We have covered the dramatic changes taking place in the British trade unions in
previous articles. Here we examine these developments in the context of the 2002 TUC Congress which
takes place this week.
Today marks the end of the Trade Union Congress in Blackpool. It was a Congress that reflected the mood not
seen since the hey-days of the miners' strike of 1984-85. Since that time, we have had a decade and a half of
"new realism" and policies of (class) "collaboration" or "partnership", epitomised by the likes of Sir Ken Jackson,
ex-general secretary of the AEEU. Now a wind of change has hit the trade union movement.
Strikes in Britain are at their highest level for thirteen years and the
trend is upwards. The recent council workers' strike involving over one
million people was the largest strike by women workers ever seen in this
country. Fire fighters have voted unanimously at their recall conference to
ballot for strike action over a 40% rise in pay! If this takes place, it
will be the first national strike in 25 years. Rail and tube workers, who
have their own disputes, have threatened to refuse to work on grounds of
safety if there is no fire cover. The general public, according to a recent
Guardian/ICM poll, appear to sympathise with them. The days of workplace
"servitude" seem finally to be coming to an end.
The planned national industrial action by the firefighters is the first for
25 years. It coincides with an increasing radicalisation in the union movement,
which is a culmination of years of bitterness and resentment built up by the
attacks on the wages and conditions of workers in general, and in the public
sector in particular. The FBU is playing a leading role in the struggle for
better wages in the public sector.