Sterling's strength will dominate everything at Glasgow this week

'Unions want more than a hint from Gordon Brown that pensions will again be linked to earnings'

Share

Trade union leaders and activists meeting in Glasgow today are very aware that this is likely to be the last TUC Conference before the next election. It is the time for writing manifestos and the Trade Union movement has a list of ideas which we will be urging on the Labour government.

Trade union leaders and activists meeting in Glasgow today are very aware that this is likely to be the last TUC Conference before the next election. It is the time for writing manifestos and the Trade Union movement has a list of ideas which we will be urging on the Labour government.

Unemployment is going down and the Government gets a good deal of credit for that achievement. The rub is that economic activity in Britain is very unbalanced. Job security is under threat, not from unscrupulous employers, but from the value of Sterling. Some of the biggest names in British Industry have been under threat. Rover was only saved at the 11th hour. Chorus - formerly British Steel - has made thousands of jobs redundant and Ford is due to stop car production in Dagenham. The clothing industry is fast becoming a desert and shipbuilding yards are desperate for the next orders.

The strong pound will figure in debate after debate in Glasgow. In July and August alone over 10, 000 jobs disappeared. The latest threat is from the Japanese electronics, giant Sony. With veiled threats about disinvestment unless the Government sorts out its policy on the European single currency. The debates on Tuesday in Glasgow about manufacturing industry and the Euro will be the centrepiece of the week and will spearhead the TUC's lobbying of the Government.

I believe that the Government should prepare much more actively for entry into the single currency and I will be making that point at the Congress. But even those Trade Unionists who have reservations about the Euro know that we cannot continue with a high-value pound propped up by high interest rates. Whatever decisions are made about the Euro the Trade Union movement unites in its demand for Government action to bring down the value of Sterling.

The most frustrating aspect of the Euro debate at the TUC is the fact that there is so little debate elsewhere. The clearest message from opinion polls is that most people in Britain recognise that they know too little about the issues. The debate can only be led by the Government. Gordon Brown's five economic tests are sensible but the Government should be leading a debate about how these tests can be met rather than simply hoping that the Euro issue will go away until after the next election. Many trade unionists want an end to the shilly shallying and want to hear more authoritative speeches from the Government.

Mr Brown will be addressing the TUC, and I guess that he will also be lobbied very strongly on the level of the minimum wage. For many Trade Unionists the introduction of the National Minimum Wage was the welcomed result of a generation of campaigning. But the applause was muted because the rate was set so low and because for some extraordinary reason the Government also set a lower rate of protection for young people.

I suppose that a cautious approach could be justified by the fear that some of the hysterical protection predictions might come true. Now we know that the introduction was a success and that employment continued to rise during the period.

The Trade Union movement waits expectantly. We intend to fight for a higher level of minimum wage and for parity for all age groups. In a world where there are so many threats to living standards we must not allow people who live on the lowest wages to slip back into poverty. £3.70 is out of date and the minimum should be moved as quickly as possible and as close as possible to £5 an hour.

The third priority for the week is likely to be pensions. The Government has spent a great deal of money improving the plight of the poorest pensioners. But the use of means tested benefit is never popular with the Trade Union movement. We want to see the value of the basic state pension protected so that it becomes a platform on which occupational pensions and stakeholder pensions can be built. The Labour government will get little credit for its pensions work until it eradicates the memory of the seventy-five pence a week pensions increase.

Trade Unionists are looking for more than a hint from Mr Brown that the basic state pension will once again be linked, not to prices, but to earnings. All the signs are that the Government will take a different approach and will pledge large increases in the pension without conceding the principle of the earnings link. Trade Unionists have to be pragmatists and no doubt many colleagues will accept that approach but I cannot see how a Labour government can permit a gradual erosion in the relative value of the basis state pension. That aspect of universal benefit has many supporters across the country and the Labour government will do itself a great deal of electoral harm unless it addresses the issues squarely.

The author is general secretary of the GMB union

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick