date: 11 September 2006
embargo: 15:00 11 September 2006
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President, Congress, It's been a year of many highlights.
Last September Gloria took over as our first ever black woman President - and not before time.
In February we mobilised successfully against the ill-fated Services Directive. We marshalled our arguments. We lobbied in all the capitals of Europe. We applied every bit of persuasion and subtlety that we could muster to the politicians and opinion formers. All of this so memorably reflected in the sophisticated headline in the UCATT journal - 'Bollocks to Bolkestein'.
And in May we even welcomed to Congress House a man widely recognised as the Leader of the Free World. I refer, of course, to Hugo Chavez.
And as a measure of our appreciation to the people of Venezuela, we bestowed upon them the ultimate honour. A General Council delegation to Caracas.
But let's not forget the real high point. The most important victory of all. Everton 3, Liverpool 0.
Overall, I believe this has been a year of solid progress for our movement.
A year when we secured genuine advances for our members, with unions leading the way on debates of national importance like the future of pensions.
A year when we launched unionlearn, one of the most important developments in trade unionism in decades, opening up new opportunities for a generation of working people.
And a year when we led the battle to defend and promote our multicultural society, so that on May 5th many of our towns and cities remained free from the poison of the BNP.
I'm also proud that over the past year, the TUC has been able to help many unions resolve disputes and make real gains.
Proud that we were there to work with the rail unions to defend the pensions of their members.
Proud that public sector unions working hand in hand through the TUC won a historic deal on public services pensions. There is work still to do in local government and, of course, across the private sector. But we have shown what can be achieved when we act together in unity.
And proud that we saw the GMB secure a tremendous result in its dispute with ASDA - taking trade unionism forward in the Wal-Mart empire.
Of course, this has also been a year when our movement has won real gains from government. Once upon a time, people said to me that our demands for compulsory employer contributions to pensions and a state pension linked to earnings were not so much old Labour, as Neanderthal Labour.
But thanks to trade union campaigning, they are now part of the political consensus and the government's modernising agenda.
Once upon a time, conventional wisdom held that energy had to be left to the market, while our arguments for greater intervention to create a balanced, secure, environmentally friendly supply were ridiculed.
But thanks to trade union campaigning, our case has largely won the day in the government's energy white paper.
Once upon a time, some people dared to suggest that there was little governments could do to halt the rising inequality between those at the top and bottom of our labour market.
But thanks to trade union campaigning, there is at long last recognition from this government that millions of workers have not shared in the UK's prosperity.
Earlier this year the Department for Trade and Industry published an important report, Success at Work. Unusually, it was not full of bland assessments of how good everything was. Sure, it set out genuine achievements of which Labour can be proud.
But the report also recognised that not everyone has benefited from the UK's economic stability - a key advance for our arguments.
That's why, this year, I want the trade union movement to put the concerns of vulnerable workers right at the top of our agenda. Yesterday, I launched the TUC's 'One in five' campaign.
Because behind the shiny façade of corporate Britain, there is a vast hidden army of vulnerable workers - many of them migrants - often suffering gross exploitation.
Doing the work nobody else wants to, and doing it in return for a pittance.
All too often out of sight and out of mind. People without whom our economy and our public services would simply fall apart.
The agricultural workers who ensure our supermarket shelves are stocked.
The care workers who look after the disabled, the sick and the elderly in our society.
And the cleaners who make sure our workplaces are fit for us to work in.
Like the contract cleaners in the Houses of Parliament - migrant workers from all corners of the world - but treated like fifth-class citizens.
When I met them, their stories were heartbreaking. People like Evrard Ouale from the Ivory Coast. Starting a 12-hour shift at 4am each day, in order to scrape together £225 a week - and then told not to use the staff canteen.
Tesfaalen Gebru. Doing two cleaning jobs in the Commons and working 64 hours a week - all to make ends meet in Europe's most expensive city.
And Nestor Barona from Colombia. Working an 11-hour shift in Westminster before heading to his second cleaning job in the West End - until he became too ill to continue.
Congress, if this can happen in the cradle of our democracy - under a Labour government - it can happen anywhere.
Our biggest challenge - indeed our moral duty - is to organise vulnerable workers. To reach out to those whose need is greatest. Because the best protection vulnerable workers can have is the protection of a trade union.
Indeed let us applaud the T&G for winning a dramatically improved deal for the House of Commons cleaners earlier this year.
