Trade Union and Employment Forum


Democracy at Work: 150 years of the TUC


In October this year, to celebrate the TUC’s 150th anniversary, the History and Policy Trade Union and Employment Forum held a conference in King’s College, London at which a series of experts and practitioners presented a picture of key figures during that time and discussed past and current roles of the TUC.

The event began with TUC Deputy General Secretary, Paul Novak, looking briefly back at TUC history and also looking forward at the present state of the movement. Paul spoke about the birth of the TUC 150 years ago in Manchester and whilst recognising many changes since then he felt the fundamental values on which the TUC was born remained true today. Decent jobs, fair pay, dignity and respect in the workplace and most importantly solidarity were as vital today as they were then.

He reflected on the real power of the TUC was its place as a movement and its strength through collectivism. He accepted that over the years the TC had not always been on the right side of campaigns and arguments, but it had a record to be proud of in its advancement of society and social policy.

Looking forward, Paul identified 3 main challenges. The immediate challenge arose from the Brexit debate and decision. He asserted that the outcome will impact on the economy and workplaces and that the TUC had campaigned vigorously to remain, in order to protect jobs and employment rights. He believed that through its campaigning the TUC had been instrumental in securing a transition period and an assurance to protect workers rights from the government. He also felt that the TUC had been able to build a consensus across most of its affiliates to remain in the single market and the customs union as well as demanding a second vote for the people.

The second major challenge being faced was the necessary response to digitalisation and automation. Paul did not share the view that this would lead to massive job losses but he was determined that the shape of the economy should be determined taking account of workers voices to ensure the benefits of change were shared. The TUC was arguing for trade unions to be at the bargaining table to discuss change and not simply to discuss skills, important though this was. Workers on boards and the shorter working week were both important facets of change and dealing with a different economy.

Paul’s final challenge for the future was about building the movement so that it reflected the changes in society and was relevant to the next generation of trade union members. He referred to a new TUC project ‘Worksmart’ a digital pilot which provided a structured innovation process aimed at young people. It illustrated the TUC’s ability to try new ways of building the movement and to help young people overcome fear and build confidence in using their voice at work.

He concluded by emphasising his confidence in the positive signs which were placing the movement back on the front foot.

Paul was followed by four eminent speakers who spoke on four key figures in the history of the TUC. The following is a brief summary of their contributions.

Mark Courthoys on Robert Applegarth

Mark began by setting Applegarth’s importance in the context of the TUC’s early beginnings. Robert Applegarth had grown up in Hull and had started work as a shoeblack before picking up a trade as a joiner when he moved to Sheffield. He had emigrated to the USA in the mid 1850’s and had been influenced by the more open society experienced there and the impact of slavery.  It was on his return in the late 1850’s, and the major strike in the building trade at that time, which led him to see the need for national organisation of workers and he persuaded his local union to join the Amalgamated Society of Carpeters and Joiners. He became General Secretary of the Union in 1862. He played a prominent role in establishing a change of status for trade unions, not

so much through the TUC, where his participation was minor, but as a member of the Conference of Amalgamate Trades (referred to as ‘The Junta’ by Sidney and Beatrice Webb) which provided the lobbying role for Trade Unions as it was based in London. Mark pointed out that Applegarth wasn’t present at the initial Congress meetings and only took part in1871 as a representative of the Conference of Amalgamated Trades and subsequently as a delegate.

Applegarth handed over the lobbying role to the TUC when George Howell was Secretary of the TUC Parliamentary Committee. But Applegarth was prominent in the International Working Men’s Association, where he got to know Marx and was supportive of the Courts of Dispute and Arbitration which he believed gave a voice to labour and was the forerunner of industrial relations. He made use of the growth at this time of newspapers which, whilst not editorially sympathetic to trade unions, did print full reports of disputes and of union meetings where benefits were handed out to members and reported on other union affairs in general. Robert Applegarth used this as a means of advertising his own union and getting the trade union message across to a wider audience. He was in fact a key witness to the Royal Commission that investigated trade unions and was a keen advocate of elementary education and technical education as a means of social regeneration. Mark pointed to the contemporary comparison of Applegarth’s campaign for technical education and the lack of government investment in scientific education for working people compared to the public education provision in other European countries.

