Nearly 200 delegates from dozens of trade unions gathered in London on 19 and 20 May to discuss issues affecting disabled workers and plan the fightback against discrimination and austerity cuts.
TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference debated and agreed over twenty policy resolutions, on subjects including the disability pay gap, disability hate crime, and disabled people in the arts. A resolution highlighting suicides linked to Work Capability Assessments provided a platform for delegates’ anger and determination, and was selected to go forward to TUC Congress in the Autumn. Pretty much all resolutions were passed unanimously, leaving the ‘debating’ aspect of the conference feeling rather flat.
The Labour Party is currently running a Disability Equality Roadshow around the country. The conference gave it a two-hour slot, to enable delegates to tell Shadow Minister Debbie Abrahams what demands they want Labour to adopt. These ranged from keeping guards on trains and bringing public transport into public ownership, to building social housing that is affordable and accessible to disabled people.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell addressed the conference on the second day, promising that he and Labour’s new left leadership were building a social movement that would be with us every step of the way. This made a very welcome change from years of Labour Party spokespeople throwing a few crumbs and taking our support for granted because they were not quite as bad as the Tories.
Aside from the direct action fringe-meeting-turned-protest reported alongside, there were no fringe meetings and a small selection of stalls. A social event showcased disabled performers as well as providing a chance for less formal discussions.
While conference discussions covered various issues, perhaps three themes ran through them, which together point the way forward:
· active opposition to austerity cuts and their impact on disabled people
· the social model of disability, tackling the barriers that society puts in the way of people with impairments
· the TUC Manifesto for Disability Equality, launched earlier this year, which articulates our demands and provides a unifying basis for action, in workplaces, on the streets, and in politics.
The task for the incoming TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, for trade unions and rank-and-file activists, is to use these tools to build an effective movement for equality and liberation.