Day 2 TUC 2013: Government told ‘Hands off Royal Mail’

In a rousing speech to Congress, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the government: “hands off our Royal Mail.” Describing the plans as “the latest sell-off of the family silver” she called the move “stupid and senseless”. Her comments were met with cheers from the CWU delegation and spontaneous applause from across the packed floor of the conference centre.

It was Frances’ first speech as general secretary and one which sent clear and challenging messages to government on its failing economic policy, attacks on trade union freedoms and attempts to restrict political campaigning and democracy.

“This government is intent on dividing Britain – those in work and those out, those on benefits and those not, and the south from those in the so-called ‘desolate north’,” she told Congress.

Giving a damning account of the government’s record on the economy, she called the current system “capitalism on crack cocaine” before saying “but it wasn’t always this way.” She asked where the ‘caring’ Conservative party of previous years had gone, the one in which John Major wanted to see a ‘classless society’ and which Theresa May warned of becoming ‘the nasty party’. Contrasting this with record youth unemployment, divisive policies and sending immigration advertising vans into multi-racial communities with a slogan last used by the National Front, Frances gave a damning view of government actions.

Billy pointed out the role for public spending in terms of reducing unemployment and stimulating an upturn in GDP. He was also scathing of plans for a “fire sale of national assets through privatisation”, listing not only Royal Mail, but the Probation Service, Student Loans Company and our controlling share in RBS and Lloyds.

She drew laughter and applause from delegates when she turned to the often used description of government-PR man Linton Crosby as ‘the Wizard of Oz’. “What does this make Cameron, Clegg and Osborne then?” she asked. They were the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion: “no brain, no heart and no courage.”

Frances was stinging in her attack on government attempts to restrict trade union freedoms. Pointing out that unions already report their membership figures annually, she explained that trade unions have more than ten times the members of all political parties put together. “It could be more, we really don’t know because they don’t publish their figures – in fact the Tories have refused to publish them” she said. Frances then sent a direct message to the Prime Minister: “Before he starts lecturing us on transparency, I challenge David Cameron to publish his membership figures.” Frances also condemned the ‘gagging bill’ (Lobbying and Trade Union Admin Bill) currently going through parliament, calling it “anti-democratic and dangerous.”

Frances announced four policy aspirations from the TUC: full employment – to be paid for by fair taxation; new council housing; new wages councils to guarantee fair pay; and an NHS “once again a public service run for people not for profit.” To the last pledge she added a call for care for the elderly to be brought into public ownership and for proper childcare to also be prioritised.

The eloquent yet fiery speech covered key contemporary issues facing UK industries, society and the trade union movement. It sent clear and balanced messages to the government and was a rallying call for better rights for ordinary people. Congress delegates got to their feet to give Frances O’Grady a lengthy standing ovation when she completed her address.

Read Frances’s speech in full.

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes moved a heavyweight composite motion on economic policy on Monday afternoon, calling for investment not cuts as a solution to stagnation and unemployment.

“The first period of Osborne’s economics has been a failure” he told Congress. “The economy is still nearly 3% smaller than it was in 2008 when the recession first hit; private investors are still on strike. Had the government continued to wait for them, we would still be in recession” he said.

“We don’t care who it is advocating austerity, it doesn’t inspire” he warned. “However, one cut that could be usefully made is in military spending” he offered, explaining: “We are are the seventh largest economy in the world but we have the fourth largest budget in military spending. If we simply made military spending priportionate to our economy we would have a saving of £14 billion a year available for productive investment.”

The motion was seconded by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and drew speakers in support from many unions. It was carried in a vote by Congress.

Read Billy’s speech and the wording of the motion in full on Billy’s blog.

Delegates watched this video charting the success of the TUC’s recent Austerity Uncovered bus tour. See for yourself what they found out about the effect the Government’s cuts are having on ordinary working people around the country and look out for the CWU’s giant inflatable post box!

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