At the end of 1870 he became the first working class man to become a Royal Commissioner. His first role was to join the investigation in to the working of the Contagious Diseases Act which was looking in to the impact on prostitution. This was not his most successful role as he contested the evidence about working women being encouraged to join sewing workshops as undermining the men as principle earners. This worked against him within his own union and he was ousted as General Secretary in 1871. He continued to campaign for working people and joined the Defence Committee for those arrested as part of the gas strikes in 1872 where his responsibility was mainly spiriting away strikers out of the country before they could be taken to court.

His life was first recorded in a biography in 1913 as he turned 80 years old and in subsequent biographies he was described as part of the ‘servile generation’ which was considered by some as too cautious. However a later biography in 1954 recognised him as part of that mid-Victorian era which had seen trade unions recognised for the first time and the TUC become a representative body. Mark concluded by saying that Robert Applegarth should be recognised for the public work he did on behalf of the movement, at some cost to himself, and, unlike others, in his latter years was enthused and inspired by the new forms of trade unionism, such as the formation of industry wide general unions to replace craft unions like his.

John Edmonds on Margaret Bondfield

John introduced his talk by explaining that Margaret Bondfield’s life was a classic example of extraordinary ambiguity. He told us that for the first 20 years of her adult life she was immensely successful in breaking barriers, particularly for women and her campaigning greatly improved women’s working lives, particularly shop workers. She was the first woman government minister, the first women cabinet minister, Privy Councillor and the first woman to sit on the TUC General Council and the first to chair it. She campaigned for universal suffrage, peace during the Great War and fought hard for maternity pay. But despite all of this her last 20 years was a period of denunciation, being snubbed and generally ignored.

In depicting her early years, John explained that Margaret Bondfield was the 11th child of a large family from Chard, Somerset and was extremely bright, as evidenced by being asked to teach other children in her school at the age of 14. She left school to work in a drapers shop in Brighton where she was well treated but came in to contact with other shop assistants who were not. Low pay, poor conditions and the live-in system were typical of life for shop assistants. She became a rights campaigner and was persuaded to argue for female emancipation by Louisa Martindale, a leading campaigner at that time. When she moved to London she joined the Shop Assistants Union and became a representative and was subsequently asked by the Women’s Industrial Council to move around the country and write a report on shop assistants’ conditions. She produced a report and became something of a celebrity/expert on shop working conditions. She was then appointed Assistant Secretary of the Union. Her meeting with Mary Macarthur was

instrumental in them working together and forming the National Federation of Women Workers which focussed on organising women in sectors where male dominated unions had refused to accept women in to membership. In 1908 Margaret stepped back from trade union work to concentrate on a political career. She sat on a Committee advising the Liberal Government on its welfare plans and was instrumental in ensuring that maternity benefits were included and that these became the property of the mother.

During the first world war she campaigned for peace and women’s suffrage and at the end of the war, as some women achieved the vote, she decided to stand for parliament. However at the time tragedy struck and her friend Mary Macarthur, who was to have taken on the role of women’s officer for the newly formed NUGMW, died. This affected Margaret badly and she returned to the union to take on the role in place of Mary. John explained that at this point her personality changed and her political judgement and commitment to the movement waivered. The NUGMW allowed its officers to become MPs so she stood and was elected to represent Northampton in 1923 and the following year became a junior Minister for Labour in the first Labour Government under Ramsey Macdonald. In 1926 she was invited to join the Blanesburgh Committee to examine unemployment insurance and the report introduced limits to unemployment pay and even reduced women’s unemployment pay. Margaret signed this report and this was the beginning of her downfall. It is mystery as to why she did this and it came to haunt her memory.

In 1929 she became a Cabinet Minister for Labour and was there as Ramsey Macdonald negotiated a deal with the opposition Tories to form a National Government. Whilst Margaret did not join the National Government she took a long time to announce her decision and some felt that was because she may have supported some of their policies because she had signed the report on unemployment pay. Despite the NUGMW accepting her explanation for the delay her reputation and political career were finished.

