Monday, 1 May 2017

RTUC celebrates the Workers’ International Festival!


Reading Trades Union Council Delegates with Emily Thornberry MP


The First of May is Labour Day, international workers’ day. Reading Trades Union Council revived the tradition of May Day solidarity in Reading by organising the town’s march and rally.

The event commenced with words of international welcome in the Forbury Gardens in front of the monument to Reading’s veterans of the Spanish Civil War from Ray Parkes and Keith Jerrome, representative of the Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee. Music was led by the Reading Red Choir.


Keith Jerrome (RIBMC/Unite/RTUC)
Ray Parkes (RIBMC/Unite/RTUC)
The march then commenced, proceeding down Friar Street, along West Street, through Broad Street and back to the Forbury Gardens. As it proceeded, the march, led by the RTUC banner and trade unionists in RTUC t-shirts, chanted a call-and-response: ‘What do we want? Workers’ rights! When do we want it? Now!’ In addition to the RTUC banner, ‘Vote Labour’ placards were in abundance, a European Union flag was flown as were several from the Communist Party of Britain. As the march re-entered the Forbury Gardens it was met by Reading’s crème de la crème of labour movement iconography – the Reading banner of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. The marchers assembled around the Forbury bandstand and awaited the fine roster of local, regional and national speakers.

A real coup for the event was the presence of the Labour Party Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry MP. Just as the country entered the general election campaign, a voice of solidarity from a national Labour figure, promising to repeal anti-trade union laws, was a real shot in the arm.

Emily Thornberry MP, Labour Party
Shadow Foreign Secretary
From the RMT, Steve Hedley, the union’s Assistant General Secretary, overcame an injured foot to attend and – in his usual inspiring manner – roused the crowd to fight the Tory oppression and support the trade union movement. He also raised the banner of international solidarity, speaking of the workers’ struggles in Palestine, Turkey and Ireland as well as at home.

Steve Hedley (RMT Assistant
General Secretary)
Speaking from the heart, Unite member and Labour Cllr Sarah Hacker asked people to consider the International Workers’ Day of the future where tomorrow's workers are today's children under immense exam pressure and following a limited curriculum. She expressed her outrage at the level of debt students are graduating with and then entering a job market threatened with digitisation. She asked ‘What does the future hold for our children?’
Cllr Sarah Hacker (Labour Party/
Unite/RTUC)

Nada Al-Sanjari, a member of the NUT and the Vice-President of the RTUC, spoke with passion about the importance of solidarity through trade unions and the need to fight Conservative attacks on working people. She asserted that ‘We stand in solidarity with our comrades all over the world, who are using this day to fight for their rights as workers’. Reflecting on recent industrial disputes and government cuts she declared: ‘Teachers, nurses, doctors, train drivers and conductors, firefighters, an attack against one is an attack against us all’. And referring to the recent Trades Union Act limiting the right to strike, she noted the following:

Now for some irony, the government that won with a pitiful 24% of popular support has made it illegal for us to withhold the only power we have as workers, our labour and strike, unless we secure 40% of the vote. That means 274 out of 330 Conservative MPs who failed to receive 40% of the votes are trying to stop us fighting against our exploitation.

Winding up her speech on a local issue, Nada pointed out that ‘Our committed TUC in Reading recognizes the fact that women make up the majority of trade union membership and has pushed for campaigns on women’s issues, fighting sexual harassment and violence against women by supporting Berkshire Women’s Aid in providing support and refuge for women fleeing domestic abuse’.
Janine Booth (RMT)

Janine Booth of the RMT rounded the event off with poetry castigating Tory cuts, promoting the power of women as a political force, urging support for the RMT’s battles around the country to retain guards on trains – and reminding us all not to cross picket lines. Her performance can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RhBBccD6Kw&feature=youtu.be.

Chris Reilly (RMT/RTUC President)
The other speakers on the day were Merry Cross (DPAC), highlighting the effects of Conservative policies on disabled people; Paul Britt (Reading Pride) speaking of the disturbing statistics of attacks against LGBT+ people at work and the discrimination they face and the importance of the trade union movement in campaigning for LGBT+ workers’ rights; and Kevin Jackson (Unison & RTUC) speaking about the devastating effects of government policy on the NHS and social care locally and throughout the country. Chris Reilly (RMT), as RTUC President, wound up the event, quoting the Reading RMT banner urging attendees to ‘Educate... Agitate... Organise...’. Referencing the forthcoming general election, he declared: ‘Let’s vote, let’s get it out there on the 8th May and get rid of the Tories from Reading’.
Merry Cross (DPAC)
Paul Britt (Reading Pride)
Kevin Jackson (Unison/RTUC)


In addition to online publicity, the RTUC May Day March and Rally received television coverage in Urdu on channel UK44 (including a slot for Chris Reilly) and in Pakistan on Dunya News as well as a report in the Reading Chronicle (below).

