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Confidential at the TUC conference

The unions are gathering in Liverpool for the first time in over 100 years. Gerry Corner joins the brethren on Day One

Published on September 15th 2009.

Confidential at the TUC conference

THE Prawn Sandwich Brigade may have infiltrated our football grounds, but another great bastion of the rank and file is holding firm again such decadence.

Tuna and mayo baguettes are about as la-di-da as it gets for union officials taking a break from the business of the TUC Congress in Liverpool. Along with cheese and onion butties, Cornish pasties and Worthington's bitter (£2 a pint).

In the conference hall, Congress members took their seats to music from two young men introduced as Nathan and Tom, together known as NaTo, whose militaristic connotations did not preclude enthusiastic applause

In this proletarian paradise, the nearest thing to a representative of the bourgeoisie was the reporter from the Guardian. No champagne corks popping and not an oyster in sight, which should at least ensure that delegates' motions, composite or otherwise, are of regular consistency.

Who says the Left is dead? The Socialist, Socialist Appeal, the Morning Star – you could barely move for radical periodicals. As trades union representatives from throughout the country, indeed the world, drifted into the BT Convention Centre, they were assailed from all sides by leaflets imploring them to attend one of multifarious fringe meetings: Defend The Welfare State. Lunch is free (but may be subject to means testing); Solidarity With Venezuela (as long as you don't come here taking our jobs), and The Havana Club Rum Reception with Cuban Cocktails and Buffet (plenty of takers for that one).

In the conference hall, Congress members took their seats to music from two young men introduced as Nathan and Tom, together known as NaTo, whose militaristic connotations did not preclude enthusiastic applause.

Rumour has it delegates were today set to be serenaded by musicians with a moniker more suited to the pacifist nature of delegates (when they are not swearing loudly at scabs) – an international four-piece combo comprising Solomon, Idris, Aristotle and Tyrone, together known as SolIdAriTy.

In a man's world you don't get to hear the word “sororal” (- adjective: of, pertaining to, or characteristic of sisters) too often, so it was a treat for lovers of linguistic curiosities when the conference greeted “our sororal and fraternal colleagues” from Paris to Colombia and whose names provided TUC President Sheila Bearcroft with a few tongue-twirlers along the way.

General Secretary Brendan Barber delivered the traditional opening address, a speech free of controversy – bankers are bad, public services are good – and a reference to Liverpool “rightly celebrating the release of the wrongly imprisoned Michael Shields” was certainly popular with delegates. Then it was on to composite motion 16, with particular reference to paragraphs 3.1 and 3.14.

The crowd were at their most animated during a series of motions dealing with the far right, with speaker after speaker recounting their own particular BNP horror stories.

One of the more palatable came from National Union of Journalists President Tim Lezard who told of a threatening phone call he received from an anonymous member of the BNP who ended their conversation with the ominous assertion that “we've got your number”. “Yeh, I've got yours too, mate,” Lezard told him. “You've left it on my phone.” “That” Lezard told the conference, “is how stupid they are.”

As lunchtime approached the mumblings of delegates, or was it the rumblings of their stomachs, grew louder, but the hall fell abruptly silent as Gee Walker, mother of murdered black teenager Anthony Walker, addressed the conference, prior to a silent vigil against racism outside.

She appealed for families – “the bedrock of society” – to receive more support, for policies to prevent racist abuse in the workplace, for tolerance, respect and forgiveness.“I can't speak without mentioning forgiveness. It's a weapon I have used to overcome this hate”.

Hesitant, almost apologetic, but determined to be heard, she defied her nerves and earned an emotional standing ovation. “As you see,” said Ms Bearcroft told her, “we do stand with you and we admire what you are doing in a wonderful, wonderful way.”

The opening day at the waterside was a victory for good organisation and laid-back, low key security. The only minor emergency occurred when a group of delegates discovered there was no way up to the exit because all the escalators were going down.

With no way out, a look of mild panic spread across their faces. Let's hope it's not metaphor for the country's economic prospects.

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AnonymousSeptember 15th 2009.


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