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Labouring in Liverpool

22 October 2011

Jill Murdoch reports from TSSA's delegation to Labour Party Conference

Gerry Doherty Labour 11

General Secretary Gerry Doherty is cheered as he calls for renationalisation


While delegates sweated in the winter woollies they had packed, Liverpool put on a splendid show in the glorious sunshine of an Indian summer. It was almost a travesty to spend our days in the dark hall where Labour Party conference took place. Sadly, little in the conference was able to match the splendour of what we were missing outside.

Despite Ed Miliband’s promises of a more open and democratic party, the conference resembled a rally rather than a policy making conference. There was the same parade of smart young confident people with speeches written by the Labour Party office and supportive of the leadership. However, one of the strengths of the Party is the number of young people who were present and who are clearly now very active in the Party at all levels. Many of them have joined since Ed became leader, which is encouraging. It is gratifying that the open split between union and constituency delegates that used to characterize Party conferences has largely gone. Certainly this year the main concern for all delegates was the fierce attack on working people, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, students and the public sector in general from this intensely class- and ideologically-driven government.

This is precisely the moment when the Labour Party should be standing up for all those groups. It was, therefore, deeply disappointing when Ed praised Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation, her council house sell-off and generously offered to cap university fees at £6000 per year. Surely now is the time to provide real leadership to both the Party and its naturalconstituents by instead articulating a clear socialist alternative.

Harriet Yeo Labour 2011

TSSA President Harriet Yeo addresses conference

Gerry Doherty made his final speech to conference as TSSA General Secretary speaking to a catch-all composite motion on public services, cuts and the railway. Perhaps the brightest and most optimistic aspect of this conference was the feeling that public ownership of the railways is creeping up the agenda of the Party leadership. It has been Party policy since 2004 when TSSA moved it successfully at that year’s conference but at long last it is being looked at seriously. The Shadow Transport Minister, Maria Eagle, who addressed TSSA conference so well in May, was openly critical of the structures and costs of the privatized railway. She even shared the platform with TSSA, RMT, ASLEF and Unite at the unions’ fringe meeting on the subject – a meeting that was packed to the rafters.

Despite gaffes like the reference to Tony Blair by Miliband that led to a few boos (greatly exaggerated in the media!) I expect the leadership will think this was a successful conference. For me it disappointed because it failed to inspire at a time when we are all under such attack from the government. However, for the TSSA delegation, this was a historic year. First, we saw our flagship policy of renationalisation receiving much higher billing, and second, all of our elected delegates were women; indeed it was almost certainly a historic first for the Party conference to have an allwomen trade union delegation.

TSSA delegation impress Ed

Labour Delegates 2011

Ed Miliband with Sharon Simmonds, Jill Murdoch, Jane Copley, Hilary Hosking, Pauline McArdle and Harriet Yeo

SHARON SIMMONDS: Speaking to Labour Party Women’s conference, Ed Milliband declared his aspiration for a 50% female Cabinet and to increase women’s membership to at least 50% of the Party. This year TSSA made history with a 100% female delegation for the first time ever. This impressed Ed who thought it would be a fantastic idea to have a photo taken with him - a proud moment for a 1st time delegate.

JANE COPLEY: Thanks to an invitation by Labour Party NEC Member and TSSA President, Harriet Yeo, to assist her at this year’s Labour Party Conference, I was able to fulfil a long-held ambition to attend a political party conference as an observer (I know, what odd ambitions some people do have!)

I listened to a variety of debates on issues such as health, equality, environment, transport, education: issues which are all at the forefront of trade union campaigns and initiatives. It was reassuring to hear General Secretary, Gerry Doherty, remind Conference of the desperate need for rail renationalisation and to hear about measures being implemented by other unions in order to try to protect workers in a political climate that lauds the bonus culture, treats job losses and poverty as ‘par for the course’.


Extract from Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle’s speech

We need greater responsibility from the train operating companies too. So when rail franchises come up, here’s what the government should do: Not reward companies that walk away from franchises to avoid payments to Government – then expect to bid again or carry on making money somewhere else on the network. Not reward companies who stealthily widen peak time. Not reward companies who average out the fare cap, so commuters pay way over the odds for a ticket – even though Tory ministers tell them it’s OK. And let’s be honest. Our rail system is not fit for purpose and needs radical change. And I think we were too timid about this in government. It cannot be right that the rail industry costs the taxpayer £4bn a year, yet a few at the top can walk away with hundreds of millions of pounds in profit every year. The Tory answer? Close ticket offices. Sack frontline staff. Profit driving infrastructure, not just services. Back to the days of Railtrack. But there is an alternative. Isn’t it time to tackle the fragmentation of our rail industry that is the disastrous legacy of the Tory privatisation? The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review. They manage it in other parts of the EU. And we can do it here. So, over the coming months, we will be looking at the right way to bring order back to the chaos in our railways.

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