John reflect on the time he became an official with the union in 1967 and the fact that there were people still there who remembered Margaret. The picture they painted was a very small woman but someone with a wonderful speaking voice. She was a regular visitor to the Head Office after her retirement in 1938 mainly to ensure that the retirement home system established by her and Mary Macarthur was sustained. She died in 1954 at which time her achievements were remembered as Clem Atlee spoke at her funeral. John described her with some affection as an important woman in her period of history and suggested that perhaps it was time for a reassessment of her life and contribution.

James Moher on Walter Citrine

Linking his presentation on Citrine to the previous talk on Margaret Bondfield, James Moher noted that his appointment to the General Council of the TUC in 1925 was at a time when Margaret Bondfield was the Chair of the General Council. Like her, James suggested Citrine was also a controversial figure particularly on the left of the movement. He recalled that Citrine returned from a trip to Russia to take up the post of his boss as Acting General Secretary of the TUC at the time of the prelude to the General Strike. Whilst he did not lead on this matter he was present at all the key meetings and by all accounts acquitted himself well.  So in September 1926 he was elected to the position of General Secretary of the TUC which he remained until 1946. He held the view that the TUC should become the central power of the trade union movement but the larger unions would prevent such dreams from being realised. However he believed that over the following decades, working with Ernie Bevin of the TGWU, Citrine oversaw the growth of the TUC’s central role in the affairs of all unions and the country.

He began his term office by focussing on the level of service provided to the unions and built a competent team of staff around him to do this, including two future General Secretaries. The challenges following the outcome of the general strike led to recriminations on the TUC for betraying the miners and the TUC leadership’s was attacked by the ‘National Minority Movement’ supported by the Red International of Labour Unions directed by Moscow. Against this background Citrine developed his horror of the Moscow-directed Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) and the Minority Movement. He had previously been enthused by the Soviet Union and had campaigned for the inclusion of the Russian Trade Unions in the IFTU in 1926. Citrine defended his colleagues from the attacks from the communists and he accused the National

Minority Movement of being a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Citrine was appalled at the attacks by the National Minority Movement on all officially elected union leaderships and the TUC. They reviled the leadership as ‘traitors, renegades and capitalist lackeys’ and had a demoralising effect on the elected leadership. Ironically these attacks were aimed at the vey people, such as Alf Purcell, George Hicks, Alonzo Swales and John Bromley, who had done so much to get the Russian trade unions into the IFTU. Citrine produced a series of articles in the Labour Magazine exposing this attempt to capture the trade union movement for their own ‘revolutionary purposes’. James also referred to the ‘Lenin International School’ in Moscow which turned out over 250 British ‘cadres’ between 1926 and 1937 which he described as a serious Comintern effort to bring on the revolution which they had optimistically anticipated on account of the general strike. This he pointed out justified Citrine’s exposing of the Soviet interference in British trade union affairs through front organisations such as the National Minority Movement. The actions of Citrine in confronting these attacks on behalf of the trade unions and TUC were never really appreciated and he suffered false and defamatory statements aimed at damaging his reputation for the rest of his career.

Citrine also had to address the serious demoralisation and loss of members following the General Strike. Ironically trade union morale was restored in part by the unified opposition to the Tory Trade Union and Trade Disputes Act 1927 which sought to ban general strikes and sympathy actions. Whilst the campaign was not successful, it provided a point of unification for the labour and trade union movement. The TUC then pursued with employers the possibility of co-operation across a range of industrial issues, known as the Mond-Turner talks. These talks, involving senior executives of leading companies, led to a report being published with some radical suggestions, including a National Industrial Council, i.e. Parliament, and whilst this failed to get off the ground, due mainly to opposition from the smaller employer groups, it did lead to the employer organisations agreeing to participate in a joint Allocation Committee to consult with the TUC on a range of matters.

