The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, started the conference last Sunday with a statement to the media supporting those in Parliament who are trying to prevent a No deal Brexit .
This statement surprised me as it focussed almost entirely on Brexit, putting the focus on that to the exclusion of other issues.
This is a risky strategy as it risks alienating the Trades Union governing body from working people and the majority 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU.
Frances O’Grady made a number of allegations about the consequences of a No Deal Brexit which amounted to nothing more than a repeat of the scare stories which Remainers have been making.
She also maintained that the government was pursuing a hard right ideological project but ignored the fact that fulfilling the EU referendum result is a vital part of the British democratic system. She admitted that there is a deadlock on Brexit, but did not seem to comprehend that her statement would only further contribute to that. She said the TUC was going to set out plans to sort out the mess the UK is in, but these were effectively to do with domestic issues rather than the EU.
When I asked her if she accepted that her comments would only further increase delay, uncertainty and insecurity, she disagreed yet could not put any alternatives forward on Brexit. When asked why she was risking alienating the TUC from working people because they voted for Brexit she surprisingly disagreed that they did vote in that way!
If the TUC pursues this policy, and they have decided to do so as of Sunday’s resolutions, they will be seen as the voice of a small group of establishment organisations, out of touch with their ordinary members.
When I watched the debate on the Brexit resolutions I was shocked to find that many of the comments made were quite offensive about the current government and those who supported Brexit. You might expect this poor quality of speaking in a student union debate, but not from delegates of some of the most important Trades Unions in the United Kingdom. To make matters even worse, no one spoke against the resolutions, so the quality of debate was non- existent: there was none at all! More than that, many made no secret of the fact that far from only accepting Brexit with a deal, they do not want Brexit at all.
When the voting took place, there were just a small handful of delegates who did not support the resolutions, and that was indeed shocking when you consider that the majority of the country voted to leave the EU.
This focus on Brexit rather undermined the attention which was paid to the other issues which were on the agenda of the TUC conference, such as nationalisation, trade union rights, equalities, education, collective bargaining, industrial strategy, regulation, employment rights, industrial strategy, climate change, justice, and much more. It was a shame that the debates on these other issues just lost the impact they could have had if they had not been dumbed down by the Brexit issue.
The influence of ‘Labour Vote Leave’ has all but disappeared in influencing Labour Party policy, and this was reflected in the new TUC policy on Brexit. It seemed that Unions such as the RMT, which supported Brexit, were keeping their voices down, which hardly helped the TUC have a more people-friendly policy on leaving the EU.
There is a strong case for Leave supporting Trade Unionists to be more clever and pro-active in overturning the not very convincing arguments of their Remain colleagues. At present, their influence seems too close to being impotent.
Once the Brexit resolutions were passed, the mood of the debate changed to one of attacking the current government and attacking the concept of a Tory Brexit, as opposed to a Labour Brexit, which of course would be in working people’s interests. This emphasis on arguing that a Tory No Deal Brexit was in the interests of big business and against the working people was quite clever.
These points were hit home by visiting Labour MP guest speakers such as Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn. They were backed by key Union leaders such as Len McCluskey, Unite Leader, who said that Labour should support a pragmatic Brexit deal and not a second referendum.
This TUC conference is seen as a precursor to the Labour Party conference, because of the historical links between the Trades Unions and the Labour party. It is likely the Labour party will put across the same type of line at their conference, also in Brighton, and starting on 21st September.
It is possible that many Labour voters will put achieving Brexit ahead of anything else, so this stance by the TUC could go wrong and put back any hopes of some socialist policies such as rail nationalisation and other issues which are potentially popular with the voting public.
The crux of the TUC view is that they deny that the EU is responsible for many of the things which are wrong with Britain. They maintain that it is not possible to be sorted out unless Britain is rebuilt first. The TUC is fighting Brexit on the basis of fallacious tirades against Boris Johnson and his government. This issue is not about personalities and it is insulting to electors to associate them with such people.
Frances O’Grady in her speech on Monday was full of attacks on the current government, some of which were justified, but in reality they were nothing to do with Brexit. She insisted that the TUC are optimists and that there is a better way, but at no time did she say how the TUC would improve the Brexit negotiating stance which the country should be taking. This is because they have no serious stance.
The TUC failed to address key issues such as the effect of continued large scale immigration into an overcrowded UK with resources under huge strain. They ignored the benefits of having our own control of our laws, our trading, and our own Parliament regaining its sovereignty.
Defending the recent actions of the “rebel” Parliament, they failed to address the real issue of Parliamentary sovereignty which is being continuously eroded by the EU. They also ignored the £39 billion which the UK will save through leaving the EU.
The TUC have done what they accuse the government of doing, namely not stating what their Brexit negotiating position is. It hardly helps such a position to decide you do not want the fall back option of a No deal Brexit!
In conclusion, this conference in my opinion was not as constructive as the one I attended last year, and I blame this on the TUC Council’s ill- judged fixation with Brexit.
(Featured photo: courtesy of Anthony Webber)