This weekend, I was lucky enough to be delegated to this year’s conference of my union, the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association. The event was thoroughly upbeat as a result of a year in which the union has overcome some very serious challenges in adapting to the changing transport industry and has also played a very important role in the wider labour movement. Those of us from London could feel a particular satisfaction that the mayoral candidate we had been backing from the very start, Sadiq Khan, had just won a historic victory as we due to begin. Representation from all branches was the strongest it had been for years, with excellent delegations from TSSA’s recently and thoroughly revitalised sections in Scotland and Ireland.
Strong motions were passed on key campaigning strategies. The union resolved to combat the appalling misrepresentation of the movement in the media by supporting the Morning Star newspaper, to play a bigger role in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and get involved in campaigns for social housing, green jobs and saving steel manufacturing in Britain. There was also a thorough debate on the forthcoming EU referendum: after speeches from both sides, conference adopted a “Remain” position with a set of demands for reform of the EU, as well as a motion for total opposition to the so-called “Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership” (TTIP).
International solidarity was also an important theme. We had a short film and presentation about the important work of Justice for Colombia, who fight for the rights of trade unionists who face some of the worst violence and repression against our movement in the world. This was followed by a very moving report from TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes and president Mick Carney about their participation in a trade union delegation to Palestine, about which they have both written about how urgently there needs to be action to support the rights of people in this occupied country. The union also put a statement of support for imprisoned Egyptian workers’ rights lawyer, Haitham Mohamedain.
In terms of guest speakers, we literally could not have asked for better. Shadow chancellor, John McDonell, spoke at fringe meeting before conference began. Leader of our sister transport union the RMT, Mick Cash, came and adressed us about the urgent need to work together to face new challenges such as technological and organisational change in our industry. But the universally acclaimed high point came at dinner on Sunday when we had keynote speeches from Shadow Rail Minister, Andy McDonald, and of course the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing friend of the entire trade union movement.