Citrine’s relationship with Bevin surprised many since neither particularly warmed to the other. However it was apparent that Bevin respected Citrine’s authority within the General Council and at TUC congresses as well as publicly. Likewise Citrine recalled in his auto-biography how their ideas were so closely related and how they would reach similar conclusions. James asserted that the Bevin-Citrine chemistry was instrumental in making the TUC a formidable force in British and International Affairs. The events of 1931 and Ramsay Macdonald’s support for severe cuts to benefits led to splits in the Labour Party and the formation of a national government with the Tories. Citrine and Bevin drove the pressure applied by the TUC on Macdonald and he believes that Citrine regretted how hard they had pushed despite the reprehensible actions of Macdonald and his Chancellor Snowden.

During the early 30’s Citrine participated in the wider trade union movement chairing the executive of the IFTU in Berlin, where he saw the rise of the Nazis to power up to 1933 at close range, and warned of the threat from Nazism to the trade union movement. However he also described the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in Moscow as a threat to democracy which hardly endeared him to the communist left. He blamed the Communists for their continuous attacks on other Socialists, but also apportioned the blame for the disaster of Nazi rule to the Social Democrats in the unions and party for failing to resist, despite IFTU urgings.

He joined his old adversary, Winston Churchill, on platforms opposing the Nazi threat and was part of the General Council’s campaign to overturn the pacifist policies of the Labour Party in 1935. By this time he had been knighted and became joint secretary of the TUC/Labour Party, National Council of Labour which was influential in infusing TUC ideas on Labour policies and the Beveridge Report which would bear fruit in 1945. During the second world war the TUC, under Citrine’s leadership, established itself as ‘an estate of the realm’ mobilising unions to support the war effort and accepting pretty draconian legislation for the duration of the war. It is felt that was a major contributor to the growth of the trade union movement during the war and after.

Citrine, James told us, played a full part during the war within the wider remit of the TUC and afterwards returned to Transport House until his retirement in 1946. He became Baron Citrine of Wembley and a member of the National Coal Board, until in 1947 he was appointed Chairman of the newly nationalised Electricity Authority which he remained for a period of 15 years. He retired

in 1962 and is perhaps, for most people, best known for his ABC of Chairmanship which originated as guidance notes for his meetings in the Liverpool branches of the ETU where he began his work as trade union official before becoming AGS of the TUC.

Peter Ackers on George Woodcock

The final speaker for the morning session was Peter Ackers who focussed on the post war period up to 1979 and in particular the role and influence of George Woodcock. He described the unions as entering a period of crisis as it struggled with a period of change. George Woodcock entered the TUC in 1936, having been active in the Weavers Union, as Head of Research and progressed to become Assistant General Secretary in 1946 and General Secretary in 1960 at the age of 56.

Woodcock was a brilliant autodidact who had been awarded a TUC scholarship to Ruskin and had gained a 1st in PPE at Oxford and went on to do a PhD. He was the architect of the key institutions created during the Wilson government between 1964 and 1970 including the National Economic Development Council (NEDC), National Board for Prices and Incomes, and played a part in the Donavan Commission established to investigate industrial relations in the late 1960s. Peter described Woodcock as the right man in the right place at the right time; his vision was more long term as to how trade unions had to change to fit into a social democratic society with his support for incomes policy and productivity bargaining. His career at the TUC ended when Vic Feather took over in 1969 at the time of ‘In Place of Strife’ followed by the Conservative party’s Industrial Relations Act.

Peter posed the question why did Britain’s industrial relations system fail at this time and was it the fault of George Woodcock? In reviewing the opinions of others on Woodcock, Peter identified contradictions insofar as those who found him very smart and intelligent and others who described him as lazy, pessimistic and, at times, exhausted. Sid Weighell in a retrospective of Woodcock described him as having a vision of taking the TUC out of Trafalgar Square into the corridors of power at Whitehall. Others such as George Brown described him as “a most up and down fellow even in his most enthusiastic moments he sounds like an undertaker”. Hugh Clegg described him as “a very lazy man” in his contribution to the Donovan Commission’s work.

