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TUC Congress ’19 A crucial juncture for our movement

With Tory attacks on our rights, the dangers of a no-deal Brexit and rising racism in our society, it’s never been more important to stand united, says MARK SERWOTKA

THIS year’s TUC will be one of the most important in many years.

The labour and trade union movement faces huge challenges, not only with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit but with our state of readiness to defend all of our members from attacks by a hard-right Tory government.

In various pockets of the economy we have been putting up a tremendous fight. In PCS we have 15 disputes around various issues, including indefinite strike action over the London living wage at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a month’s strike action currently at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and repeated strikes in universal credit.

The heroic effort of our BEIS members — mainly migrant cleaners, caterers and other support staff — who have been on strike for over six months is a great example to the whole trade union movement.

Contractors Aramark and ISS have refused to pay them the London living wage and BEIS management simply pass the buck back to the private companies.

How can the government claim to care about other issues as well as Brexit when it can’t pay people in its own departments a living wage?

Elsewhere contracted-out workers on the railways and food workers in McDonald’s and Wetherspoon have been taking a stand for their rights and taking on powerful employers to get a living wage.

And one of the most impressive trade union campaigns this year was the work-in at the Belfast shipyard by Unite members, with the aim putting the company back into public ownership.

All of these campaigns not only improve the terms and conditions of workers in those disputes but serve as an inspiration to all trade unionists to motivate them in their workplaces.

PCS has had a full and in-depth discussion about how we deal with Brexit and unfolding political crisis gripping the country.

There can be few who can deny on the available evidence that a Johnson/Trump no-deal Brexit would will be disastrous for Britain and for trade union members, whether they voted for Remain or Leave.

It is important we recognise that we need maximum unity in the trade union movement which cuts across the Brexit divide.

PCS is urgently calling for a general election on our terms. We believe that a radical Jeremy Corbyn government with a clear vision to transform the economy and invest in our public services would be in the interests of our members.

We must be ready to take to the streets in a national demonstration if a general election is not forthcoming after no-deal Brexit is taken off the table.

One thing that has been lost in the whole Brexit debate has been the fate of EU nationals. They are a significant part of our unions and have contributed to the economy and to the cultural enrichment of the country.

The free movement of people both inside and outside of the EU should be something we welcome and seek to extend going forward.

If there are bosses who exploit workers from abroad then that should mean we double our efforts to organise those workers and oppose any racism and scapegoating.

On a personal level if it wasn’t for immigration I wouldn’t be here now. The wonderful NHS staff at Papworth where I had four heart operations to save my life were from all parts of Europe and across the world.

At a time when the global fascist right is resurgent and growing in confidence from their ally in the White House, the labour movement needs to have an uncompromising approach of solidarity with migrants both inside and outside of the European Union.

We’ve seen the nasty spectacle of a Donald Trump rally of 8,000 people, chanting: “Send her back” at Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali-American Congresswoman. 

Trump may not be an out-and-out fascist but that event was reminiscent of a fascist rally and Trump is encouraging the fascists by stirring up race hatred. It’s a unique moment of danger for our movement.

I’ve been proud to serve as TUC president over the last year. We should all be proud of our movement and its history. 

Now I want to be proud of what we do tomorrow and the day after. We face unprecedented challenges and dangers. Let’s unite and fight to defeat the Tories and the racists.

Mark Serwotka is general secretary of PCS.

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