Annual Conference of Trades Union Councils – 2018

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At the 2018 Annual Conference of Trades Union Councils Bristol was represented by Sheila Caffrey. Her report of Conference was presented to the July meeting of Bristol Trades Union Council which approved the report and the actions. The report can be found below.

As I had never attended before, I wasn’t sure what to expect… I was pleased to discover a weekend that was motivating, interesting and full of representatives who were trialing lots of ideas to build and develop their local Trades Councils.

Motions and discussions around deaf workers; fracking; zero-carbon industries; Football Lads Alliance, spying and blacklisting. There also was a big discussion around Heart Unions week. Everyone was in favour of the principle; however, many were questioning the timing and the literature produced.

There were two ‘workshop’ sessions that delegates chose. I chose to go to one about building Trades Councils and one about the campaign ‘Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise’. Both sessions allowed plenty of time for questions and discussion, which I thought was a good balance with the whole-conference sessions with speakers and motions.

Speakers included TUC organiser for the North West, who had clearly built a lot of activities around marking the 150 years of the TUC; Liz McInnes, a Labour MP and the BFAWU organiser for the McDonald’s workers. It was extremely interesting hearing from him how they had used a mixture for traditional methods and new different ways of reaching workers, which led to a strike by 47 workers getting a 6.5% pay rise for 1000s of workers from one of the most well-known companies world-wide!

I also attended a ‘womens’ reception’ Saturday evening, which through a mix-up in ordering, had two bottles of wine each for us! The idea of supporting and encouraging women delegates in a place that is still mainly male-dominated though I thought was a good idea.

Of course, the idea of attending conferences is to bring back ideas and to think how we can build, so I’ve highlighted key ideas below with my suggestions on how what other Trades Councils have done could benefit us in Bristol.

Points of Inspiration and Questions for Bristol Trades Council

Getting more people to meetings:

This was key theme in the building session, but also a discussion that clearly all trades councils are having. In Bristol, our numbers attending are certainly not the lowest; however, many small trades councils appeared to have been successful in building larger meetings and providing a popular and effective working-class hub for local TU branches. The most successful ones appeared to have done this in an organised and structured way, starting with inviting a speaker from all affiliated TUs and asking them to bring along a couple of members. Following this, they repeated this with TUs which aren’t affiliated. This sometimes had been through asking regional officials to speak but also asking them to bring along members. Alongside this, had been a mapping exercise of local branches and large workplaces (both unionised and un-unionised), which allowed them to contact activists, but also offer support to unions for un-unionised places. As Trades Councils should be campaigning and organising on issues that affect all workers, many have also opened their doors to invite in community campaigns, student campaigns and other activists. Although, these wouldn’t have voting rights, they could still be welcomed at meetings to help build a solid network of support to all workers. I thought these ideas sounded really interesting and ways in which we could develop in Bristol.

Suggested action:
  • Map workplaces across Bristol (Sept-Nov);
  • Invite two unions each meeting to have a 15-minute sharing slot for the next 6 months to see if it increases turn-out.


Four campaigns especially stood out for ones that could be developed by Trades Councils, rather than just supporting individual unions’ campaigns. It had become a key focus of the Trades Council work and pulled in activists from unions as they saw the Trades Council as somewhere that organised and fought for workers.

  • Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise sounded an excellent campaign and one that affects all workers. They are happy to share their literature they created, and we could amend it with local facts if it was something we wished to take up.
  • Refugee Rights is an organisation that many Trades Councils had affiliated to and invited speakers from. This could be an excellent campaign to link with, cutting across racist ideology and companies that try to divide their workers on these grounds.
  • Supporting un-unionised sectors/’workplaces’ e.g. Bakers Union is one that we have supported in Heart Union week and one that we could develop further.
  • Stress and mental health is a key issue in all workplaces and something we could campaign around. This could involve convening a meeting for unions or providing training. There is also currently a Mental Health sub-committee in the SW TUC and a conference in Nov in Birmingham, which we could also investigate supporting.>

Suggested action:
  • Choose a campaign to develop as a Trades Council to support other unions and to increase our active delegate base;
  • Invite a speaker from Refugee Rights and look to affiliating.


I think we have greatly increased our visibility and communication with workers in the last few years, and this is an issue that other Trades Councils have also clearly been battling with. One of the key ways that Trades Councils had done this was face-to-face with regular street stalls in different areas and ensuring their banner was at all local political events. Some had been successful at increasing on-line visibility through websites, Facebook and Twitter. This mainly worked when existing networks had grown and so those people then shared things on-line. Some wrote short reports of meetings (not just minutes) which were sent to all unions with photos and encouragement to attend a future event. Others had also had success with socials such as a Banner Theatre production or a film viewing.

Suggested action
  • Send short monthly reports to unions to include on their agendas;
  • Organise at least 2 street stalls before the end of the year around a key campaign;
  • Ensure events that are discussed at the end of each meetings has our banner there if any delegates are present;
  • Consider organising a social event.


Background information about Trades Union Councils can be found here A guide to trades union councils

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