So this somewhat conflicted character was in place during the 1960’s which Peter describes as ultimately leading to Thatcherism and the trade union crisis. He posed the question of why did it fail and suggested that possibly Woodcock came to the role of General Secretary too late in his life at the age of 56 but equally suggested that the problem may have started earlier than this, during the1950’s, when Victor Tewson was General Secretary and oversaw a long period of trade union inertia after the war when things were going well and that it was only in the sixties when the TUC started to fix the problems that were arising. Peter also questioned other factors which contributed to the crisis. The structure of British trade unions and the weakness of the TUC led to increasingly fragmented collective bargaining as national bargaining started to break down. There was less control of trade unions and Peter also believed that the politics of the broad left was a destructive element making it impossible to reform the trade movement.

In his final comments Peter referred to a speech made recently by the current General Secretary of the TUC, Francis O’Grady, entitled Trade Unions and the Scandinavian model of social democracy which he suggested reflected the thinking of Woodcock’s approach. However Peter believed that boat sailed in 1979 due to low TU membership and collective bargaining having significantly reduced. Neither did he believe that you can conscript people into trade unions or employers into sectoral bargaining. Peter concluded that he had spent much of his recent years arguing for partnership and whilst accepting that this form of industrial relations was no longer popular he believed that at some stage it needed to return.

Interview of Lord John Monks by Nick Jones

The afternoon session began with Lord John Monks being interviewed by journalist, Nick Jones. In a wide ranging exchange John Monks was asked about his early days at the TUC in the 70’s and 80’s, his views on the winter of discontent, the miners strike in the 80’s and his encounters with Tony Blair, as well as his time at the ETUC.

Nick Jones set the scene by providing the headlines of John’s trade union career. Joining the TUC in 1969, having been turned down by Clive Jenkins at ASTMS due to lack of collective bargaining experience, as someone with experience in ‘production management’, John worked under Ken Graham, who he described as running a tough regime, and also Len Murray. The system was very akin to a civil service mentality probably introduced by Citrine during his time as general secretary. Asked about the1970’s John described it as an exciting time as opposition to Heath’s Industrial Relations Act brought success as did the Miners’ strikes of 1972 and 74. The period also saw the introduction of a number of tri-partite bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive and Manpower Services Commission which gave the TUC a more corporate identity.

The reasons for the significant rise in union membership during the 70’s were not clear according to Lord Monks. He said that unions were caught by surprise at the influx and he rejected the notion that it was simply down to the formalisation of ‘check-off’ facilities, but that the concept of the voluntary ‘union shop’ was also important. He said it was this latter structure which the Thatcher government was most determined to tackle rather than check-off which has only recently this century been the subject of some attention by the Tories.

The period leading up to 1979 and the winter of discontent was not foreseen. Lord Monks suggested that this, along with the general strike in 1926, were two major failures in the TUC history. He also said that the ability of the movement to recover from the loss of membership in 1926 provided a useful lesson to the situation faced by the union movement today. The TUC was aware of the risks arising from the social contract of the Callaghan Government. The disputes which started with the petrol drivers and then road haulage before spreading to the public sector created a lost opportunity to establish a social democratic society. In response to a question about the manner in which the right wing media has used the winter of discontent as a scare tactic for any future labour government, Lord Monks dismissed this as the reason for the picture created, but accepted that the period was a massive failure for the TUC and the movement. He recalled an early encounter with newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on a visit to Congress House when he came in and said “is this the TUC trophy room?” On querying this comment, Blair responded by saying “is this where the heads of Wilson and Callaghan were kept, you are not going to get mine!”

Lord Monks referred to the 80’s as a period of uncertainty. Initially there was hope that the TUC would work with the soft side of the Tories such as James Prior, but Tory approaches were rejected. The TUC felt it could see off the legislation of 1982 brought in by Tebbit but the failure to deal with the Messenger dispute and Eddie Shah left the TUC out of the beginning of the 1984 miners’ strike. After 6 months the TUC did become involved in helping to raise money to support miners’ families but failed in its attempts to promote an agreed settlement. It was said the defeat of the miners was a defeat for everyone and Lord Monks accepted that this was the case.

