Proud to be unions

Billy Hayes reflects on Tony Blair's greatest achievement and attacks the comprehensive failure of t

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My day started with a meeting of the CWU Conference delegation at 7.30 a.m.

Our delegates debated out what our policy should be on the contemporary motions facing conference.

I never cease to be amazed at the interest, intellect and passion displayed by Union and Labour movement activists. It may not make my job as General Secretary easy, but such a power certainly makes for effective work by the Union.

In the morning at conference, one of the most interesting moments was the report from Sean Woodwood, the Northern Ireland Secretary. The peace process in Ireland is one of the political developments in which I have felt the greatest interest.

Having grown up in Liverpool, I have long been aware of Irish politics. I have met and listened to political leaders from the Nationalist and Unionist communities.

I believe The Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements are perhaps the most important political legacy of Tony Blair. I also believe that Irish people on both sides of the border will continue to remake politics on the island of Ireland.

Maybe tomorrow morning I will have this assessment confirmed when I attend the “Champ” breakfast with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in attendance.

The hall after lunchtime was packed in anticipation of Gordon Brown’s speech. Having secured his constitution reforms for the Party, he has already demonstrated this week that he has the capacity to unify the Party.

It is then tempting to see his first speech as an attempt to unify the country behind his vision of the future. Reassuringly this was not just his now familiar promotion of “Britishness”. I particularly liked the line of supporting all children, and supporting all families by which he demonstrated an equality between two parent and one parent families.

There were excellent initiatives announced on education, child care, maternity rights and the Health Service.

But there was very little on the future of the economy or on international politics.

This emphasis on the government’s immediate social programme can be read as a new political initiative. Or perhaps it can be read as clearing the decks for an early election. We shall see.

I took a live interview with Sky News after the speech. But I find it extraordinary with the expansion of news coverage across the day and across the week, the focus of the media seems more shallow the more extensive news broadcasting becomes.

Following the closing of conference, I face a long evening. Firstly, the CWU has organised a fringe meeting on the postal dispute. Our members are preparing for 4 days strike action from the 5th October. Talks are taking place with Royal Mail and I know our negotiators are trying to focus management upon the need for a just settlement. I remain hopeful.

But it is something of a surprise that Unite, who represent Royal Mail managers, announced today that they considering a strike ballot on the threat to their pensions. It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive failure by Royal Mail management and the Post Office Board than the prospect of united action by both rank and file workers and managers in Royal Mail.

After the CWU fringe meeting, I will be attending the Fringe meeting called by Unite, Unison and the GMB. Although I represent the smallest Union in this alliance my experience is that once we share a platform, it is the ideas rather than the numbers which grips the audience .

With the new reforms of the Party coming into place, there is more than ever a premium on effective co-ordination amongst the Unions affiliated to the Party.

After that I will be attending the broadbased “Proud to be Unions” party. This is a great idea, a social event which also allows Unions to celebrate our trade union convictions. Here my speech is reduced to two minutes. Now that is discipline for a General Secretary.

Billy Hayes became General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union in July 2001. He is vice chair of Labour’s national policy forum and holds positions in the international trade union movement. Billy is married to Diane and has two young children, Melissa and Niall
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