Reading Chronicle, 4 May 2017
Many thanks for the time and enthusiasm of the speakers – but especially for the 200 or so attendees who joined the march, listened to the speeches and joined in with the Reading Red Choir’s renditions of ‘The Red Flag’, ‘The Internationale’ and ‘Jarama Valley’.

 

From Reading to Leipzig

While the Reading trade union movement was on the march at home, John Partington (TSSA & RTUC Secretary) attended the Leipzig May Day Rally, taking RTUC solidarity to the DGB (the German Trade Union Confederation) and offering Labour Party greetings to the SPD.
The German Trades Union Confederation at May Day in
Leipzig: 'Pensions must be sufficient'

The  Leipzig German Social Democrats

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Reading Trades Union Council Affiliate Trade Unions, 2017

We are pleased to report that, in 2017, the following trade unions are affiliates of the Reading Trades Union Council:
 
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National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers
 
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National Union of Teachers

 

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Transport Salaried Staffs' Association
 
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Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers
 
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Unite the Union
 
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University and College Union

International Women's Day in Reading, 8 March 2017

The RTUC banner heads the
Women's Day march through Buttermarket
 
Reading Trades Union Council played a leading role in organising and partaking in International Women's Day - 2017's event being possibly the most popular ever staged in the town.
 
The length of the march as it passed through Broad Street
The leading light in the arrangements was RTUC's vice president, Nada Al Sanjari, who organised a strong field of speakers, a band and plotted the route.
 
Starting at the Spanish Civil War Monument in Forbury Gardens, a procession of around 200 people - women, children and men - paraded down Broad Street, up Friar Street, and assembled outside the Town Hall on the edge of Market Place. Following music by The Retreat Singers - a Reading band founded many years ago on Women's Day - Nada introduced the speakers.
 
Jan Bastable (Unite/RTUC)
addresses the rally
From the RTUC, Jan Bastable spoke, also representing Unite the Union in her role as regional vice secretary and women's committee vice secretary. Jan noted that women make up more than half the members of trade union and urged as many people as possible to join trade unions to help defend rights at work and social services and the NHS in the local community. She promoted the activities of the Reading Trades Union Council and welcomed trade unionists to attend its meetings and to affiliate their branches to the RTUC.
 
Ray Parkes addresses the rally
Another RTUC speaker was Ray Parkes, a member of Unite Community and an activist in Reading's labour movement for 50 years. Ray commended the organisation of and attendance at the 2017 International Women's Day march, calling it the largest such event in Reading's history. Ray spoke of the strong women who have influenced his political development, from his family to such historical figures as Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin - the founder of International Women's Day. He thanked Nada for her enthusiasm and successful organising abilities and hoped the event would become an annual fixture in Reading's calendar.
 
Nada Al Sanjani
addresses the rally
To wind up the event, Nada spoke, giving a very personal account of her move from Iraq to the United Kingdom and the impact which British foregn policy in the Middle East has had on the local populations, especially women - splitting families, creating refugees and exiles, and of course killing vast numbers of people. Nada thanked all the speakers and the attendees and looked forward to an even larger scale gathering in a years time.

Nada winds up Reading's 2017
International Women's Day march

Monday, 6 March 2017

Reading Trades Union Council defending the NHS, London, 4 March 2017

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party
On 4 March 2017, Reading Trades Union Council joined 250,000 other protesters in London, marching to defend the NHS. Nada Al-Sanjari, Vice-President of the RTUC, had organised the production of a banner and several trades council delegates took a hand in parading it from Tavistock Square to Parliament Square. Jan Bastable and Cllr Sarah Hacker, Unite delegates to the RTUC, marched with their trade union while John Partington, Correspondence Secretary, flew a flag for the TSSA.
John McDonnell MP
Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Len McCluskey, General Secretary of unite the Union

On the conclusion of the march, a host of speakers rewarded the gathered crowd with words of solidarity and inspirational calls for continued pressure on the Government to properly fund the NHS and halt the creeping privatisation of our health service. Among the speakers were Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite union, John McDonnell MP, the Labour Party’s shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party. All three speakers, leaders of the industrial and political wings of the labour movement, pledged support to NHS workers in their struggle for an improved health service, including backing strike action if the Government again placed unfair restraint on heath workers’ pay.

