Bill Armstrong

Congress 2015: a “humbling experience”

By Bill Armstrong

The high point of the TUC conference in Brighton this week was undoubtedly Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, coming as it did shortly after the WGGB motion on Free is NOT an Option had warmed up the hall.

Both Sue Teddern and I felt that it was a real honour to represent writers at the TUC conference. It was also a surprisingly humbling experience. While Corbyn’s speech certainly fired up the audience, equally moving were the heartfelt stories and courage of so many ordinary men and women who spoke during the conference. Sue and I were moved close to tears on a number of occasions, not the least by the General Secretary’s address. When she finished her impressive and inspiring speech, France O’Grady invited onto the stage a handful of men and women who had been on strike this past year. The simple, moving stories of their suffering and struggles will stay with both Sue and I for a long time.

The President’s address by Leslie Manasseh provided a timely reminder of the challenges unions face. The coming years will be critical for all unions, ours included.

We need an honest, urgent debate about how we manage ourselves, who we are, how we can best serve the interests of writers and how we can best contact them, prove our worth to them and convince them to join us.

It isn’t enough to have strong answers, we must have strong organisation. As Manasseh said, “Unless we grow in numbers, we cannot grow in strength and influence.”

For those who are already active in the union this means getting out of our comfort zone, out of ‘our own special nooks and crannies’ and testing everything we do against the need to build our membership.

It means each and every one of us making every effort to ensure the union does the things a strong union should, making sure that every writer in the country knows what we are doing and losing no opportunity to convince all our fellow writers to join us and play a full part in the running of their union.

We should heed the advice of Leslie Menasseh, “I’ve dealt with many employers over the years. They’re usually prepared to listen to me. But I know they listen a lot more carefully when most of their workers are union members.”