Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reading Trades Union Council AGM, 13 December 2016

Reading Trades Union Council AGM Delegates, 13 December 2016

Following the relaunch of the Reading Trades Union Council in February 2016, a successful year of events has been held related to trade union struggles at Capita, the NHS and Reading Borough Council; historical commemorations at Huntley & Palmers and on International Workers’ Day; and events concerning the EU referendum, the Labour Party leadership and the murder of Labour MP, Jo Cox. Fuller details of the RTUC’s activities in 2016 are appended below in the form of the Annual Report presented by the Executive Committee to the AGM.

With a wind in the sails, the first RTUC AGM was held on 13 December 2016 at the Friends’ Meeting House, Reading. As well as being a great honour to the RTUC, the fact that the organisation could attract the General Secretary of the TSSA, Manuel Cortes, as its guest speaker illustrates the success of the journey it has embarked upon thus far. Of those delegates who have been active in earlier manifestations of the trades council in the 1970s, 1980s and 2010s, none could remember a time when it attracted a general secretary of a national trade union to address its annual general meeting.

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA, addresses the RTUC AGM
The evening commenced with the address by Manuel Cortes. Despite having meetings in Bristol and Swindon during the day, Manuel was pleased to attend the event and fire the audience with his rousing enthusiasm and passion for workers’ solidarity. Being the general secretary of a transport union, he couldn’t but begin by discoursing on the recent industrial action by drivers (ASLEF) and guards (RMT) at Southern Rail. Southern are seeking to remove responsibility from guards for the opening and closing of train doors during station stops and add this extra safety burden to train drivers’ responsibilities. As Southern is a rail management company – not a franchisee – it loses no income by continually provoking strikes over safety in this political campaign to weaken rail unions. Southern continue to receive their management fee through taxpayer subsidy during times when rail fares are not being collected. Despite this guaranteed income, rail fares are permitted to increase by over two per cent in the new year. Manuel saluted the efforts of trades council such as the RTUC in taking trade unionism into the community whilst also supporting workers’ struggles. In answer to a cry of despondency about lack of membership activism and an overreliance on workplace representatives, Manuel acknowledged that building trade unionism in the workplace was a tough job, but only through persistence and making the case amongst members and non-members will more people join unions, become active and strengthen bargaining power. After a tough year in Reading of local authority cuts and several industrial disputes, Manuel’s words were heartening and help recharged the batteries of those in attendance – ready to take the fight to 2017!

Following Manuel’s opener, Chris Reilly as Acting President of RTUC presented the Executive Committee’s Annual Report to the AGM. This commenced the formal business of the evening, with the most important task being the election of officers and committee members for 2017. The nominations and elections resulted in the following executive committee being created for the coming year:

President: Chris Reilly
Vice-President: Nada al-Sanjak
Correspondence and Communications Secretary: John Partington (readingtradesunioncouncil@gmail.com)
Organising Secretary: James Parker
Assistant Secretary: David McMullen
Treasurer: Tom Sutherland
Equality Officer: Terrie Withers
Auditors: Keith Jerrome & Billie Reynolds
Committee Members: Kevin Jackson & Nikki D
President: Chris Reilly (RMT)
Vice-President: Nada al-Sanjak (UCU)
Correspondence and Communications Secretary: John Partington (TSSA): readingtradesunioncouncil@gmail.com
Organising Secretary: James Parker (UNITE)
Assistant Secretary: David McMullen (GMB)
Treasurer: Tom Sutherland (UNITE)
Equality Officer: Terrie Withers (UNISON)
Auditors: Keith Jerrome (UNITE) & Billie Reynolds (UNISON)
Committee Members: Kevin Jackson (UNISON) & Nikki Dancey (GMB)

Chris thanked the new Officers and Executive members for standing and accepting office and also thanked the outgoing postholders for their hard work during 2016.

The AGM also debated affiliation costs and agreed to increase the fees per member from 10p to 15p with a minimum cost of £5 union affiliation to RTUC.

The following is the Annual Report of the RTUC as presented by the President on behalf of the Executive Committee and accepted by the AGM.

