TUC delegate views: Co-ordinated strike action

Dotun Alade-Odumosu Dotun Alade-Odumosu believes concerted action is needed to force a change of mind by the coalition

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The TUC's annual Congress in Brighton is likely to be dominated by calls for unions to come together to hold strikes over public sector pay freezes. But what do delegates think?

The sun is shining on the seafront as hundreds of union activists file past the tourists.

Their badges fluttering in the sea breeze, they walk through a tunnel created by dozens of Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members.

Mostly young, the SWP blow klaxons and chant: "TUC, get off your knees. Call a general strike."

If the Prison Officers' Association and the RMT transport unions get their way, that is exactly what the Congress in Brighton will debate later this week, even though there is more than a little doubt about the legality of such a declaration.

Other unions, such as Unison, Unite and the GMB, want at least a consideration of co-ordinated industrial action if the government does not relent in its commitment to a public sector pay freeze.

'Rich friends'

So strikes, like those held last year over changes to pensions, are back on the agenda.

But what do the delegates, ordinary union members sent to the Congress by their local branches, think?

Brian Watkins, a Unite member from west Wales, says: "It's a fundamental right a worker has to withdraw labour. It's the only weapon we've got.

Brian Watkins Unite delegate Brian Watkins believes co-ordinated strikes are justified as a "last resort"

"A strike shouldn't be used lightly but, as a trade union, you have a duty to do everything you can to change the situation.

"This government has done enough U-turns, but they seem determined to drive a wedge under the public sector pay offer.

"This affects the whole country. They are helping their rich friends but not ordinary people.

"A co-ordinated strike has to be a last resort but it's one that might be needed."

An estimated 1.5 million people took part in last November's strike.

And further action is already planned for next month.

Union members will gather for marches in London, Glasgow and Belfast to give voice to their feelings. This will not involve taking a day off work, as they will attend in their spare time.

This is something, Maureen Bowen, from shop workers union Usdaw, supports.

She says: "I understand why people want to hold the strike. But we have to be careful about it.

"There are a lot of people who are not in unions who won't support it, as it will disrupt services. There's a considerable amount of misunderstanding in the press and elsewhere, and we need to keep a clear message and remain co-ordinated in what we are trying to do."

'A voice'

However, Linda McCullough, a Unite delegate, is keener on action: "Austerity is hurting more and more people. We must do everything we can. The economy isn't working at all and lots of people are in real poverty."

Maureen Bowen Usdaw delegate Maureen Bowen believes caution is needed

Last week, teachers' union NUT voted to back a strike over the "erosion" of pay and working conditions.

Several other unions have expressed support and indicated they would co-ordinate any action taken.

In the atrium of the Brighton Centre, the scene of many a TUC and political party conference, there appears to be a consensus that something needs to be done, but less about what exactly.

Dotun Alade-Odumosu, a GMB member from London, thinks strikes will be necessary.

He says: "I believe in collective bargaining. I trust that the general secretaries will have the good sense to do what's good for the workers in Britain. We are fighting not just for ourselves but everyone in Britain.

"We have to be the opposition to the coalition. We have to have a voice. We can't just give up the fight.

"Our members are just fed up because nobody appears to be listening. Prices are going up but George Osborne is not budging. He will only budge when people let him know how they really feel."

The TUC Congress runs until Wednesday.

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