Millions of ordinary working people and their local communities are facing an unprecedented onslaught of cuts and reforms of the welfare state from this Tory led government, writes Charlotte Armstrong, delegate to Ipswich trades council.

By targeting the public sector the government of millionaires is deliberately aiming to destroy the most unionised group of workers in order to open the door to the rampant privatisation of services.

As a response to these vicious attacks, anti-cuts organisations have come into being all over the country.

Trades councils are in a unique position to bring together local trade unionists and the local community to campaign to save services and jobs, share experience, provide solidarity and - most important of all - to get organised.

Although in the current climate trades councils are experiencing a rebirth, they have a long tradition of being at the forefront of social struggles.

Sheffield, Glasgow and London trades councils were all founded in the late 1850s and pre-date the formation of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

They have always had a strong left-wing radical streak which led to London being disaffiliated from the TUC in 1950 when anti-communism was at its peak, only to rejoin later as the London Federation of Trades Councils.

Locally based campaigns to protect working people and their families have always been the focus for trades council activity from the defence of women at Grunwick in Brent, fighting the BNP in Barking and Dagenham and mobilising hundreds of thousands of local people to join the March 26 TUC March for the Alternative.

This makes for a vibrant but complex situation and it is vital that the trade union movement helps to build alliances with other groups with the aim of forming a united, democratic anti-cuts campaign in each area, but this cannot be achieved without community engagement.

Trades councils have the potential to be much more inclusive and welcoming because their constitution is far less bureaucratic than many national unions.

Anyone who lives or works in the area can get their union to affiliate and volunteer to be a delegate or help to set up a trades council.

This is also a good way to involve more women and ethnic minority trade unionists in activity.

It provides the opportunity for inexperienced or less confident trade union members to develop leadership skills which they can take into their own unions.

Standing invitations can be given to tenants groups, library campaigners and childcare groups to attend meetings, helping to co-ordinate and strengthen alliances and to enrich multi-ethnic relations.

This weekend, delegates to the TUC trades council conference in Peterborough will no doubt put the lie to the government's claim that we are all in it together and that the public sector has contributed to the economic crisis.

In attacking public-sector workers they are shamelessly making women carry the burden of their reckless and unnecessary policies.

With women making up over 65 per cent of the public-sector workforce - many from black and ethnic minority communities and mostly in low-paid jobs - it is important that trades councils encourage women to get involved and link with women's groups to encourage the formation of Women Against The Cuts.

It is appropriate therefore that this year's TUC Trades Union Conference in Peterborough has an all-female line up of speakers including Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Green Party MEP Jean Lambert, Janice Fine from the AFL-CIO (the US equivalent of the TUC) and TUC Southern and Eastern regional secretary Megan Dobney.

Trades councils must be at the heart of the campaign against the cuts, but like the rest of the trade union movement it is imperative that we present an alternative to the slash-and-burn policies being peddled by the Tories.

If we are to convince people that there is another way then we need look no further than the policies clearly and simply outlined in the People's Charter which was adopted by the TUC.

It includes the public ownership of the banks and insurance companies and the introduction of a progressive tax system.

The People's Charter, along with the demands contained in the Charter for Women provide us with a national strategy that is both socially and economically possible and will set us on the road to a fair and just society.

Charlotte Armstrong is Ipswich & District Trades Union Council delegate to the Trades Union Councils Conference in Peterborough this weekend. For more information about trades union councils seewww.unionsinthecommunity.org.uk