Two big steps forward for the labour movement

IssueOctober - November 2017
News by PN

On 12 September, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) passed two ground-breaking motions, one on the conversion of military industry to socially-useful production, and the other on climate action. Both proposals stressed the need to involve workers in making change.

The conversion motion was passed by a majority after being proposed by the brand-new Artists’ Union England (established 2016) and opposed by the huge GMB union (over 600,000 members).

The motion recalled the ‘pioneering effort by workers at arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills.’

It called on the labour movement to lobby the Labour Party to establish a ‘shadow’ Defence Diversification Agency to work with the Shadow Department for Industry. Together they should develop a national industrial strategy ‘including the possibility of conversion of “defence” capacity’ to socially-useful production.

‘The first task of this Agency would be to engage with plant representatives, trades unions representing workers in the “defence” industry, and local authorities, to discuss their needs and capacities, and to listen to their ideas, so that practical plans can be drawn up for arms conversion while protecting skilled employment and pay levels.’


Last year, Unite and other big unions defeated a climate change motion proposed by TSSA, the transport union. This year, the entire TUC united behind composite motion 4, moved by Sarah Woolley of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

The motion called for the British energy sector to be returned to public ownership to deliver renewable energy, and for a Just Transition strategy to support workers affected by the move to a low-carbon economy.

The motion also urged moving freight from road to rail; a mass programme of insulation for Britain’s homes and public buildings; and divestment from fossil fuels to reduce the risk to pension funds.

Assistant general secretary of the big civil servants union, PCS, Chris Baugh said: ‘This is a massive task in front of us: we must put working class interests at the heart of a climate change transition.’

Sarah Woolley and other speakers referred to the recent floods in Texas and Sierra Leone and freak weather in Bangladesh and China.

Glenroy Watson from RMT emphasised the need for worker representation in developing solutions, and for greater support for the global South.

The TUC has 5.8m members in its affiliated unions. On 13 September, it published a report on the experience of people of colour at work: ‘Is racism real?’