Last week at the TUC was great, catching up with lots of people I used to see regularly as DGS of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS). Rather than being involved in the machinations on the floor of Congress; to be operating on the fringe on behalf of the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign).
Next week, at the Labour Party conference it will be the reverse. As PCS has never been affiliated to the Labour Party – like most civil service, teaching and professional unions – I was only ever attending as a visitor, this time I will be going as Canterbury and Whitstable’s PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate).
Congress was focussed on industrial issues – cuts, austerity, privatisation, the NHS and education. But the new initials on everyone’s lips were TTIP. This is a proposed trading agreement (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) between the EU and the US. It will open up public services – potentially the NHS and education – to yet more competition; with the added threat of companies being able to sue Governments for threatening their profits if they block privatisation!
Naturally it was rejected by Congress, attracted lots of delegates to hear about it at fringe meetings – but is supported by UKIP and the Tories, showing the real nature of their euro scepticism – greed. It will be an important discussion at the Labour conference too, an important litmus test issue.
The challenge for Labour will be to emerge as a party of labour. On Wednesday, I will be speaking at a Labour List fringe calling for a pledge for every worker in every workplace to enhance their rights. With zero hours contracts becoming a standard practice coupled to non-liveable wages people at work need access to rights and unions to redress the increasing imbalance in the workplace.
In the wake of the Clacton by-election and Ukip’s expected victory – I will be speaking at UAF’s (Unite Against Fascism) fringe on Monday discussing how we should stand up to racism and Ukip. With East Kent a target zone for them, it will be a challenge we face – the solution cannot be accepting their arguments that immigration is the problem and isolation the solution.
The other big event will obviously be the Scottish referendum. We watch and wait!