Reading Trades Union Council
Annual Report, 13 December 2016

It is with pleasure that we present this Annual Report of the Reading Trades Union Council – the first such report since the RTUC was re-launched in February 2016.

Although the RTUC re-emerged at the beginning of the year, it is worth noting that there is a heritage of trades councils in Reading stretching back to 1874, with subsequent re-launches in 1891 and 2010. The seed for the current RTUC was planted in November 2015 when a meeting of trade unionists assembled to discuss a strategy for coordinating the local fight-back against the government’s austerity programme. After further meetings in December and January, it was decided that there was enough enthusiasm and anger among attendees to hold a launch AGM in February this year to create an Executive Committee and elect the RTUC’s post-holders. The following persons were duly elected on 16 February (with changes to personnel shown parenthetically):

President: Jan Bastable, UNITE (until October 2016); Chris Reilly, RMT (acting from October 2016)
Secretary: James Parker, UNITE
Treasurer: Dave Dymond, FBU (until October 2016); Tom Sutherland, UNITE (from October 2016)
Vice-President: Chris Reilly, RMT
Young Members Secretary: Tom Sutherland, UNITE
Equality Officers: Michele Spiller, UNISON & Arron Jones, UNISON
Communications Officer: John Partington, TSSA
Committee Members: Sarah Hacker, UNITE; Kevin Jackson, UNISON; and Keith Jerrome, UNITE (until August 2016)

Due to her increasing commitments at regional level with UNITE and the Labour Party, Jan Bastable stepped down as President in October with Chris Reilly covering the post as sitting Vice President. Similarly, Dave Dymond relinquished the Treasurer’s position with Tom Sutherland being elected in his stead at the October General Meeting. And having been invaluable in the start-up of the RTUC at the beginning of the year, Keith Jerrome stepped down as a Committee Member in August to focus on his other local activities, though remaining a UNITE delegate to the RTUC.

During the course of the year, the following trade unions have affiliated to the RTUC: ASLEF, CWU, FBU, RMT, TSSA, UNISON, UNITE and UCU.

The RTUC revitalised its social media presence, creating a public Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/ReadingTUC/), with 182 ‘Likes’, and a Blog site (http://readingtradesunioncouncil.blogspot.co.uk/) as well as a Closed Facebook Group with thirty members, accessible only by RTUC delegates, to discuss forthcoming events, meetings and strategy. We also had a quantity of t-shirts produced emblazoned with the words ‘Reading Trades Union Council / *In Solidarity*’. These have been sported at a number of events in Reading and elsewhere during the year.

From the start, the RTUC felt it important to recognise events of the past whilst building for the future. Similarly, whilst maintaining an independence from the local Labour Party, the RTUC recognised the longstanding link between that party and the trade union movement, not to mention the significance of operating in a town with a Labour-controlled Council. The RTUC’s activities during the year thus reflected these realities.

The RTUC’s first event took place on 1 May in the Forbury Gardens. Assembling around the monument to Reading’s volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, we celebrated International Workers’ Day, with speeches by delegates, Keith Jerrome and Ray Parkes, as wells as from a fraternal visitor from Spain’s PODEMOS party. Nicky Jerrome, former Labour Councillor in Wokingham, completed the event, leading the assembled comrades in a rendition of ‘The Internationale’, the anthem of international socialism.

On 7 May the RTUC sent John Partington to Swindon where Swindon Trades Council marked the ninetieth anniversary of the General Strike. After a procession through the railway village, bearing banners and carrying a coffin (as occurred in 1926, to represent the blacklegs who continued working during the strike), the event culminated in speeches in the Central Community Centre by local trade union activists and also Nigel Crossley, South West TUC Regional Secretary.

On 18 May, as the referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union approached, the RTUC organised a ‘question time’ style debate, with Chris Reilly in the chair and two pro-EU speakers (Jonathan Hayward, UNITE, and Cllr Matt Rodda, Labour Party) and two anti-EU speakers (Steve Hedley, RMT, and Ragesh Khakhria, Trade Unionists against the EU). The event gained wide local publicity and – we hope – helped to inform decision-making on referendum day, 23 June.

