During the year the following addressed the Council: Peter Ruane (Rethink), Frank Ward (Unison Essex Ambulance) and Alison Davies (Essex Savers net Credit Union). Following the December meeting eleven delegates and guests attended our third annual meal at the Red Lion, New London Road.
In 2004, we sent our General Meeting minutes to 27 affiliated branches and 29 delegates; where email facilities have been registered with the Council, Executive Committee minutes have also been sent. Given all the mergers that have taken place over the years this is an achievement of which we can be proud. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our affiliates and delegates for their support; it is greatly appreciated. However, there are still a number of potential affiliates and we need to encourage their involvement in our work.
During the year we initiated an email newsletter to keep delegates advised of matters of a general interest. In August we published our newsletter, “Chelmsford Searchlight” the first issue of which was published in 1938. A short report of each General Meeting is placed on our website and a similar copy is sent to the Essex Chronicle. It is worthy of note that the Essex Chronicle rarely edits these reports and, therefore, they provide an excellent opportunity for us to promote our activities and policies. Perhaps this is an opening for branches to take up as far as their own activities are concerned. Once again, as a mark of respect for our input to the Essex Chronicle, we received an invitation to its annual “get together”; this year, our Vice-Chairman, Colin Rolfe, represented the Council.
Our website at www.chelmsfordtuc.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk has been publicised in the Morning Star and Co-operative News; during the year we have received many emails congratulating the Council on its content. The poetry and songs page is the most popular, closely followed by our history pages. During the year a number of sites have inserted a link to our site; the last two being the Co-operative Party and the recently opened Political Cartoon Gallery at 32 Store Street, London, the only centre in the world that is dedicated to political caricature. We have had approximately 24,000 hits since the site was established in 1999 and each month we have approximately 140-150 people using our search facility. We have also continued to update our small “feeder” website based at “ This is Essex”.
As reported last year, it was our intention to place our records, leaflets, minutes, pamphlets, and many other documents collected from a large number of local campaigning bodies, in the Essex Record Office. However, this has been postponed as we have had a request from an historian to view our material as he is writing a new history of the town.
As a result of new bank charges we changed our account with the Co-op Bank to a new Co-operative Bank account (Directplus); this is designed for community groups and no charges are incurred. During the year we received donations for our Solidarity Fund from TSSA Anglia 1, TSSA Docklands and TSSA Anglia and London North East Divisional Council.
Once again we held four exhibitions in the public area of Chelmsford Library. The first was to celebrate International Women’s Day (8-13 March), the second marked Workers’ Memorial Day (26 April-1 May), the third publicised European Safety and Health Month (18-23 October), and the last was used to celebrate Black History Month (25-30 October); as last year this focused on anti-racism. As part of our work to build relationships with the community we were invited to attend the establishment of the Chelmsford International Association. Since then, the Secretary and Vice- Chairman have attended two of their meetings.
We also participated in a demonstration outside Chelmsford Railway Station when the British National Party announced that it was intending to hold a meeting in the town; it is worthy of note that this did not take place. Arising from this demonstration we assisted in promoting a public meeting organised by Unite Against Fascism with Greg Grant, our Treasurer, as one of the speakers.
To mark Workers’ Memorial Day, we planted a Cherry Blossom tree in Central Park and a small inaugural meeting took place around the tree. The tree has been planted a few yards from the bench we installed in the park to celebrate our centenary in 1999. In response to a request from the TUC we submitted a report on our health and safety activities over the past few years.
The Council gave its support to the TGWU’s campaign to have International Women’s Day made into a Bank Holiday and we returned a substantial number of their petitions to this effect. Delegates were also responsible for getting the TSSA to support the campaign at its Annual Conference; this, in turn, resulted in the TSSA launching its own campaign (backed by the TGWU,) and a large number of petitions being completed.
We also took up the issue of domestic violence and its impact on the workplace. Our motion on the subject was accepted by the Annual Conference of Trades Councils and with the assistance of a grant from the TUC, we published a leaflet, which we issued to all employers in Chelmsford. However, with the exception of Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society, which responded positively, we cannot say that it has had a major impact. Nevertheless, we persevered and we had an article on the subject published in Co-operative News. Letters were also sent to the Essex Chronicle, Essex Enquirer and the Morning Star, which resulted in several requests for copies of our leaflet. As a direct result of our campaign the TSSA (through one of our affiliated branches), has taken the matter up with a number of employers and positive results have been achieved.
Our May Rally once again attracted a wide range of social and political groups reflecting our deep involvement in the community. The guest speakers were Sarah Veale, TUC Head of Equality & Employment Rights and John Cryer MP for Hornchurch. An attempt by the BNP to have our rally cancelled under the Representation of the People’s Act, failed, and we are grateful for the advice given to us by the TUC.
It is of concern that finding suitable rooms for public use at a reasonable price is proving to be difficult. To compound the problem Essex County Council has now decided that it will charge voluntary groups which are not charities, the same rate as businesses for the use of their premises. We took this up with Lord Hanningfield, leader of ECC, who has said that each voluntary organisation will be assessed on its merit. This is currently being processed with the Essex Record Office.
