Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Trades Union Congress, Liverpool

Today David and I attended the annual Trades Union Congress, which this year met in the newly built Convention Centre in Liverpool. The significant redevelopment of the water-front of Liverpool with surrounding large and striking buildings made a strong statement about the recent expansion of the economy, but this was in stark contrast to the repeated concerns we heard from those we met, which was about the impact of the recession, with rising unemployment and the prospect of spending cuts just around the corner.

The visit was facilitated by Paul Morrison, Policy Advisor with the Methodist Church, and David and I were joined by Rosa Leto, Chair of the Chaplains Council, and David Wrighton, a part-time member of the Connexional Team with an emphasis on industrial chaplaincy. It was a good opportunity to affirm our support for those that work within the trades union movement and to share some of our hopes and concerns.

We met with a number of senior TUC officials, including Adam Lent and Carl Roper, and we quickly identified the significant common ground the TUC and the Methodist Church share. It was noticeable that the strap-line for the Congress was “Jobs, Justice, Climate”, and banners hanging around the hall spoke of Respect, Fairness, Unity, Dignity, Equality, Safety, all themes that we have a common passion for.

We talked about how the Church and unions could build on joint work done together in the recent past on issues related to industrial chaplaincy by exploring how we respond to the needs of the increasing number of people who are unemployed or being exploited. We also shared our common concerns about the impact of climate change and how even at a time of recession we must take this issue seriously. The TUC is fully behind getting a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen later this year.

We had a useful discussion with Joe Mann, Deputy General Secretary of the union Community about how we should respond to the growth of the betting and gaming industry, as well as how to support those working within the industry and who find themselves in difficult ethical situations.

We met the current President of the TUC, Sheila Bearcroft, and shared with her our joint experiences of chairing large conferences!

The central event of the afternoon was the visit of Gordon Brown to the Congress. It was a visit that had been heavily trailed in the press, particularly as it was expected he was to focus on cuts in government spending in his address. In the end, as you might expect, this was a very small part of what he had to say, although he did say he would, “cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets”, but he would “not support cuts in the vital front line services on which people depend.” This is clearly going to be a major area of debate as the general election approaches, and one that Christians should not shy away from.

Amongst all the many promises he made I was pleased that he did not forget the “Make Poverty History” campaign and underlined the Government’s commitment to international development and to keep their promise to continue spending on this area of vital importance to many of the poorest in the world.

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