workers, he said, “We know we must carry on fighting.”
Fire and rehire
Unite delegate and young member Alex Graham spoke in support of a motion on fire and rehire. He highlighted the importance of Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s private members’ bill which aims to make illegal the pernicious employment practice that has become commonplace since the pandemic began.
“When the Bill was first presented we pointed out that fire and rehire is a practice that is outlawed in much of Europe. And it should be outlawed here too,” Graham said.
“We also pointed out that even Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, called fire and rehire ‘wrong’ and a ‘bad practice’, saying that companies should know ‘better’, he continued. “And whilst we won’t stop fighting for a change in the law to protect working people from this attack, we also know that we need to fight back in the workplace.”
Graham went on to highlight the victory at Go North West, which was one of Unite’s longest-running strikes.
“Following a strike lasting 82 days, the company agreed to Unite’s demand not to use fire and rehire in any form, and the pay and conditions of thousands of employees were protected,” he said.
Calling on support for the motion, he said Unite wholeheartedly backs a campaign “to outlaw fire and rehire, to raise public awareness, and to educate trade unionists on what can be done to fight against it.”
Structural and systemic racism
Unite delegate Susan Matthews moved a motion on structural and systemic racism on behalf of the TUC Black Workers Conference. In her impassioned speech, she highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the structural racism that is at the heart of so many of our institutions, in the same way that the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in America sparked a global movement that highlighted the same.
“International systemic racism practices are happening right across the globe,” she said. “You only have to look at the disproportionate number of BAEM people who have died over the course of the pandemic.”
Matthews went on to highlight that systemic and structural racism takes on various different forms in every one of our institutions, including in housing, education, health systems and more.
Calling for support of the motion, Matthews said, “We call for no more convenient action; we call for proactive action. We must look to make sure we combat racism,” adding that equality and diversity objectives must be at the very top of the trade union movement agenda.
Covid-19 equality impact assessments
Unite delegate Jane Stewart moved a motion on equality impact assessments as she highlighted the disproportionate impact that pandemic has had on women.
She pointed to the fact that women have already borne the brunt of austerity, and now during the pandemic they have had to juggle work, often multiple jobs, while also contending with child care, home schooling, and elderly care. Domestic violence has also skyrocketed during the pandemic, she noted.
She slammed the government for its failure to undertake equality impact assessments in their Covid-19 guidance. She said the 2020 budget failed to mention childcare at a time when the sector has been decimated. Meanwhile, domestic abuse charities are struggling to provide services so desperately needed. Cuts to Universal Credit and the National Insurance tax hike will also disproportionately impact women.
“Women have always had to juggle competing demands but the Covid [pandemic] has exacerbated and shone a spotlight on it,” she said.
Calling for support of the motion, Stewart noted that equality impact assessments which identify the disproportionate impact on women and other equality groups must be made mandatory.
“We need action not words on equality – no more empty slogans,” Stewart said. “We need an industrial strategy that puts women first.”
Police and crime bill
Unite delegate Taj Salam moved a composite which highlighted Tory attacks on workers’ rights, and focused especially on the police and crime bill as well as the covert human intelligence sources bill.
“The ‘Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill’ seeks to neuter and silence protest,” Salam said. The ‘Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill’ gives open licence to ‘Spycops’ to infiltrate – and even commit criminal acts – within our movements.”
Salam added that “these draconian acts seek to criminalise all those deemed ‘intentionally causing nuisance’ in the pursuit of justice and change. In doing so it casts its dragnet wide”.
“It targets environmental activists,” he went on to say. “It targets Black Lives Matter. It targets Gypsy, Romani and Traveller communities. And Congress, it directly targets us as trade unionists. Be in no doubt that our unions sit firmly in the sights of this legislation.”
Salam highlighted how the government has sought to silence workers’ voices during the pandemic, when police threatened workers at the disputes at SAICA Packaging in Edinburgh and Optare bus builders in Yorkshire with penalty notices and fines to break up picket lines.
Salam noted that it was vital for trade union members to fight back against Tory attacks on people’s rights and civil liberties by any means necessary.
Urging support for the composite, Salam said, “They can pass whatever laws they wish, but they will be rendered little more than scraps of paper in their inability to stop us defending our members.
“Let us remember now that a historic task of our movement is – to quote the Tolpuddle Martyrs – ‘to raise the watchword: liberty,” he concluded.
Fighting back against the international far right for LGBT+ equality
Unite delegate Phil Jones seconded a motion on LGBT+ equality and international solidarity.
Jones highlighted the violation of LGBT+ human rights across the world, including in European countries such as Hungary and Poland, as well as in Russia, various Commonwealth countries and the United States.
But he noted that far-right, homophobic agendas are present and growing everywhere, including in the UK.
“Far right political parties and groups are trying to gain a foothold in our communities,” he said. “They are using people’s unhappiness at the inadequacies of this Tory government to try to divide our communities and set neighbour against neighbour.”
“Unite, like many other trade unions, has a long and proud history of fighting against those who would seek to divide us — because we all know that when the far-right is allowed to gain a foothold they attack not just one marginalised area of society they attack all marginalised people including LGBT+ people, women, the BAEM communities and the disabled,” he added.
Highlighting Unite’s Unity Over Division campaign which equips officers and reps with counter-arguments to challenge the far right’s narrative, he called on delegates to support the motion to set up a “similar campaign in partnership with all of its affiliates to highlight how LGBT+ workers and allies can support our LGBT+ comrades throughout the world”.
You watch TUC Congress 2021 live online here. And don’t forget to tune into UniteLive for all the latest updates on Congress.
By Hajera Blagg