Union activity on the rise as TUC plans mass demonstration in London for Saturday 20 October 2012

StateLibQld 1 296179 Railway Workers' strike, Brisbane, 1948

As autumn 2012 approaches, the UK’s trade union movement is gearing up for concerted action against what Unison’s Dave Prentis dubs the Coalition Government’s “mindless austerity agenda.” 

The trade unions’ agenda is wide-ranging, with pay expected to become “the next industrial battleground” and pensions also expected to figure prominently.

The 2012 Trades Union Congress kicks off this weekend in Brighton.

Here we look at what’s likely to be on the agenda for some of the UK’s biggest trade unions going into the Congress. The list includes:

  • mass demonstrations;
  • possible co-ordinated strike action;
  • suggestions that the Coalition Government is deliberately increasing unemployment; and
  • calls for a major increase to the national minimum wage.

Unions adopt collaborative approach for 2012 and beyond

The unions are adopting an increasingly collaborative approach.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says that the TUC wants to build “an alliance not just of trade unionists and our normal allies but good employers too.” She continues

The TUC’s new slogan ‘a future that works’ sets a profound challenge. Austerity and rapid deficit reduction is failing in its own terms, but even at its best it is short-sighted, muddle-through politics with no vision of a new economic model.

Increasing unemployment is a “deliberate policy aim of this government,” claims O’Grady

Increasing unemployment is a “deliberate policy aim of this government,” claims Frances O’Grady. In an interview with the Guardian this week, O’Grady said:


There was certainly a strong view in the 1980s, not just amongst trade unions, but also amongst a number of intellectuals and commentators, that unemployment was being used as a deliberate measure to keep pay down, and to keep people scared. As long as the No 1 worry for people, keeping them up at nights, is whether they’re going to have a job in the morning, then they are less likely to resist unfair changes, or unfair treatment, or cuts in real pay at work.

O’Grady also suggested in her Guardian interview that the rise in part-time working seen over recent months could be interpreted as a move to keep union membership down.

TUC-organised mass demonstration to take place in London on 20 October 2012…

Next month sees a TUC-organised mass demonstration in central London (on Saturday 20 October 2012).

O’Grady predicts a significant turn-out:


Our demonstration on 20 October will bring hundreds of thousands on to London streets once again to show the depth of opposition.

Pay is emerging as a key issue for the TUC. O’Grady says:


British workers are now suffering the biggest decline in their living standards in generations. There has been a huge growth in vulnerable and insecure employment. Joblessness is not as high as many of us feared, but the number of workers in involuntary part-time employment, casual work or precarious self-employment is at record levels.

…with co-ordinated strike action to follow in 2013?

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey warns that co-ordinated strike action in response to public spending cuts could be in prospect for 2013, the BBC reports.

McCluskey says:


There is a real chance of co-ordinated action, if not this winter then certainly early next year. [...] We would certainly support calls for co-ordinated industrial action on pay and indeed other issues. It was never going to be one single march on 26 March [2012], or indeed one dispute over pensions – it was always going to be an ongoing fight.

The Guardian reports that McCluskey will use his speech at the Trades Union Congress in Brighton to “urge the government to raise the minimum wage by £1 to £7.19 and introduce a cap on energy bill increases.”

He argues that this would result in “a huge injection of funds into the economy.”

Statements from the Unison, GMB and PCS unions

Recent statements of renewed militancy and an increasingly collaborative approach from other unions include the following:

  • The Unison and GMB unions are combining efforts to create what the Guardian describes as an “anti-austerity alliance.” Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis says: “It makes absolute sense for us to join forces, and speak with one voice against this mindless austerity agenda which is only dragging the country down.”
  • PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka says: “[W]e need unity across the trade unions, in campaigning organisations and in parliament. That unity is built around opposing this Tory-led government’s attacks on the people we represent.”

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One Response to Union activity on the rise as TUC plans mass demonstration in London for Saturday 20 October 2012

  1. Marina 2 October 2012 at 5:09 am #

    The link’ was effectively breokn when Labour reneged on their side of the deal in the Warwick Agreement’.There is little doubt that Labour would not have survived the 2005 election without the support of the unions and their members.However, once that was achieved Labour always found another issue deserving greater priority than the repeal of Thatcher’s anti-TU legislation.My own trade union activity dates from 1950 but my Labour Party membership only started in 1964 and was only based on the understanding that the Party was the political wing of the trade union movement. That may have been the case in those days but the current Labour Party has been subverted and infiltrated by a self-perceived elite from a privileged background.This seems to have been well demonstrated by Polly Toynbee’s recent work on the class ceiling’ which revealed that no less than 15% of Labour MP’s were privately educated.We used to believe in government by the people, for the people and of the people’ but there is an ever-deceasing proportion of Labour MPs who are of’ the working class. Nuff said.

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