Jeremy Dear was one of several left union leaders to be newly elected on to the TUC General Council. Socialist Appeal spoke to him at the recent TUC Conference.
This year's TUC Congress appeared to signal a new mood. Is that your impression?
Very much so. There is definitely a greater confidence and more people prepared to stand up against privatisation, the threatened war on Iraq, low pay and so on. The motions passed on employment rights and public services are very positive. A few years ago the concept of the repeal of the anti-trade union laws or renationalisation of the railways were being defeated. Today they are being unanimously passed. Where before there was talk of partnership at every stage this year many spoke out against partnership and for a fighting trade union movement. And it wasn't just the motions but the whole mood was transformed. There was a real feeling amongst most delegates that we are entering a new period. Many unions have seen rising membership and an increase in activity. We've seen victorious disputes over pay, privatisation, and now pensions. Unions won back recognition in over 500 workplaces in the past year. That breeds confidence and a determination not to accept low pay, long hours, poor conditions and phoney partnership arrangements.
There was also clear evidence of a new left emerging.
That's right. In the Section C (unions with less than 100,000 members) elections for the General Council at least five of those clearly identified as being on the left were elected, including Mick Rix, Andy Gilchrist and Paul Mackney. Add to that Mark Serwotka, Derek Simpson, Billy Hayes and others and it is clear the new mood in individual unions is also being reflected now in the TUC General Council. On the floor of conference and in the fringe meetings it is clear there is an emergence of a new left to replace the failed old ideas of the likes of Ken Jackson and others.
There was some debate on the fringes of the conference about the relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party. How do you see this question?
I think it was Tony Benn who said there were too many socialist parties and not enough socialists. He's right. It is vital at this stage that people don't abandon the Labour Party but instead join, become active and organise to reclaim it for the values we believe in. The struggle going on in the unions will be reflected at a certain stage in the Labour Party too. When big business donates to the Labour Party it expects something in return. Our movement should be demanding more for the money it donates and building its influence at every level of the party. It's no good standing on the sidelines - it's time to get in there and battle for our ideas.
What were the key debates at the TUC?
The debate on Iraq was clearly very important and it was clear from speaker after speaker that the trade union movement was very sceptical of claims from the US that this would be a war for justice and against the development of weapons of mass destruction. Speakers pointed to US backing for Saddam in the past, to US claims that they would effect a regime change with or without UN backing and of the enthusiastic support from US oil giants for the policy of regime change. We were also proud to be able to offer support for the firefighters in their struggle for improved pay. It was a common slogan that if there is money for a war in Iraq then there is money to pay the firefighters. Pledges of solidarity action from RMT and Aslef members and others showed the movement is determined to win this particular battle.