Towards the end of the 1980’s the TUC changed its approach to Europe and the visit of Jacques Delors to the 1988 Congress provided a powerful message about the need for a social Europe. This infuriated Thatcher who was adamant that having spent her time eradicating socialism she did not want to see it re-introduced through Europe. In 1993 Lord Monks became General Secretary of the TUC and during this period of dealing with the failing Major Government the TUC had to find its own way forward and turned to promotion of partnership with those employers willing to embrace it. In 1997 following the election of Tony Blair and a Labour Government, Lord Monks said the TUC was never really full square behind Tony Blair because Blair was not full- square behind the trade unions. Despite him being a strong advocate of Europe, Blair had previously promised the CBI that no new EU regulations for workers would be brought into the UK without the agreement of the CBI. The trade unions were effectively treated like embarrassing elderly relatives.

In 2003 Lord Monks moved to Brussels as General Secretary of the ETUC. In the course of meeting new senior officials of the Commission he was asked by one why he had accepted the role. “To advance a social Europe” he replied. The official told him that Jacques Delors had long since departed and that there was no way that was going to progress. Lord Monks explained that the reality was that the EU believed it had to curb regulations to compete with the new industrial markets of China and the Far East and that the approach was supported strongly by Tony Blair and the UK. Notwithstanding this approach, during his time there he saw the introduction of new regulations for part-time workers and agency workers. Lord Monks blamed the failure of everyone in the UK, over a period of 40 years membership of the EU, for putting the positive case for the EU and allowing the right wing press to ridicule the EU at every opportunity. He wasn’t surprised that Labour has not provided a prominent lead during the referendum campaign given the views of key figures in the leadership.

Finally, Lord Monks responded to the challenge that the TUC now faced to engage and recruit young people in new industries and services and told the Conference that the UK was not alone in facing these problems. He pointed to the experience of Belgium as a successful approach and said that this was greatly assisted by the fact that the trade unions had responsibility for paying out unemployment benefits across the country.

In conclusion, in response to a question on his views of the outcome of Brexit, Lord Monks said he thought an agreement was unlikely, that he favoured a Norway style outcome and that the UK would suffer if it left the Single Market. He also thought that a general election was very much on the cards and that a further referendum was no guarantee of people reaching a significantly different conclusion.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion on the future direction of the trade union movement. Participants were Laura Cohen CEO of the British Ceramic Confederation, Professor Michael Gold of Royal Holloway, University of London and Gail Cartmail, AGS of the trade union Unite. Each participant presented a brief introduction which are summarised here.

Laura Cohen, CEO British Ceramic Confederation

Laura began by providing a brief outline of the Confederation which consisted of a large number of small and medium sized employers across the ceramics sector employing in excess of 20,000 workers and explained that it was an energy intensive sector.

She emphasised the work undertaken with unions, Unite and GMB in particular, and the TUC and how this assisted development of policy, citing health and safety good practice and just transition to a low carbon economy as two recent examples of collaboration. She also mentioned collaboration with Unite and GMB on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and acknowledged the useful links provided by unions to access Labour politicians.

Turning to Brexit, Laura acknowledged that this had brought even closer working relationships with the unions as they shared a common purpose in achieving a level playing field in trade which would protect jobs in the industry. She believed that the Confederation represented a sound model for collaboration which was attractive to labour politicians and achieved the dual objectives of providing a voice to smaller employers and a seat at the table of policy formation for the trade unions.

Professor Michael Gold, Royal Holloway University of London

Professor Gold chose to provide a comparison between three prominent trade union figures from Europe within the history of UK trade unions and the TUC.

His first comparator was a German, Hans Böckler, who had been a metal worker during the first world war and was involved in the formation of IG Metal. He became a politician until Hitler came to power in 1933. At this time he became a resistance fighter for German trade unions and was eventually arrested. In 1949 he became General Secretary of the DGB (German equivalent of TUC) and in 1951 signed the full co-determination agreement for the coal and steel industries with Chancellor Adenauer which introduced worker directors into German industry.

