Vague resolutions and dirty looks

Lee Rock attended the TUC as a PCSU delegate. He was less than impressed

There's only a day and a half to go as I write and, oddly enough, there has not been one vote worthy of the name yet. That may change tomorrow with some rather more controversial stuff on the agenda about Iraq and China. There is just no opposition to anything, no debate or any real life - it's incredible. So the chair just says, 'That's carried overwhelmingly' - there are no votes against. All the resolutions are pretty tame to start with, but where there may be some areas of difference, they get composited out of existence. It's all sorted before we turn up. The recommendation at the PCSU pre-conference meeting the week before this started was to vote for everything - the entire booklet. I think that underlines how bland things are. It was the same when Gordon Brown spoke. For our union, this was an important moment in the proceedings - 100,000 jobs are meant to be going in the civil service and there is a general attack on pensions for all the public sector unions. But the official PCSU position was to maintain a 'dignified silence' instead of clapping. That was it - everyone just sat there passively. Then on the Wednesday we had another minister come to the conference - Alan Johnson, ex-leader of the Communications Workers Union and now trade and industry secretary. We had a delegates' meeting beforehand and I said that this time we should all get up and walk out; that or heckle the bloke. The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party delegates said we would "isolate ourselves" if we did that, so we should go for the 'dignified silence' routine again. The SP suggested that if we could pull the entire congress, then we should go for it. That's a bit bizarre, of course, because if we could pull the entire congress then the man wouldn't have been invited in the first place. They can't quite bring themselves to clap the politicians who are massacring our jobs, but they will give them some really dirty looks "¦ The RMT resolution on trade union rights that was passed on Monday was left so vague that everyone could vote for it. But it is certainly a tougher position than the TUC has taken for some time. It at least has a commitment to action of some sort - a campaign which includes a march on parliament - although if we leave it to the TUC chances are it will be buried. I attended one fringe meeting with a top table of 13 union general secretaries. That was full of rhetoric about meeting any new government assault on pensions with a real fight. But this unity is very fragile - with different pensions schemes being proposed for different sectors, the potential exists for the government to undermine any united front. So, on the one hand, congress has seen some fighting talk. There have been quite of a lot of angry words going back and forth between New Labour and various union leaders and many delegates are saying this is a much livelier affair than in 2004. But, on the other hand, two militant leaders of high-profile unions, Bob Crow of the RMT and Matt Wrack of the FBU, were not elected to the general council. This indicates something about the politics going on behind the scenes - both, after all, are figures who have not been afraid to back parties and candidates other than Labour in the past. The proposed merger of Amicus, TGWU and the GMB into a new 'super union' is causing some debate. Given the scale of what would be created, there is quite a lot of concern that it would effectively make almost everything else irrelevant. But the key question is not so much size, but politics.