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Britain's workers drew a line in the sand yesterday with a vow to confront Tory attacks on them and their communities head-on — with a general strike if necessary.
Cheers echoed around the TUC Congress conference in Bournemouth as delegates representing 6.2 million workers voted eight to one to back motion 54, which commits the organisation to retain general strike plans in its industrial arsenal.
They rejected opposition from steelworkers’ union Community and retail union Usdaw, among others.
Community leader Michael Leahy OBE said “with a heavy heart” that he agreed with much of the motion but a general strike was “inpracticable and debates around it a distraction.”
And Usdaw general secretary John Hannett warned that by reiterating the call to consider the practicalities of a general strike it would give media opponents “a stick to beat us with.”
But RMT general secretary Bob Crow hit back in a tub-thumping day one session.
Plans for a general strike shouldn’t be kept in a box in a cupboard in the attic but “should be a polished lamp that we use from time to time to give people support,” he said.
Proposing motion 54, he said: “If anyone can tell me that things have got better then fine, but quite clearly listening to speaker after speaker what’s happened over the past 12 months is that things have got worse.
“We can either stand in the middle of the road paralysed like a frightened rabbit or get off our knees and fight for what we stand for.”
Backing the motion Tony Kearns of the Communication Workers Union branded Tory Britain an “absolute disgrace” in which “our people are getting poorer — more in poverty, more low wages, more on handouts, more living on the streets.
“You either put up with the situation or you do something about it.”
And POA general secretary Steve Gillan added: “The reality is people are crying out for leadership. The general council has a duty to provide that leadership.”
There had been 100 per cent backing for the previous motion resisting wider-ranging Tory attacks on unions and employment rights, including a raft of new restrictions in the draft Lobbying Bill, and demanding pledges from the Labour Party leadership to include the repeal of anti-union legislation in its next manifesto.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey led the charge, declaring: “Shackled unions mean a crippled society. Stronger unions mean a decent country for everyone to live in.
“Union-bashing hasn’t created a single job — instead it has led to inequality, poverty and increasing desperation.”
The composite motion demanded “a new legal settlement to provide for new rights and new freedoms for trade unions and people at work.”
This would prevent trade unions having to adopt “tactics of the French resistance” in order to organise workers, said GMB’s Martin Smith.
And NUJ speaker Anita Halpin declared: “What’s wrong with repealing the whole lot — we did it 40 years ago.”
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