 


Nada Al-Sanjari, Vice-President of the RTUC
Cllr Sarah Hacker and Jan Bastable of Unite and RTUC


John Partington, TSSA and RTUC Correspondence Secretary


Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, visits Reading, 6 March 2017
Reading trade unionists with Len McCluskey,
General Secretary of Unite the Union


The Reading Trades Union Council was out in force to greet Len McCluskey during his visit to Novotel Reading to address trade unionists during his campaign for re-election as General Secretary of the Unite union. Len spoke for half an hour before fielding questions from the audience, members of Unite and non-members alike.

Sue Stevens, Unite branch chair from Reading Buses,
introduces Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite
Jan Bastable, Cllr Sarah Hacker, Keith Jerrome, Ray Parkes and John Partington were among RTUC delegates at the event.
Ray Parkes (left) and John Partington (right) of RTUC
with Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union

Thursday, 2 February 2017

RTUC opposing President Trump’s Islamophobia with like-minded progressives



Event Flyer



On Thursday, 2 February 2017, members of the Reading Trades Union Council (including its Vice-President and Communications & Correspondence Secretary) joined Labour Party members, peace activists, students and those of a tolerant disposition young and old at the ‘Reading anti-Trump’s #MuslimBan solidarity gathering‘ outside Reading Town Hall. Beginning at 5.30pm, a crowd of around 200 people assembled – including a large number of children – holding homemade banners of protest against the American President, Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order, signed on 28 January, which banned travel to the USA from seven majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia).
Nada addresses the diverse gathering of anti-racists
The organisers of the event, Nada and Wendy, were incensed by Trump’s action and felt the need to respond to his bigotry with a peaceful show of protest open to all like-minded people. As Nada explains, ‘It was organised in two days. I addressed the crowd and spoke about the need to be vigilant about who is to blame for the underfunding of the NHS and local schools. We need to protect each other and to demonstrate that we won’t allow people to be scapegoated or demonised for problems that they did not cause. We came out in solidarity with those who were made refugees through destructive wars.
‘We committed to defend anyone who feels under threat from the prejudice that is dominating the headlines. We are united as a community in valuing every person in our community. I was inspired by the turnout and people’s commitment to stand up for those targeted for their difference. I learnt many things but the key message was clearly that there’s a strong will to get involved and be active, and continue the resistance against racism and prejudice and invasions’.
Among the banners on display were ones reading ‘Stop Racist Wars Now’, ‘More in Common + United’ and ‘I am Malala’.
Reading Trades Union Council's Vice President and Secretary
***Stop Press*** Following Reading’s successful anti-Trump rally, US District Judge James Robart in Seattle stayed the Executive Order on 3 February pending a Federal Review. For the time being, Trump’s racist Order has been reversed – but pressure needs to continue to prevent its reinstatement as well as the further enactment of his illiberal and anti-democratic policies.

Fraternal Observer at Oxford & District Trades Union Council’s AGM

Also on 2 February, John Partington, RTUC Secretary, hurried from the anti-Trump demonstration to attend the Oxford & District Trades Union Council’s AGM as an invited guest, returning the tribute paid when Pól Ó Ceallaigh, Chair of the O&DTUC, attended RTUC’s AGM in December.

Key issues discussed were Oxfordshire County Council’s proposal to create a unified county authority, absorbing Oxford City Council and the other district councils in the county. Debate over the political consequences of such a move was had, with the proposal being contrasted with the alternative of a series of unitary authorities being established. There is currently no proposal for the status quo to be maintained – though that seemed favoured by the majority of attendees. Anything else would erode Labour’s strength in Oxford City, which is surrounded by a sea of Tory Blue throughout much the rest of the county. The delegates also looked forward to key events in the diary, including ‘Labour’s Industrial Strategy’ conference, Oxford (11 February), ‘Stand up to racism’ rally, Oxford (16 February), ‘Hands off our NHS!’, London (4 March), Levellers’ Day, Burford (20 May) and the Trades Councils’ Conference, Sunderland (10-11 June).

The election of officers was completed in an orderly manner, with Pól Ó Ceallaigh as President, Sue Tibbles as Secretary and Richard Kelsall as Treasurer, among others; these officers were also elected as a slate to the corresponding roles in the Oxfordshire County Association of Trades Union Councils.

