AGM 2016: BTUC Ready to Campaign
A big thank you goes out to everyone who came to our annual general meeting. Barnet TUC elected its committee for the new year and had a series of excellent speakers who sparked off an excellent debate about how we as movement can take the struggle for social justice forwards for another year.
Our first speaker was the academic and activist Linda Kaucher, who came talk about the threat posed to equality and democracy by the transatlantic treaties know as TTIP and, more urgently in her view, CETA. Although these are packaged for the public as “trade” agreements, Linda warns that they have very little if anything to do with trade, and everything to do with deregulation. Tariffs between EU and North American countries, she points out, are and have been very low for a long time, but standards of regulation to protect health, safety and the environment are much higher. Big business is lobbying hard for these treaties because it does not want such protections to get in the way of profits. An interesting debate ensued about the implications of this, and what it might mean in terms of the forthcoming EU referendum, but there was consensus that more needs to be done to oppose TTIP.
The next speaker was local councillor and new leader of the Barnet Council Labour group, Barry Rawlings. The Labour (and Lib Dem) counsellors have challenged the hard-rightwing Tory council this year by submitting complete alternative budgets, approved as valid by the council finance officers. Barry emphasised that the Tories have been pushing for massive cuts and privatisation by claiming that they have no choice in the matter because of reduced revenue (itself a Tory policy, of course, though they ignore this!), whereas the budget he’d moved showed that there was in fact a range of political choices that can be made in allocating resources. Among other things, they had had a proposal to replace all 800 social homes that are currently being lost through council regeneration projects, as well as significant defence of care services through use of a ring-fenced council take increase that would cost Barnet residents no more than 10p a week. The Labour group has invited the wider movement to have some constructive input into what choices a progressive council, that we could achieve, would do. There was very enthusiastic discussion about this, as no issue is more urgent in Barnet right now than putting a stop to the extreme austerity agenda. We all agreed though, that further resistance is also needed between now and the potential election of a new council, if there is to be any public services left to utilise, and libraries continue to be one of the key front-lines.
The evening was rounded off by Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union. He’d come to our meeting directly from spending the afternoon on a picket line of striking Junior Doctors, who he hailed as fighting a battle for us all and warned us not to let them be another National Union of Mineworkers. He proceeded to give a wide-ranging speech about the goals of his union and its struggle for equal rights and fair pay for young workers, who are massively exploited at the moment. He also emphasised the importance of the struggle against rise of racism, represented by the outrageous rhetoric that David Cameron has used against refugees. BTUC will be organising a Barnet meet-up for the March 19th demonstration against racism in London in that spirit.