back to front - made in britain


The way some people in the labour movement see Blair, you'd think that his position of leader was some kind of historical accident, the result of a hijacking rather than what it is — an organic development within the Labour Party, made in Britain, the natural culmination of a journey that started with Ramsay Macdonald, continued with Attlee and NATO, Wilson and the first attacks on unions, and went on with Callaghan and the Winter of Discontent.

Maybe that's why he got treated to such a wall of silence when he went to address the TUC in Brighton. As though he was just some kind of temporary interloper who could be ignored or shunned, rather than what he is: a product of our movement's own backwardness and refusal to take the future into our own hands.

The opposite of silence greeted Pedro Ross, the representative of the Cuban TUC. He got a standing ovation, and a motion supporting Cuba — the first from a trade union centre in Europe.

But delegates (and here they reflect much of the strength and weakness of workers in the country at large) seemed to find it easier to value national liberation and independence for other countries than for their own. The debate on the European constitution, while a step forward, showed how much further needs to be gone. While four unions opened up honest debate, an amendment noting "concerns" among affiliates was defeated - but the concerns, of course, continue.

And at least the motion passed does not commit the TUC to blind support for the constitution. It supported a referendum, but stopped short of supporting (or opposing) the constitution to give the General Council and unions time to assess what it means - as if that were not already obvious, as the fringe meeting organised by Workers, entitled "For Manufacturing and Public Services - No to the EU!", demonstrated all too clearly.

Still, at least the debate can continue, or, in the case of some unions, begin. Just as long as it isn't left to the TUC's research department, whose analytical skills seem finely attuned to effects and totally blunt when it comes to looking for causes. As the article on manufacturing (see "Features") shows, subservience to the European Union — the architect of much of our industrial destruction — is alive and well in Congress House.

Outside the TUC in Brighton, as an unseasonable storm symbolically lashed Brighton's crumbling West Pier, a lobby by Turner & Newall pensioners (see picture) provided a sharp reminder of how industrial and financial decay are eating away at the livelihoods of the working class.
Workers and pensioners from Turner & Newall - whose pension fund has collapsed - lobby the TUC in Brighton

It was noticeable that Jaguar waited until the end, with delegates already on their way back home, to announce the closure of its Coventry plant. Not that the Ford Motor Company cares about the TUC, but they probably acceded to a government request to delay the bad news. Announced earlier, it might have taken some of the wind out of Blair's sails as he spun his familiar threadbare tale about Britain's industrial success under his leadership. That spin again.

A fuller report on the TUC Congress will appear in the next issue of Workers