For all the militant talk at the TUC conference yesterday, there will be no general strike. The TUC is not going to call one, and the resolution passed to cheers in the Brighton Centre does not even suggest that they should. What it said was there should be "co-ordinated action where possible with far reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike."
The unions can consider away, but they know very well what the "practicalities of a general strike" are. To quote Paul Noon, of the union, Prospect, such talk doesn't "reflect the reality of where we are." The airline pilots union, Balpa, pointed out that give the low level of union membership in the private sector, the best the TUC could organise would be a public sector strike.
To add to the general air of unreality, the idea originated within the Prison Officers' Association (POA). The law bans prison officers from going on strike. In the Brighton corridors they were saying that the POA was boldly calling on everyone but themselves to go on general strike.
Grave humour isn't welcome
The least welcome publicity that this year's TUC conference has attracted concerned a stall where T-shirts depicting a gravestone with the caption: "A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher's grave," were on sale.
After the TUC's outgoing General Secretary, Brendan Barber called the T-shirts "tasteless and inappropriate", the trader, Colin Hampton, was persuaded to put them away, ending what had been a brisk trade. He was unapologetic. He claimed that he had shown "an entrepreneurial spirit that Thatcher would be proud of" in raising money for unemployed centres. Meanwhile, at the conference bookstall, they are still selling mugs and T-shirts with the slogan "I still hate Thatcher." Mrs Thatcher is 86, and no longer has all her mental faculties.
General Secretary: a suitable job for a woman
Frances O'Grady spoke at the TUC conference yesterday, for the first time since her election as General Secretary. She made only a few general remarks, because she has not yet formally taken over from Brendan Barber. Still, the emergence of a female General Secretary – the first in the TUC's 144-year history – is a telling sign of how times have changed from the occasion, 30 years ago, when Mo Mowlam was at the Durham Miners' Gala and counted 24 men and no women on the platform.
Being a union boss is now, to judge from the figures, a more suitable job for a woman than running a company or going into politics. Women make up 30 per cent of union general secretaries and 40 per cent of the TUC General Council. That compares with 18 per cent of David Cameron's Cabinet, 17 per cent of directors of FTSE companies, and less than 16 per cent of Conservative MPs.
Rhubarb the Clown's serious moment
The dwindling pack of journalists who cover the TUC annual conference focus on the economic arguments and any threats to strike. The brothers and sisters do talk about other things, however. Yesterday, they heard a speech about Burma by a delegate from the actors' union, Equity, one of whose members was in a Burmese prison this time last year. The seriousness of the occasion was in no way undermined by the fact that the speaker's professional name is Rhubarb the Clown. He was out of costume.
Will the picket line become fashionable?
Equity also had a resolution about the exploitation of young girls in places where very young and possibly anorexic teenage models are stomping the catwalk for pay that can be below the national minimum wage. Equity is on a mission to recruit them, conjuring up interesting images of what the picket lines would look like when unionised models down tools and go on strike.