Kevin Donnelly of  Leeds TUC opened a session of this years CP Cadre School on the role of local TUCs. Here he talks about, Leeds, campaigning, youth unemployment, history, tactics and alliances, anti cuts and the communist party. If you live in Leeds or nearby and want to get in touch, contact the CP here.

" It might be stating the obvious, but the Trades Councils are an absolutely crucial part of the trade union movement and in the present political climate - there’s never been a time where they’ve been more needed. There  are currently around 150 registered with the TUC at the moment, a significant amount and a force to be reckoned with.  However, I believe the TUC needs to be more actively supporting and promoting the Trades Councils but this in turn will only come about through pressure being applied and maintained from below – if you aren’t already involve in your nearest Trades council then I urge you to get involved.
 
There’s also been attempts recently in some regional TUC’s to marginalise the role of Trades Councils – some of the big unions in particular see the Trade Councils as either a bit of an irrelevance or a nuisance and there are also admittedly some weaknesses with the Trades Councils.
 
 For example, the amalgamation of unions has resulted in less delegates and affiliation fees coming to local Trade Councils and some unions have also capped fees. A general decline in trade union membership has also had an impact so – paradoxically – Trades Councils are becoming more active at the same time that some are having to close down or are facing difficulties.
 
One area which has sparked an increase in Trades Council activity has been in relation to the anti-cuts campaigns.  Evidence from the TUC-JCC ( the national joint coordinating committee between the TUC General Council and the Trades Councils) suggests that the most successful campaigns across the country are the ones were the Trades Councils are playing the leading role in organising the campaign and holding things together. On a local level, Trades Councils can act as a hub for increased  coordination of  lay activists – and this has certainly proven the case in Leeds which is the Trades Council I am active in. 
 
The beauty of this is that -  coordinating the campaign through the Trades Council  has meant that there’s been plenty of room to move the debate away from a narrow economistic focus or on this being ostensibly an economic or financial crisis and meant instead that debates can be framed in the broadest terms and without the political agendas and sectarianism  associated with other campaigns.
 
Or the sectionalism which can often infect trade union responses for that matter. The reality is that a fragmented approach to campaigning gives little chance of success against this Tory led,  Con Dem onslaught  – you’ve just got to look at what has happened to the National Shop Stewards Network to see the level of damage that can be done.  And let’s be clear  - these are political issues we are dealing with which require political solutions and therefore the maximum political unity of purpose and action in our collective responses. 
 
This is not to say that the Trades Councils can’t support other campaigns. In Leeds , we’ve made links with  the Leeds Students campaign , Right To Work, Coalition of Resistance and the Peoples Charter is Leeds TUC policy.  However, we are encouraging as much activity as possible to be coordinated through Leeds Against The Cuts (LATC) and under the leadership of Leeds TUC. 
 
Further, In terms of the Leeds Against the Cuts, I think there’s areas we need to be prioritising if the campaign is to be sustainable and as broad as possible.
Firstly, there’s the question of how we get  the Labour Party locally more involved in the campaign.   I attended the Leeds District Labour Party Management Committee meeting recently as a spokesperson for LATC and quite frankly it was depressing – there’s a real feeling of defeatism and inevitability about accepting the need for the cuts – there’s also a feeling on the Labour Left in Leeds that they’ve lost credibility with the wider populace. 
 
However, there were some good, Labour activists at the meeting who want involvement in the anti-cuts campaign to put pressure on councillors and  galvanise the local  Labour Party into action. It might be too late to influence decisions made in the Council chamber – Leeds set it’s budget last week -  but there’s an opportunity here to forge links between the Party and the Labour Left locally and get involved in joint action. This might be a long way from reclaiming the Labour party but it’s a  move in the right direction. 
 
A second issue is how we broaden out the campaign by connecting it with local communities and community organisations around Leeds, particularly as we’ve now got to the stage where cuts in services will be kicking in. We need to be reaching out to the thousands of  people out there just keeping their heads down  but who are going to be affected by these cuts. We need to engage with these communities  if this campaign is to continue to be successful and sustainable.
 
There’s a clear role here specifically for the Trades Councils – we are after all the “trade unions in the community”. One issue is the way that the Right are busy building discourses around “localism” and “The Big Society”  and effectively hijacking the language of progressive community politics. This is nothing new, it can be traced back to New Labour’s communitarian agenda in the 1990’s, but the Trades Councils need to be part of a process of the left (both in and out side the Labour Movement) re-engaging with communities and  projecting our vision of community and the good society.
 
Linked to this is how we overcome public and private sector divides. In Leeds, the Public Sector is very much doing the running with little input from the voluntary or private sectors – that’s understandable, the focus at the moment is on public sector job losses. However, that needs to change and the focus shift from jobs to protecting vital services.
 
One way forward here may be in building alliances between service providers and service users – most private sector workers are public sector users in some way (and vice versa of course) and some of the most successful campaigns – I’m thinking about housing in particular -  have been about bringing providers and users together and getting the message out that there’s no winners and losers in this battle. Well, no winners that matter that is.
 
Protecting important Social and Youth services Youth issues has also been an important arena for forging alliances between service providers and users and bringing together workers from both the Public and Not For Profit sectors in joint campaigns.  One problem is of course that -  in my region alone,  the difference between union membership density in the public and private sectors is 57 to 17%. In many Community or Not For Profit organisations it can be as low as 8%.
 
Another area that the Trades Council can play an important role is in terms of the Peoples Charter.  Although it’s TUC policy, the Charter is not being pushed enough at both regional and national levels so there is another grass roots job to be done here by the Trades Councils. One area of the Charter we’ve been keen to highlight in Leeds is in  bringing out the parallels with Chartism – the city was at the epicentre of the Chartist movement. 
 
