Report on a useful TUC London, Eastern and South Eastern regional meeting

LESE, as it is now known, had a pretty useful meeting today, so those of us that were willing to not be at the football or Pride were able to say it wasn’t a wasted morning.

In addition to some good motions on abortion rights (pushing for women in Northern Ireland to gain these rights following the success of the Irish referendum) and setting up a homes and housing sub-committee, my own union, TSSA, moved a well-received motion on ‘climate jobs’. As the world sweats in a record-breaking heatwave, our regional TUC has now resolved create a sub-group on environmental sustainability and just-transition for workers and create a detailed plan for creating climate jobs. A further TSSA motion, urging a reconsideration of hugely controversial third runway at Heathrow, was ruled out-of-order because the TUC nationally supports the runway, but a long-standing TSSA activist with air traffic experience did get the opportunity to explain the union’s concerns that, in addition to the serious environmental case against the third runway, the employment and transport infrastructural case are also questionable. Ultimately, Heathrow has a bloated air traffic agenda because airlines are businesses that chase profits: a third runway does not fix this.

The first guest speaker was Phillipa Harvey, an NEU executive member and leading activist with Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She urged that the unions’ support for Palestinian rights remains as essential as ever. The relocation of the US embassy by Donald Trump in to Jerusalem has resulted in a massive crackdown in paltry autonomy Palestinians had up to recently had in the West Bank, as witnessed by the recent brutal destruction of a traditional Bedouin village. Imprisonment of children, currently highly controversial in America, is extremely common in Israel. But no situation is more serious than that of Gaza, the scene of so many killings of unarmed people by the Israeli army, which is estimated to become unliveable in just 18 months. Without urgent action by the international community, things will undoubtedly reach new levels of horror in Palestine.

The last guest speaker was particularly interesting. Victor Figueroa is former LSE academic who has been working with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to produce a study of the impact of new technology on transport work and workers worldwide. The full report will be out in September, but Victor gave us a digested preview. His finding is that the main narrative – that new tech is primarily about automation, that 100% automation is unstoppable and that this either the best or worst thing ever (depending on who you ask) – is largely a marketable fiction. In reality, automation is constantly running into limitations (no, crew-less freight ships aren’t coming) and never completely eliminates labour (‘fully automated’ warehouses have almost 50% of the staff they had pre-upgrade). Automation and AI are also not as important, in many ways, as data, but not enough people in the international labour movement have considered data and they need to talk about it more. The most important thing said to us about technology is that whether it is a good or bad thing is absolutely dependant on who uses it and how they use it: capitalism will not create a utopia with technology, it will use it make profits and this will mean that new tech it introduces will exacerbate existing inequalities. It is with this knowledge that our movement should seek to create it’s own alternatives and this has to be a combination of worker’s organising and progressive governments and movements demanding strong regulation of how tech is used. The extract report is here:ITF – Transport Workers Building Power

The TUC Transport Industry Network, which I attend, is looking to hold a major event on automation in September, and the sorts of findings that the IFT have produced can hopefully feed into this, as can the ideas about transition to sustainable jobs.