Monday, 16 January 2017


Report of Reading Trades Union Council’s event:

Help Save the NHS

Chair: Nada Al-Sanjari (Vice President, RTUC)
Chair and Speakers for RTUC's 'Help Save the NHS' event


Date/Time: 16 January 2017, 19.00-21.00

Venue: Reading International Solidarity Centre, London Street, Reading

Speakers: Merry Cross (DPAC); Kevin Jackson (Unison); Kevin Brandstatter (GMB)
RTUC's 'Help Save the NHS' event
 
With about thirty persons in attendance, Nada Al-Sanjari, Reading Trades Union Council Vice President and chair for the evening, introduced the speakers: Merry Cross representing Disabled People Against Cuts; Kevin Jackson representing the health workers’ union Unison; and Kevin Brandstatter representing the health workers’ union GMB.
Merry Cross of Disabled People Against Cuts
 
Merry spoke first, declaring that the Conservatives are ripping up society, social care and the NHS. She talked about physical and mental impairment being a diverse range of characteristics which people live with. Disability – or disablement – is the oppression people suffer due to their impairment. All people in society need to take on some key facts: while around ten percent of the population are disabled, impairment can happen overnight, instantly and is unplanned – leading to immediate disablement. Discrimination against the impaired, therefore, should be everyone’s concern. ‘Today it’s me; tomorrow it could be you!’ Merry pointed out. DPAC has been disappointed with solidarity from other groups hitherto, including trade unions.

Merry next turned her attention to current specific issues. The threatened closure of the hydrotherapy pool at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) would mean that, without hydrotherapy, so many more people would require hospital care. [RTUC had invited Merry to bring along a petition to save the hydrotherapy pool and a number of new supporters signed up during the course of the evening.]

More generally, Merry asserted that austerity affects women and the disabled most. Department for Work and Pensions assessments (Work Capability Assessments, Disability Living Allowance assessments, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit medical assessments, Veterans UK assessments) are being used to throw people off benefits; some have died, some suffer malnutrition. Assessments can result in the removal of a disabled person’s car – before their appeals is heard. This increased lack of mobility leads to isolation, depression – and visits to the GP, putting more pressure on the NHS.

Social care has been reduced so that no night assistance is received by many people in need. People who require assistance going to the toilet are made to wear incontinence pads – though they are not incontinent! And the pads – which were once supplied on the NHS – now have to be paid for. Dignity is under attack – and the shift in caring responsibilities from professionals to family members is straining relationships.

The introduction of the Bedroom Tax has disproportionately affected disabled persons. Many have been forced to give up houses which have been specially adapted for their needs – to move into smaller properties not adapted. Again, this results in more visits to the NHS.

As Merry was not able to remain for the whole evening, the chair invited discussion and questions immediately following her talk. One audience member noted the disappearance of public telephones as particularly affecting the poor, including the disabled poor. Two related questions were: ‘What can trade unions do to assist DPAC?’ and ‘Can trade unions affiliate to DPAC?’ Merry answered that DPAC’s main need is funds, as some hearing impaired members require interpreters. In addition, trade unions can support campaigns, help hold banners and undertake leafleting. Merry saw no reason why trade unions couldn’t affiliate, though pointed out that DPAC is not a registered charity. A final question asked ‘What support do disabled people receive from the Equality Commission?’ Merry replied that the Commission has been largely emasculated and there is little they can do with their current powers.
Kevin Jackson, Unison's Berkshire and
Healthcare Branch Secretary

Kevin Jackson, the secretary of Unison’s Berkshire and Healthcare Branch, spoke next. He began by observing that, while he’s been active in the local NHS for ten years, he’s watched its sharp decline since 2010. Before the 2015 general election, the head of the NHS declared that the service required £30 billion. Following the election, £8 billion has been provided and £20 billion worth of savings have been demanded.

In January 2016, the government established 44 areas and requested that each draft up a Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The Reading area is covered by the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and (West) Berkshire Sustainability and Transformation Plan (BOB STP) [the Full Draft of which was published in December 2016 and can be found here: http://www.oxfordshireccg.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Draft-Bucks-Oxfordshire-Berkhsire-West-STP.pdf; a summary available here: http://www.oxfordshireccg.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Draft-BOB-STP-Public-Summary.pdf].

