After a short break for Christmas our Hospital Beds Campaign continued, and a delegation composed of Colin Rolfe (representing the Trades Council), Andrew Slade and Harry Lister (UNISON), Simon Burns MP, John Whittingdale MP, Alan Hurst MP and John Kotz (Community Health Council) met Lord Hunt in February. A letter to all Braintree and Chelmsford Labour Councillors asking them to support our campaign did not, sadly, bring a single response. However, the meeting with Lord Hunt proved fruitful and, in due course, all the beds became operational.
Throughout the year the Secretary, on behalf of the Council, has attended several meetings of the Mid Essex Hospital Trust and raised questions on a number of issues. Arising from the Hospital Beds Campaign it is a pleasure to report that the UNISON Mid Essex Hospitals Branch has increased its membership from 739 to 960 between January and October 2000. As a result the branch was invited to have a stand at a major conference, New Ways to Win - Organising 2000, which was held at Congress House in November. We also wrote to Simon Burns MP and the two local Prospective Labour Parliamentary candidates, asking them to oppose the Government’s decision to abolish Community Health Councils. It is disappointing to report that Lord Hunt did not reply and only Simon Burns responded positively.
At the start of 2000 we heard that our website had been placed fourth (the best placed British site) in LabourStart’s 1999 Website of the Year competition. Arising from the publicity this brought to the Council, along with our long-standing record of campaigning, our Chairman, Andrew Coburn, was asked to address a meeting of SERTUC Trades Councils during the summer. The website now has a new address www.chelmsford-tuc.org.uk. We update the site regularly and have added further pages; as a result we have received several favourable comments including one in December stating “that its quality continues to improve, and it is a credit to yourselves, our movement and our class.” We are pleased to report that the Council was awarded fourth place in LabourStart’s competition for 2000 - again the best placed British site. Amongst the congratulations received was an e-mail from John Monks, General Secretary of the TUC.
A new leaflet, published by the TUC to encourage Trades Council affiliation, featured Chelmsford Trades Union Council (along with five other Councils) for promoting trade unionism on its website. In February we published the second volume of the Trades Council’s history and asked branches to publicise it through their own union magazine in order to promote sales.
The Council held a number of exhibitions during 2000. The first, in March, promoted Workers’ Memorial Day, and a special leaflet was published by the Council to mark the event; the second was in conjunction with an exhibition organised by Oaklands Museum. Our contribution was featured under the title of “Protests” and consisted, in the main, of marches, meetings and demonstrations organised by the Council since the 1930’s. We submitted some of this material to the Morning Star for its possible use in its 2001 calendar but the format was changed and we were unlucky. However, we are listed as a sponsor; the Burston School Strike Rally is featured, as is Mrs Desai who led the Grunwick Strike - the guest of honour at our 75th Anniversary Dinner. In October, in conjunction with UNISON, GMB, BackCare and Essex County Council, we held a further exhibition during European Health and Safety Week in the public square of Chelmsford Library.
For the first time in many years we did not use AEU House for our May Rally as it was on the point of closure. Instead, we met at Friends House, with Bruce Kent speaking on the United Nations Year for the Culture of Peace. The following organisations were present - the United Nations, Co-operative Party, Chelmsford Star Education Committee, Amnesty International, UNICEF.
In March a small number of delegates took the opportunity to have an evening out when The Flag was performed at the Cramphorn Theatre. During the summer we took our Join A Trade Union stall to a Green Open Day at Colchester but the number attending was disappointing. Then, in September, we attended the Burston School Strike Rally. On this occasion we decided not to take the Trades Council’s banner and as a result the parade around the village proved even more enjoyable!
Two delegates attended the Tolpuddle Rally and after a conversation with representatives from War on Want, the Council decided to write to Grand Marnier protesting at the low wages and working conditions of their employees on the orange plantations in Haiti. We also asked several local off-licenses and Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society to do likewise. Chelmsford Star did write, and shortly afterwards the company agreed to improve conditions. We received a letter of thanks from the local union in Haiti, Batay Ouvriye; a few months later we responded to a further request to carry out a similar campaign against Cointreau.
Closer to home we supported an appeal from the Westlands chemist to have his business moved to the new estate that will be built on the former GEC site in Writtle Road as it is very unlikely that two chemists will survive. The result of the appeal will be announced in January.
After sending a donation to the Foframe strike at Huntingdon we wrote to the local Boots store and issued leaflets outside Boots ( which sell the frames at a huge markup), drawing attention to the fact that the Froframe employees are paid poverty wages. Branches were also sent leaflets asking them to boycott Boots until the dispute is resolved. However, just after we made our appeal, news came from our GMB colleagues that the dispute had been settled through ACAS.
For the second year Geof Lynn, Jan and Malcolm Wallace attended Boswells as part of the school’s Industry Day although the format was different from last year. In September the Secretary attended a two-day course at the TUC on Trade Unionism in Schools; on his return the Council agreed to publish a leaflet for school leavers, subject to a grant being provided by the TUC; this will then be issued to local schools in 2001.
In December a letter was sent to Simon Burns MP expressing our concern that transport workers are excluded from the Working Time Regulations posing a serious threat to safety. In our letter we proposed that this matter be the subject of an enquiry through the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. In the same month we also gave our support to the Rosemary Nelson Committee and called for an international enquiry into her murder.
Four editions of our Chelmsford Searchlight were published in 2000, and every monthly report has been published by the Chelmsford Chronicle. We have continued to play an active part in the Essex County Association of Trades Councils. Andrew Coburn represents the Association at the South East Region TUC and sits on its Creative and Leisure Industries Committee; Malcolm Wallace sits on SERTUC’s Transport Industry Committee.
As our President, Bill Wright, will be leaving Chelmsford in 2001, he has resigned his position. We would like to place on record our thanks to Bill for all the work he has done for the Trades Council and our Movement over many years. We wish both Bill and Ruth well, and hope that they enjoy life in their new community.
We would like to thank the Red Lion for the use of their premises for Council meetings during the year.
Speakers During 2000:
Greg Grant (Eastern Region Development Agency), Maurice Austin (Rail Users’ Consultative Committee), Bob Gordon (Head of Economic Development and Property Services Chelmsford Borough Council), Andrew Manning (Communication Workers’ Union), Teresa Mackay (Trades Councils’ Joint Consultative Committee), Ron Doel (Convenor Dagenham Assembly Plant and Mick Hadgraft Ford Body Group).