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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Revealed - the TUC's Special Relationship?

#TUC11 Among the recent Wikleaks cache of US diplomatic cables was one from the US London Embassy about the 2006 TUC Congress which provides a unique insight into the relationship between the TUC’s International Department and US diplomats: http://cables.mrkva.eu/cable.php?id=76720

Entitled ‘UK trade union conference will offer sneak preview of Party gathering’, the ‘sensitive’ cable to Washington DC and various European US embassies reports on a meeting between Owen Tudor, head of the TUC’s International Department and two US embassy staff in which the Congress House official provides an insiders briefing on likely developments at the 2006 TUC.

Tudor predicted that:

- Delegates to the upcoming TUC Conference will greet PM Blair with the question “When are you Leaving?”

- Congress would ‘debate recent moves to privatise parts of the National Health Service (NHS).

- On international issues, they would ‘stress solidarity with Iraqi and Kurdish trade unions, denounce Israel's foray into Lebanon and push for continued free movement of labor within the EU, including Romania and Bulgaria, when they join.’

The meeting appears to have been conducted using Cold War muscle memory. According to the cable, ‘Tudor noted with regret that elements of the TUC have drifted left and suggested the US had moved right, resulting in a greater than ever gap between UK unions and the US.’

An extract from the full cable follows:


2. The annual TUC conference, September 11 to 14 in  Brighton this year, relishes its role as the "rehearsal" for the Labour Party Conference a few weeks later, Tudor said. The trade unionists get first crack at the Prime Minister and will focus on the same internal issues that will grip the politicians in Manchester: when will PM Blair leave, and what will the next Labour leadership look like. Tudor said the first question Blair will be asked in the Q and A after his speech will be "When are you leaving?". Realistically, however, the unionists know these issues will only be discussed, not decided, at their gathering.

3. The biggest domestic issue on the agenda will be government's efforts to privatize parts of the National Health Service. (The government has proposed privatizing the NHS Logistics service, for example.) Also, a recent bid by US healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group to provide medical professionals to the NHS has raised concerns of some consumers and trade unionists. "Do we really want to follow the American model of health care?" Tudor asked.


4. The conference's international agenda will try to stay reasonably close to the Labour government's. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will address the conference the morning of Sep 13 and international issues will be debated that afternoon. War horse issues like Cuba will offer no surprises, Tudor said, but he and the leadership will try to rein in the membership on Iraq. The TUC (like the AFL-CIO) maintains close ties to the Iraqi trade union movement and tries not to undercut them by calling for a military pullout from Iraq. Kurdish trade unionists are treated as a distinct movement, both by the TUC and their Iraqi counterparts, Tudor said. The TUC does not try to draw any conclusions from that distinction, however. On Lebanon, the TUC is likely to criticize Israel, although Tudor admits there is more passion than logic to their views on this issue. He argued that even traditionally pro-Israel voices in the UK did not approve of the Israel incursion and so a strong statement was inevitable.

5. The prospect of Romanian and Bulgarian workers streaming into the UK when they accede to the EU, as did the Poles and others before them, is less of an issue for the TUC leadership than for the rank and file, Tudor explained. The TUC has always been "purer than pure" on labor mobility, he said. It should be allowed to occur as freely as capital and goods move. He questions analyses by the Bank of England and others that migrants from Eastern Europe have depressed wages in the UK, saying there is little statistical evidence to back it up. Free movement of labor, however, should be matched with strong labor protection laws, as Ireland has done, he said. The problem will be to convince the rank and file, who are reading the "bad analyses" in the UK press.


6. Tudor, a recent IV-grantee, welcomed outreach from the US Embassy and regretted that the UK labor movement had turned away from the USG and the US generally in recent years. He blamed a discontinuity between labor's post war leaders, who favored strong ties to the US, and their successors, who did not understand the strength of that tradition. The pull towards Europe and the impact of globalization had also caused many in the movement to turn away from the US. He hoped it would prove to be a temporary rough patch and that strong US-UK ties would again become the norm.’