The BOB STP proposes a ‘review’ of community hospitals (i.e., closures); a ‘review’ of the staff mix (i.e., replacing nurses with health assistance); and a ‘review’ of doctors’ surgeries (i.e., closures). £500 million is proposed to be saved by 2020. This is the destruction of the NHS. How about increasing corporation tax? How about raising income tax? Some CEOs earn more in three days than the average annual pay of their employees. The government has a slim majority – we need to expose the lies on health funding and challenge all health cuts. The BOB STP is not achievable if the NHS is to survive.
Kevin Brandstatter, GMB National
Organising Officer

The final speaker was Kevin Brandstatter, National Organising Officer for the GMB union with many members working in health care. Kevin began by asserting that ‘last week was the worst for the NHS!’ The Red Cross declared a ‘humanitarian crisis’; cancer treatments were cancelled for the first time; people are dying in beds in corridors. Meanwhile, the health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is gloating from the sale of his internet business, Hotcourses, for £17 million (his 49% share) which makes money from state education. The deal will make him the richest person in the cabinet.

The NHS budget has gone up one percent per year, but its costs have inflated by four percent per year. Although the NHS was promised £8 billion following the 2015 general election, £4 billion was already earmarked for deficit reduction – so will not go towards health care. The two percent increase in council tax to support social care is not enough to cover current needs. The BOB STP proposals do not address the problem of training and retaining medical staff – due to their poor wages. Instead it proposes raising productivity – i.e., staff working harder for the same money. It is also considering privatising ‘back office’ functions – thus taking public money out of the NHS. The STPs are encouraging private health insurance firms and boosting private health care providers.

Under the Tories, the NHS is set to become a rump service for the unemployed, the elderly and those in precarious employment. Trades councils need to organise opposition. On 4 March there will be a National Demonstration to Defend Our NHS [see: https://www.facebook.com/events/1771664639725061/]. Labour parties and trade unions must work together. This is a class issue. Working people need to fight back.

Following the two trade union speakers, questions and discussion were invited from the floor. One audience member mentioned that John McDonnell, when addressing Unite members earlier that day, stated that current government plans are to cut taxes by £70 billion over five years. We need to stop that and fund the NHS. The speaker also mentioned that private companies are taking over Trusts (Capita in Norfolk, eg.) and making money out of the NHS. Kevin Jackson replied that private care homes are closing due to cost – and there is no public option available to fill the gap.

Another audience member suggested councils set deficit budgets and refuse to implement cuts. He asked ‘where is the national strike over attacks on the NHS, the Trade Union Bill, etc.? Kevin Brandstatter said that, despite the British Medical Association (BMA) not being a member of the Trades Union Congress, trade unions are supporting junior doctors’ actions and other BMA initiatives. Labour councillor, Graeme Hoskin (Reading’s Lead Councillor for Health) replied that councils can’t set deficit budgets; the government would take direct control of the council and local democracy would be lost. On the Trade Union Act, Graeme stated that Reading Borough Council (RBC) will not abide by its provisions despite it being law. He also pointed out that RBC has an ethical wage agreement with Unison though funding is being squeezed and it is becoming difficult to sustain it. He asserted that the answer to the NHS crisis is ultimately political – a change in government is required to save it.
Cllr Gaeme Hoskin, Reading Borough
Council's Lead Councillor for Health

John Ennis, Labour councillor for Southcote Ward, publicised Reading & District Labour Party’s National Campaign Day around the NHS & Social Care on 21 January (see https://events.labour.org.uk/event/32498). [For Wokingham Constituency Labour Party’s similar initiative, see https://events.labour.org.uk/event/32352.] He agreed that Labour parties and trade unions need to work together and the local Labour Party needs to overcome elements within the party which refuse to circulate trade union information.

Other comments from the audience were: 1) the press and media in general are attempting to normalise the crisis in the NHS; 2) the USA spends c. 17% of national wealth on health services while we spend less than Germany, France and other G20 countries; 3) We need materials for activists to use to campaign for the NHS; 4) we need to publicise coaches and subsidised travel to the 4 March National Demonstration to Defend Our NHS.

After two hours of informative presentations and general discussion and questions, Nada thanked the speakers and audience on behalf of Reading Trades Union Council and encouraged attendees to sign Merry’s petition to save the RBH hydrotherapy pool.
The Morning Star, 14-15 January 2017

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Reading Trades Union Council and the Labour Party protest Rail Fare Increases

Billie Reynolds (fourth left), John Partington (seventh left) and James Parker
(ninth left) of RTUC join Labour Party comrades at Reading Railway Station
On 3 January 2017, the day rail fares in Britain went up by an average of 2.3%, the Reading Trades Union Council and the Reading & District Labour Party stood shoulder to shoulder in protest.