The second comparator was the Frenchman, Leon Jouhaux, who as a young man organised a strike in the match industry against white phosphorous for which he was sacked. In 1906 he was elected as a delegate to the CGT and, rising quickly through the ranks, became Treasurer and then General Secretary of the CGT in 1909 where he remained until 1947. He was a socialist and anti-communist. In 1936 he signed the Matignon Agreement which secured the 8 hour day, union representation and collective bargaining in France. After the second world war the communists successfully took over the CGT and he left the union to form the CGT-FO which still exists today.

The third comparator was the Italian, Giuseppe Di Vittorio who, after the first world war, joined the Communist Party in 1921 and became a politician in Parliament until Mussolini came to power.

After the second world war he became General Secretary of the CGIL, which he had helped to form in the 1920’s, and although the union was taken over by the Communists in 1947 he remained GS until 1957.

The three trade union comparators were all politically involved and all were general secretaries of unions which still exist today, having made an enduring contribution. Contrasting these three historical figures with the TUC, Professor Gold noted that the TUC had predated their union organisations in its formation in 1868. The TUC at its height had over 1000 unions affiliated to it illustrating the diversified nature of craft, staff, general and industrial unions which has typified the UK trade union movement. At its inception the DGB in Germany had around 50 unions and now has just 8. Unions generally in Europe had split on political and secular lines something that had not happened in the UK, as the TUC was a secular movement from the start and had remained remarkably solid throughout its history.

The structure of European trade unions based on industries had provided its strength but in modern times, as new industries had started to grow, the structure had been less adaptable than the UK diversified structure. The comparison with France, as with other European trade unions, showed the reliance on legislation to develop the trade union movement unlike in the UK. Through this means the three countries compared had all extended collective bargaining coverage providing a strength regardless of union membership numbers.

Professor Gold concluded by drawing the distinction of European trade union growth being related to the post second world war period as opposed to the British TUC which had retained its structures from its 150 year old birth.

Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary, Unite

Gail commenced her presentation by quoting from Deborah Hargreaves, who is writing on the subject of re-imagining corporate governance from a feminine point of view, along with quotes from Grayson Perry’s book “The Descent of Man”. Both references, she said, mirrored her current world as they referred to a world designed by and for men.

She went on to refer to contemporary trade union activities such as actions taken by workers from McDonalds, from TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons, described by some as a new wave of confidence amongst young workers. None of these actions played along with the requirements of the Trade Union Act. She also referred to the women’s pay gap and the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities. Whilst the majority of trade union members are now women and a disproportionate high number of members are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds this is not reflected in the trade union leadership.

She referred to a recent visit to the Belgian trade union movement to speak on the subject of the posted workers directives and migrant workers and noted the large numbers of apparent migrant workers in the building but that none came to the event. They were all queueing for the benefits and there was no notable involvement of migrant workers in the Belgian trade union movement. Gail said the challenge was to make progress on these issues at last. She referred to the trade union monitoring conducted by the TUC and noted one affiliate had no female officer and no gender breakdown of membership. She posed the question of why this matters. If we look at the challenges of automation and artificial intelligence which have algorithms with an inherent risk of gender and race discrimination which could further widen wage discrimination. If we look at skills’ issues, as we crash out of Europe, and examine the 350,000 apprentice applicants, only 20% got through the assessment and only 11% got an offer of start. Typically only 7% of BAEM applicants were offered a start.

Gail urged that new trade union agreements should have rigorous gender proofing, and just transition must be about decent jobs. She referred to her experience in the construction industry saying that welfare issues equate to having access to a lavatory and it is regarded as quite progressive if a man places himself at a toilet door while a woman uses it. She also drew attention to the fact that women are still at risk because of ill fitting safety equipment.

Reflecting on the past, Gail argued that the future must be about diversity and inclusivity. The dockers developed their industrial trade unionism having taken lessons from the women of Bryant and May who had succeeded in their action. So she concluded by saying that our future must be more female.

The conference concluded having heard from experts on a breadth of historic and contemporary figures in the movement and a broad discussion on the future and lessons from the past.

Roger Jeary


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