Support Your Local Trades Council
Trades Union Councils stand for the values of the trade union movement. They were originally formed soon after the birth of trades unions in the 19th century and are as necessary today as when they were founded.
Trades councils bring together unions at grass roots level to campaign around issues affecting working people in their workplaces and in their local communities. It is important to remember and to remind others that trades unionists are members of their communities, people with families, dependents, neighbours and friends.
They help raise public awareness of rights at work and the union role in enforcing those rights. They can promote recruitment at a local level as well as being active in trade union and community campaigns for dignity and respect in the workplace and beyond.
The relevance of trades councils is greater than ever. Anti-trade union legislation has removed some of our traditional rights to organise and campaign. This has re-awakened interest in what trades councils can do.
As union branches become geographically bigger and sometimes more remote from their communities, your local TUC can help your union branch take on a public face. An example of this is the way that trades councils have organised or joined local campaigns where public services are being cut.
A combination of trades unions with members employed in for example day care, the local trades council and the service users can have a big impact in campaigning. As well as strengthening a campaign it can also raise the positive profile of trades unions.
Trades councils have joined with other groups to combat racism and homophobia. In the euro and local elections they worked to expose the realities of the BNP and already they are helping to oppose the election of members of the BNP to Westminster and to local authorities.
The TUC describes the local structure: ‘Trades Union Councils consist of branches of trade unions which meet within the area covered by that council, or which have members working or living in the area.
A union branch will normally affiliate to the trades union council in the area in which it meets. Each branch will then send delegates to the trades union council's meetings. These branches pay an affiliation fee.
Their delegates elect officers from amongst themselves to represent the views and priorities of the constituent branches and to take responsibility for working for and supporting the policy of Congress and the TUC General Council. This is because trades union councils are registered with the TUC, rather than being entirely independent bodies’.
Your trades council also sends delegates to your regional TUC and has a vote for your representation on the regional council. There is an annual delegate conference of trades union councils which elects a sororal/fraternal delegate to TUC.
The past few years have seen a revival and increase in the number of trades councils and RMT has played a part in this by recognising their importance by taking a motion to the 2009 TUC which entitled trades councils conference to send a motion to TUC.
Trades councils will have their own particular emphases, depending on the makeup of the unions affiliated, the interests of their members and the situation in their locality.
Some of you will already belong to a branch which affiliates to the local Trades Council. If not, I hope that this account of how your branch can have a voice at local level will encourage you to affiliate and become active, bringing your members’ experience and skills to local campaigns and playing your part in local democracy. If there is no local trades council in your area why not contact your regional TUC for help in revitalising or setting one up and add your union’s voice to influence what happens in your community.