Assembling at both the north and south entrances to Reading Railway Station, activists distributed 2000 leaflets and spoke with regular commuters, occasional rail travellers and even persons who rarely or never used the train.

The hottest topics were the year-on-year fare increases (up 27% since 2010), government subsidies for private rail firms and the extraction of profit from the railways while fare-payers and taxpayers foot the bill.

Despite the near freezing temperature, the public were willing to share their real sense of anger – and the mood of protest in the air suggests that 2017 will be a year when the government will have to rethink some of its attacks on public services and squeezes on hard-hit taxpayers and fare-payers.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reading Trades Union Council AGM, 13 December 2016



Reading Trades Union Council AGM Delegates, 13 December 2016


Following the relaunch of the Reading Trades Union Council in February 2016, a successful year of events has been held related to trade union struggles at Capita, the NHS and Reading Borough Council; historical commemorations at Huntley & Palmers and on International Workers’ Day; and events concerning the EU referendum, the Labour Party leadership and the murder of Labour MP, Jo Cox. Fuller details of the RTUC’s activities in 2016 are appended below in the form of the Annual Report presented by the Executive Committee to the AGM.

With a wind in the sails, the first RTUC AGM was held on 13 December 2016 at the Friends’ Meeting House, Reading. As well as being a great honour to the RTUC, the fact that the organisation could attract the General Secretary of the TSSA, Manuel Cortes, as its guest speaker illustrates the success of the journey it has embarked upon thus far. Of those delegates who have been active in earlier manifestations of the trades council in the 1970s, 1980s and 2010s, none could remember a time when it attracted a general secretary of a national trade union to address its annual general meeting.

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA, addresses the RTUC AGM
The evening commenced with the address by Manuel Cortes. Despite having meetings in Bristol and Swindon during the day, Manuel was pleased to attend the event and fire the audience with his rousing enthusiasm and passion for workers’ solidarity. Being the general secretary of a transport union, he couldn’t but begin by discoursing on the recent industrial action by drivers (ASLEF) and guards (RMT) at Southern Rail. Southern are seeking to remove responsibility from guards for the opening and closing of train doors during station stops and add this extra safety burden to train drivers’ responsibilities. As Southern is a rail management company – not a franchisee – it loses no income by continually provoking strikes over safety in this political campaign to weaken rail unions. Southern continue to receive their management fee through taxpayer subsidy during times when rail fares are not being collected. Despite this guaranteed income, rail fares are permitted to increase by over two per cent in the new year. Manuel saluted the efforts of trades council such as the RTUC in taking trade unionism into the community whilst also supporting workers’ struggles. In answer to a cry of despondency about lack of membership activism and an overreliance on workplace representatives, Manuel acknowledged that building trade unionism in the workplace was a tough job, but only through persistence and making the case amongst members and non-members will more people join unions, become active and strengthen bargaining power. After a tough year in Reading of local authority cuts and several industrial disputes, Manuel’s words were heartening and help recharged the batteries of those in attendance – ready to take the fight to 2017!

Following Manuel’s opener, Chris Reilly as Acting President of RTUC presented the Executive Committee’s Annual Report to the AGM. This commenced the formal business of the evening, with the most important task being the election of officers and committee members for 2017. The nominations and elections resulted in the following executive committee being created for the coming year:

President: Chris Reilly
Vice-President: Nada al-Sanjak
Correspondence and Communications Secretary: John Partington (readingtradesunioncouncil@gmail.com)
Organising Secretary: James Parker
Assistant Secretary: David McMullen
Treasurer: Tom Sutherland
Equality Officer: Terrie Withers
Auditors: Keith Jerrome & Billie Reynolds
Committee Members: Kevin Jackson & Nikki D
President: Chris Reilly (RMT)
Vice-President: Nada al-Sanjak (UCU)
Correspondence and Communications Secretary: John Partington (TSSA): readingtradesunioncouncil@gmail.com
Organising Secretary: James Parker (UNITE)
Assistant Secretary: David McMullen (GMB)
Treasurer: Tom Sutherland (UNITE)
Equality Officer: Terrie Withers (UNISON)
Auditors: Keith Jerrome (UNITE) & Billie Reynolds (UNISON)
Committee Members: Kevin Jackson (UNISON) & Nikki Dancey (GMB)

Chris thanked the new Officers and Executive members for standing and accepting office and also thanked the outgoing postholders for their hard work during 2016.