We have continued to work closely with Chelmsford Fairtrade Action Group and excellent progress has been made towards making Chelmsford a Fairtrade Borough. Through our relationship with the Action Group our Secretary was invited to attend a meeting of the Essex Federation of Women’s Institutes. It is pleasing to note that the Red Lion (where we have our General Meetings) now serves Fairtrade tea and coffee and displays a poster promoting the Fairtrade Foundation; the Red Lion is the first pub in Chelmsford to use Fairtrade products. At an Essex County Council meeting in October, where a proposal was agreed by all three parties to investigate the use of Fairtrade products, the Trades Council was congratulated by Councillor Spurgeon for having initiated the local campaign to achieve Fairtrade status. Towards the end of the year we changed our notepaper to include a strapline stating: “Working to make Chelmsford a Fairtrade Town” and the Secretary’s emails now have a signature stating: “Chelmsford TUC, working to make Chelmsford a Fairtrade Town. For more information on our activities, visit our website: www.chelmsfordtuc.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
The Group agreed to change its name to Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign in October, introduced a new constitution, and the Trades Council agreed to affiliate. On 15 December the formal application for Fairtrade Town status took place. The three signatories were: our Secretary who signed on behalf of the Trades Council, Malcolm Burgess, Chairman of Oxfam, Councillor David Lee, Chelmsford Borough Council. To support the application the Borough Council prepared a special certificate signed by the leaders of all three political parties.
The Council gave its support to the TUC sponsored “Play Fair at the Olympics” campaign. In response to a consultation document from Chelmsford Borough Council we proposed that the Council provide free bus fares for senior citizens, an improvement in facilities for young people, jogging trails, and that “Life” be distributed to all households in the Borough. We also wrote to the Borough Council and to several councillors asking that an extension be made for cycle routes to Broomfield Hospital. Following the decision of Mid Essex Hospital Trust to have their new extension to the hospital built under PFI at the stated figure of £120 million, we attempted to ascertain the true cost of the extension (to be paid for over a period of 35 years). To date, we have not been successful but we intend to keep the matter under observation. We also submitted a number of proposals to the Council that were designed to ease traffic problems in Duke Street.
During the year we wrote to a number of Government departments including a letter to the Secretary of State, A. Darling, asking him to justify his statement that £22 billion would be needed to bring back the railways into public ownership, when all that needs to
be done is to return the railway franchises to the public when they expire. We also wrote to the Home Secretary on “Corporate Killing”, expressing our disappointment at the Government’s failure to introduce an appropriate Bill since it was elected in 1997. We also wrote to the Home Secretary to voice our concern at the detention of people by US forces at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, and HM Government in the UK. Our position was confirmed in December, when the Law Lords ruled that the indefinite detention of foreign nationals without trial violates human rights.
In response to an appeal from the NUJ regarding cuts to ITV services, letters were sent to the following: T. Jowell MP, Charles Allen, Chief Executive ITV, Simon Burns MP, John Whittingdale MP and Allan Hurst MP.
Both the Secretary and Chairman attended the annual Burston School Strike Rally, which was a great success. In April, the Council was contacted by Radio 4 regarding a series to be broadcast called “The Party’s Over”. One of the episodes featured the Chelmsford by-election and the General Election of 1945. We were able to put the producer in touch with Jean Roberts (who later became the first woman Mayor of Chelmsford) and our former President Sybil Olive. Both played a significant part in the programme much of which is detailed in our Trades Council history “Nothing to Lose...A World to Win”.
It is important to note that virtually all of our activities have had a reasonable degree of publicity in the media both prior to and after the event. We have also used the Borough Council’s community paper and website to publicise our activities.
The Trades Council was the first organisation in the UK to declare its support for the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign; we sent a motion to the Essex County Association of Trades Councils, which also gave its backing to the Campaign. Our motion was featured prominently on the Venezuelan Electronic News website which is independent of political parties.
The Council was also the first to respond to the TUC’s appeal to have a button placed on trade union websites as a means of obtaining aid for Iraq trade unions. We were duly thanked by the TUC for our prompt action.
In November the Secretary received a request to look after Mr. V.M. Cespedes Alverez, General Secretary of the Havana Transport Union, who was in the UK to attend a conference that had been organised by the TUC and Cuba Solidarity Campaign. During his visit he went to the new bus garage at Widford where we met the Managing Director of First Bus, Bill Lumb, TGWU Officer, and Officers of 237 branch); we then went to the Borough Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour where Mr. Alvarez met Unison Branch Secretary and Trades Council delegate, Hazel Corby. We also visited the County Council Chamber, Chelmsford Cathedral, Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society, where he met the Chief Executive and Vice President. We then went to Writtle to view the Green and local houses. During the evening the Trades Council Chairman spent the evening with Mr. Alvarez. We would like to thank Beatriz Westgarth for her assistance as the interpreter during the day.
Chair: Andrew Coburn, Secretary: M. Wallace, Treasurer: G. Grant.
Essex Pensioners’ Action Association, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Chelmsford Society, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Essex County Association of Trades Councils, Labour Research Department, Hazards, Trades Union Congress, Unite Against Fascism, Essex Racial Equality Council, Guatamala Human Rights Commission, Chelmsford Fairtrade Town Campaign.