On 4 June, John Partington attended the ‘Bursaries or Bust’ protest in Whitehall on behalf of the RTUC. The event was organised by nurses’ unions (UNISON, RCN) and organisations for the defence of the NHS. Speakers included doctors, nurses, the NUS leader, Malia Bouattia, and the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood.

The 8 June saw the RTUC’s ‘Audience with Harry Leslie Smith’, during which the 93-year-old campaigner told of his experiences before the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. Chaired by Jan Bastable, the event was well attended and roused discussion amongst the audience about current politics and what we can do to fight austerity cuts and build a defence of the NHS and the present benefits system.

On 16 June and 18-19 July, RTUC delegates joined picket lines with UNITE staff striking in a pay dispute with Capita. Jan Bastable, Sarah Hacker and Graeme Hoskin of RTUC were all directly involved with the dispute, while John Partington, Chris Reilly and James Parker were among the RTUC delegates who joined the pickets in solidarity. This solidarity action by RTUC followed earlier similar such action during the junior doctors’ strike, during which delegates fraternised with striking doctors on the picket lines at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

With the horrific murder of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, on 16 June, the RTUC organised a memorial gathering in the Forbury Gardens the following afternoon. Assembling at the monument to Reading volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, the event allowed people moved by the murder to come forward and expressed their feelings to the assembled crowd – or to remain in silence and reflect. The local media gave tasteful coverage of the event, with reports appearing in the local print and online media as well as on BBC radio and television.

Disturbed by events in the Labour Party, with a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn and mass resignations from his shadow cabinet, the RTUC hosted a pro-Jeremy Corbyn rally in the Forbury Gardens on 1 July. Chris Reilly spoke on behalf of the RTUC and RMT, while guest speakers from UNITE (Jennie Formby) and the TSSA (Chris Clark) also contributed. On 13 July the RTUC also sent an open letter of support to Jeremy that was published in the local media. These events culminated, locally, in the Labour Party endorsement meeting on 25 July at which a number of RTUC delegates were present. John Partington spoke at the meeting on behalf of Jeremy and the party’s vote across the two town constituencies came down in favour of his continued leadership. Sadly, although Reading West endorsed Jeremy for Labour Party leader, Reading Eats backed his challenger, Owen Smith.

On 3 July, the RTUC – with Keith Jerrome taking the lead – organised a centenary picnic to honour the successful strike by the women workers of Huntley and Palmers Biscuit Factory. The event took place in Kings Road Gardens and included music by the Newtowners and a series of theatrical performances to a script by Dr Rebecca Hillman of the University of Exeter. The event received wide publicity, including a television report by the BBC.

On 17 July, Keith Jerrome and John Partington represented the RTUC at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset. Marking the movement to free six transported agricultural labourers in 1834, Tolpuddle is an annual celebration of trade union strength. This year’s speakers included Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, and Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party.

On 18 July, Chris Reilly and Billie Reynolds of the RTUC joined UNISON workers in protesting at Reading Borough Council’s cuts in social service spending.

On 25 August, John Partington represented the RTUC at the Oxford & District Trades Union Council’s public meeting of support for Jeremy Corbyn at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall, Oxford. The speakers were Barry Faulkner (UNITE), Caroline Glendenning (UNISON) and Cllr Claudia Webbe (Labour Party NEC).

On 3 September, Jan Bastable, Sarah Hacker and John Partington represented the RTUC at the Thirteenth Reading Pride Festival in Kings Meadow. The trade union movement was well represented, with stalls organised by UNISON, NASUWT, GMB and UNITE.

Most recently, RTUC endorsed the NHS Campaigning Day in Reading Market Place on 26 November, part of a series of national events called forth by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Billie Reynolds (UNISON), Kevin Jackson (UNISON), James Parker (UNITE), Ray Parkes (UNITE) and Graeme Hoskin (UNITE) were some of the RTUC delegates who made a presence on the day.

In promoting the above events, the RTUC has utilised its Facebook presence as well as pages and groups of allied organisations (other trades councils, the Labour Party and pro-NHS and anti-cuts sites) and has published press releases and other publicity in the Reading Chronicle, the Morning Star and Get Reading, and had information broadcast on BBC South Today as well as on BBC Radio Berkshire and JackFm Berkshire.