The AGM also debated affiliation costs and agreed to increase the fees per member from 10p to 15p with a minimum cost of £5 union affiliation to RTUC.

The following is the Annual Report of the RTUC as presented by the President on behalf of the Executive Committee and accepted by the AGM.

 
Reading Trades Union Council
Annual Report, 13 December 2016

It is with pleasure that we present this Annual Report of the Reading Trades Union Council – the first such report since the RTUC was re-launched in February 2016.

Although the RTUC re-emerged at the beginning of the year, it is worth noting that there is a heritage of trades councils in Reading stretching back to 1874, with subsequent re-launches in 1891 and 2010. The seed for the current RTUC was planted in November 2015 when a meeting of trade unionists assembled to discuss a strategy for coordinating the local fight-back against the government’s austerity programme. After further meetings in December and January, it was decided that there was enough enthusiasm and anger among attendees to hold a launch AGM in February this year to create an Executive Committee and elect the RTUC’s post-holders. The following persons were duly elected on 16 February (with changes to personnel shown parenthetically):

President: Jan Bastable, UNITE (until October 2016); Chris Reilly, RMT (acting from October 2016)
Secretary: James Parker, UNITE
Treasurer: Dave Dymond, FBU (until October 2016); Tom Sutherland, UNITE (from October 2016)
Vice-President: Chris Reilly, RMT
Young Members Secretary: Tom Sutherland, UNITE
Equality Officers: Michele Spiller, UNISON & Arron Jones, UNISON
Communications Officer: John Partington, TSSA
Committee Members: Sarah Hacker, UNITE; Kevin Jackson, UNISON; and Keith Jerrome, UNITE (until August 2016)

Due to her increasing commitments at regional level with UNITE and the Labour Party, Jan Bastable stepped down as President in October with Chris Reilly covering the post as sitting Vice President. Similarly, Dave Dymond relinquished the Treasurer’s position with Tom Sutherland being elected in his stead at the October General Meeting. And having been invaluable in the start-up of the RTUC at the beginning of the year, Keith Jerrome stepped down as a Committee Member in August to focus on his other local activities, though remaining a UNITE delegate to the RTUC.

During the course of the year, the following trade unions have affiliated to the RTUC: ASLEF, CWU, FBU, RMT, TSSA, UNISON, UNITE and UCU.

The RTUC revitalised its social media presence, creating a public Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/ReadingTUC/), with 182 ‘Likes’, and a Blog site (http://readingtradesunioncouncil.blogspot.co.uk/) as well as a Closed Facebook Group with thirty members, accessible only by RTUC delegates, to discuss forthcoming events, meetings and strategy. We also had a quantity of t-shirts produced emblazoned with the words ‘Reading Trades Union Council / *In Solidarity*’. These have been sported at a number of events in Reading and elsewhere during the year.

From the start, the RTUC felt it important to recognise events of the past whilst building for the future. Similarly, whilst maintaining an independence from the local Labour Party, the RTUC recognised the longstanding link between that party and the trade union movement, not to mention the significance of operating in a town with a Labour-controlled Council. The RTUC’s activities during the year thus reflected these realities.

The RTUC’s first event took place on 1 May in the Forbury Gardens. Assembling around the monument to Reading’s volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, we celebrated International Workers’ Day, with speeches by delegates, Keith Jerrome and Ray Parkes, as wells as from a fraternal visitor from Spain’s PODEMOS party. Nicky Jerrome, former Labour Councillor in Wokingham, completed the event, leading the assembled comrades in a rendition of ‘The Internationale’, the anthem of international socialism.

On 7 May the RTUC sent John Partington to Swindon where Swindon Trades Council marked the ninetieth anniversary of the General Strike. After a procession through the railway village, bearing banners and carrying a coffin (as occurred in 1926, to represent the blacklegs who continued working during the strike), the event culminated in speeches in the Central Community Centre by local trade union activists and also Nigel Crossley, South West TUC Regional Secretary.

On 18 May, as the referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union approached, the RTUC organised a ‘question time’ style debate, with Chris Reilly in the chair and two pro-EU speakers (Jonathan Hayward, UNITE, and Cllr Matt Rodda, Labour Party) and two anti-EU speakers (Steve Hedley, RMT, and Ragesh Khakhria, Trade Unionists against the EU). The event gained wide local publicity and – we hope – helped to inform decision-making on referendum day, 23 June.