For example, the Chartist newspaper, the “Northern Star”, was published on Brig gate in Leeds and many of the leading activists came from around the region and a number of important  Chartist books and pamphlets were also published in Leeds including;
 
John Francis Bray’s  “ Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy” (1839),
The Chartist Almanack for 1843 
and  Feargus O'Connor's book on land reform. 
 
Chartists were also drilling openly with weapons on Woodhouse Moor in the city. All this helps to reminds us about the continuity of the past with the present and how some struggles never ever go away under capitalism. The reality is that each generation of workers needs to be prepared to fight these battles over and over again.  The fight over pensions is a classic example of this recurring struggle..
 
The symbiosis between Coalition of Resistance (COR) and the Charter also makes a lot of sense with each focussing respectively on tactical and longer term strategic considerations. However, in Leeds, that relationship has been problematic. We’ve tried to make some overtures but the local situation is complicated by the fact that the COR in Leeds is dominated by Workers Power who are (to put it mildly) ambivalent about the PC.  
 
One fall out of this is that Leeds Anti Cuts Campaign - and by association Leeds TUC as the main coordinating body -   has decided to keep all campaigns - COR , Right To Work (RTW) and the Charter - at equidistant arms length while being at the same time broadly supportive of each and despite the fact that the Charter is TUC policy. There’s clear lessons here for us in the Party of the art of compromise and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater!  However, Peoples Charter activity continues to take place as demonstrated by the recent Housing Seminar which was organised jointly by Leeds TUC and The Peoples Charter so all is not lost!    
 
The last point I want to make in relation to the Trades Councils is with regards 
to the important work carried out in the field of unemployment. If you take youth unemployment in particular, this is a massive issue. As Labour Research recently reported, nearly a third of 16-17 year olds are now without a job (this rises to 48% for BME young people). In turn, this  has a knock on effect for young people joining  trade unions with  union density being particularly low among under 25’s. A particular worry is the aging demographics of the Trades Councils although we’re trying to address this in Leeds and the Trades Councils involvement in LATC has helped. We need to be getting more young people interested in trade unionism and active in  the Trades Councils.
 
One area in which the Trades Councils have played a particularly important role is in developing and sustaining  Unemployed Worker’s Centres. This carries on the long tradition of campaigning for Full Employment – an unfashionable concept at the moment – and stretching back to our Party’s involvement in the National Unemployed Workers Movement in the 1930’s and the more recent marches for Full Employment in the 1990’s. You might not be aware that there’s also a national TUC strategy for the defence of Unemployed Worker’s Centres;  again, this needs pushed at a grass roots level if it is to translate into a real active policy document.
 
All this activity involves work in building broad and sustainable alliances and we -  as Communists active in the trade union movement rather than trade union activists – have a key part to play in this, not only in terms of our roles but also in the approaches we take in these roles. The latter element  is crucial as, to put it bluntly, the reality is that it’s of no consequence how active we are at whatever level in the trade union or Labour movement if wedon’t know – as Communists -  what we are doing in those roles. 
 
We therefore need to be able to take the correct line in developing a coordinated approach to our work in the trade unions and  I’d like to outline what I see as making up some of the key components of that approach. Firstly, there  is the question of “Organization.” By this, I’m not referring to the Organising model currently fashionable in trade union circles. Instead, I want to refer to a seminal work I’m currently revisiting;  Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. 
 
In this, Freire defines “organisation” as how we organise with (people, communities, the working class) and in a way which means we are consistent (between words and action),  bold (in urging those we organise with to confront the contradictions facing them in their everyday lives) and radical (rather than sectarian and  which leads to further action to overcome those contradictions).
 
It’s therefore a dialectical process and essential that we have a critical knowledge of the current historical context, an understanding of the views of the world held by  people, and a grasp of the principal contradictions and the principal aspect of those contradictions if we are to succeed in “organising” class struggle. 
 
An example of a contradiction is the  issue of the General Strike. Whatever the arguments about it’s effectiveness in this present conjuncture (or in any conjuncture for that matter - I don’t want to go into that here) the reality is that there is historically no tradition of this kind of action in Britain as there is in Europe for example,  and that we are also at a point in history whereby the collective industrial confidence of the working class is at the lowest ebb it’s been for some time. 
 
Of course this will hopefully all change – increased industrial action generated by the cuts could lead to  “generalised” industrial action which could build up to a General Strike but that’s further down the line. We need to start with the concrete conditions of the here and now. That’s the context we have to start with and we have to exert influence over as Communists. 
 
Linked to this is the question of tactics.  Drawing on the work of Georg Lukacs, by “tactics” is meant the way we achieve declared aims and with reference to contemporary social reality.  This in turn depends on our having both the  knowledge and ability to transform into action those forces at work within that social reality.  How we do this, the “means” that we go about it are in turn not contradictory  (as in the case of bourgeois ideology) to our goal (which is a reality to be achieved) but are transitional, tactical steps corresponding to the logic of the current historical situation and which moves us towards our ultimate objective which is the revolutionary transformation of society.  
 
Within this, building effective and sustainable local alliances is a tactical game – we know the rules of that game, can apply the correct analyses and understand that this can be a long,  unfolding process:  but we also have to deal with other agendas which try to short circuit that process. We can never know in advance what tactical measures will succeed in achieving those objectives, all we can do is make sure we are consistent, bold and radical in our work as Communists active in the trade union and Labour movement. "