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Dudley Edwards

More Muscle for the ‘Workers’ Parliaments’

(March 1980)

From Militant, No. 495, 21 March 1980, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The forthcoming National Conference of Trades Councils, meeting in April, gives a great opportunity to make the trades councils still more effective in the struggles that face the labour movement.

Included on the conference agenda will be a resolution, which if passed and then endorsed by the TUC, could have a big effect in enhancing the authority of trades councils throughout the country. It has already been endorsed by the Trades Councils Association.

This resolution has been submitted by the Brighton, Hove and District Trades Union Council. It requests the General Council of the TUC to reconsider the possibility of direct representation of shop stewards’ committees and joint councils on local trades councils.

Should such representations be agreed, it would enable trades councils to become the real ‘workers’ parliaments’ they were originally intended to be.

Powers reduced

Over the years the trades councils were reduced to purely advisory bodies with little real authority to effectively co-ordinate the local industrial struggles of the workers.

This was not always so. As a matter of fact it was on the initiative of the trades councils which preceded it that the TUC itself was created. At the first two conferences of the TUC in the 19th Century a large number of delegates actually came from trades councils.

Later the powers of trades councils were unfortunately whittled away and finally their delegates to Trades Union Congresses were excluded.

Historical circumstances no doubt justified the change in the form of election to TUC, and given the complicated structure of the British trade union movement it was probably inevitable that the number of TC delegates had to be restricted.

In spite of this, even though shorn of any real powers, the trades councils continued to play a vital part in building the unity of organised workers. Today the whole movement is moving into a period of sharp industrial struggles against the attacks of the most anti trade union government for generations.

It is therefore essential that the shop stewards, who today are the life-blood of the trade union movement, should be directly represented on the trades council.

In the general strike of 1926 the trades councils played an absolutely indispensable organising role, despite the absence of direct contact with the factories, and what is happening today on the industrial field clearly shows that the possibility of a general strike cannot be ruled out in the years ahead.

The resolution to be moved by the Brighton and Hove Trades Council seeks to establish direct links with the stewards representing the majority of workers in factories and offices, without in any way impinging on the rights and responsibilities of union branches which would continue to constitute the main body of trades councils.

The struggles of the working class will need an effective trades council movement in the years ahead. The steps outlined in Brighton’s resolution could play a vital role in their development.

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Last updated: 3 June 2016