On 4 June, John Partington attended the ‘Bursaries or Bust’ protest in Whitehall on behalf of the RTUC. The event was organised by nurses’ unions (UNISON, RCN) and organisations for the defence of the NHS. Speakers included doctors, nurses, the NUS leader, Malia Bouattia, and the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood.

The 8 June saw the RTUC’s ‘Audience with Harry Leslie Smith’, during which the 93-year-old campaigner told of his experiences before the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. Chaired by Jan Bastable, the event was well attended and roused discussion amongst the audience about current politics and what we can do to fight austerity cuts and build a defence of the NHS and the present benefits system.

On 16 June and 18-19 July, RTUC delegates joined picket lines with UNITE staff striking in a pay dispute with Capita. Jan Bastable, Sarah Hacker and Graeme Hoskin of RTUC were all directly involved with the dispute, while John Partington, Chris Reilly and James Parker were among the RTUC delegates who joined the pickets in solidarity. This solidarity action by RTUC followed earlier similar such action during the junior doctors’ strike, during which delegates fraternised with striking doctors on the picket lines at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

With the horrific murder of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, on 16 June, the RTUC organised a memorial gathering in the Forbury Gardens the following afternoon. Assembling at the monument to Reading volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, the event allowed people moved by the murder to come forward and expressed their feelings to the assembled crowd – or to remain in silence and reflect. The local media gave tasteful coverage of the event, with reports appearing in the local print and online media as well as on BBC radio and television.

Disturbed by events in the Labour Party, with a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn and mass resignations from his shadow cabinet, the RTUC hosted a pro-Jeremy Corbyn rally in the Forbury Gardens on 1 July. Chris Reilly spoke on behalf of the RTUC and RMT, while guest speakers from UNITE (Jennie Formby) and the TSSA (Chris Clark) also contributed. On 13 July the RTUC also sent an open letter of support to Jeremy that was published in the local media. These events culminated, locally, in the Labour Party endorsement meeting on 25 July at which a number of RTUC delegates were present. John Partington spoke at the meeting on behalf of Jeremy and the party’s vote across the two town constituencies came down in favour of his continued leadership. Sadly, although Reading West endorsed Jeremy for Labour Party leader, Reading Eats backed his challenger, Owen Smith.

On 3 July, the RTUC – with Keith Jerrome taking the lead – organised a centenary picnic to honour the successful strike by the women workers of Huntley and Palmers Biscuit Factory. The event took place in Kings Road Gardens and included music by the Newtowners and a series of theatrical performances to a script by Dr Rebecca Hillman of the University of Exeter. The event received wide publicity, including a television report by the BBC.

On 17 July, Keith Jerrome and John Partington represented the RTUC at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset. Marking the movement to free six transported agricultural labourers in 1834, Tolpuddle is an annual celebration of trade union strength. This year’s speakers included Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, and Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party.

On 18 July, Chris Reilly and Billie Reynolds of the RTUC joined UNISON workers in protesting at Reading Borough Council’s cuts in social service spending.

On 25 August, John Partington represented the RTUC at the Oxford & District Trades Union Council’s public meeting of support for Jeremy Corbyn at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall, Oxford. The speakers were Barry Faulkner (UNITE), Caroline Glendenning (UNISON) and Cllr Claudia Webbe (Labour Party NEC).

On 3 September, Jan Bastable, Sarah Hacker and John Partington represented the RTUC at the Thirteenth Reading Pride Festival in Kings Meadow. The trade union movement was well represented, with stalls organised by UNISON, NASUWT, GMB and UNITE.

Most recently, RTUC endorsed the NHS Campaigning Day in Reading Market Place on 26 November, part of a series of national events called forth by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Billie Reynolds (UNISON), Kevin Jackson (UNISON), James Parker (UNITE), Ray Parkes (UNITE) and Graeme Hoskin (UNITE) were some of the RTUC delegates who made a presence on the day.

In promoting the above events, the RTUC has utilised its Facebook presence as well as pages and groups of allied organisations (other trades councils, the Labour Party and pro-NHS and anti-cuts sites) and has published press releases and other publicity in the Reading Chronicle, the Morning Star and Get Reading, and had information broadcast on BBC South Today as well as on BBC Radio Berkshire and JackFm Berkshire.