And let us recognise the great work that other unions are doing with Britain's most vulnerable workers.
From UCATT's groundbreaking work with Polish construction workers - and what better way to remember George Brumwell - through to UNISON's work with overseas nurses, we are beginning to make a difference where it is needed most.
But more - much more - needs to be done. Unless we act now - and act decisively - the UK risks creating a permanent underclass of exploited workers.
Of course, trade unions can only do so much. We need more from government.
We need action to stop workers being abused illegally. But we also need action to stop the abuse that is within the law.
The rights that agency staff don't get.
The rights that those without a contract of employment don't get.
The rights that homeworkers don't get.
But this is about more than just the law. The vulnerable workers issue cuts right to the heart of what kind of economy we have, what kind of society we live in, and what kind of political programme we want.
Indeed we have reached a critical juncture in the life of this Labour government. A defining moment for progressive politics and all of us who believe in social justice.
Now I'm always careful to give ministers praise when it's due. And when people say there's no difference between the two main parties, I have to confess I give them a rather curt two-word response. John Redwood.
But it's also right that we act as a critical friend to this Labour administration, and tell them when we think they're getting it wrong.
And make no mistake: this government is getting things wrong. Some of the criticism is undeserved.
Too many take the strong economy and better public services for granted, and forget just how bad things were under the Tories.
Some of it is totally expected.
With an Opposition that now looks more credible, it's hardly surprising that the right-wing press has been on the attack.
But what pains me are the self-inflicted wounds.
An autopilot foreign policy that has tied Britain to the United States, regardless of whether our national interest is being served or whether it is the right thing to do.
A laissez-faire approach to our manufacturing industry that has seen a million jobs lost since 1997, in contrast to the experience of our European neighbours.
And a disturbing faith in flexible labour markets, with British workers still the easiest and cheapest for multinationals to sack when going gets tough.
Like the 700 workers at Imerys in Cornwall and the 2,300 workers at Peugeot - facing the dole queue because our employment protections are the weakest in Europe. So let's all get behind the campaign by Amicus and the T&G to stand up for British manufacturing.
But just as worrying is an approach to public service reform that has alienated both public servants and public alike.
Take the health service. Yes, record investments have made a difference for patients, with waiting times down and the quality of treatment up. Staff can point to real gains too. More jobs than ever before, and for many pay has rightly gone up.
Yet in just a couple of years all sense of progress has gone. You don't have to be a genius to work out why.
One: a crude approach to the financial difficulties facing some trusts, with no time allowed to get their finances back on the level.
Two: constant calls for reform that falsely give the impression that the NHS is in crisis, and destroy staff morale.
And three: an ideological preference for private sector solutions that makes a mockery of the idea that what matters is what works.
Let us be clear about this. Patients are not the same as customers. Accountability to the taxpayer is not the same as accountability to the shareholder. The ethos of public service is not the same as the ethos of the market.
Where is the evidence that markets work in healthcare? There is none
Look at the scandal of Norwich & Norfolk Hospital, where the consortium behind the PFI deal has pocketed a £100 million windfall at the same time as staff have been threatened with redundancy.
Where is the evidence that private is more efficient than public? There is none.
Remember the Wanless Report a few years ago - a report written by a banker - which said the NHS was the most efficient large-scale healthcare provider in the world.
Where is the evidence that the private sector is the primary way of delivering innovation? There is none.
Just think about success stories like NHS Direct and indeed NHS Logistics, now scandalously being parcelled off to DHL.
This is not the NHS Aneurin Bevan had in mind all those years ago. This is not the NHS the public or its workforce wants. And this is not the NHS that befits a third term Labour government.
On the health service and much else besides, we expect better and we demand better.
So my challenge to the government today is simple. You need to get your act together.
Voters need to see a new sense of purpose. Not just competent management, not just policies that people can identify with - but a clear vision. A sense of what a Labour government is for.
An overarching commitment to social justice - not a leadership soap opera. Sustained strategies for improvement - not government by initiative. Proper debate, as we had on pensions - not kneejerk announcements driven by tabloid prejudice.
That is the challenge the Labour government - our Labour government - now faces.
But it would be wrong of us to focus on the government's difficulties without taking a long hard look in the mirror ourselves. For unions also need to recognise the challenges that confront us.
This next year must be one in which we raise our game. Yes, our membership is holding steady but at a time of economic stability and record employment that simply isn't good enough.
Frankly we spend far too much time talking to ourselves, often in impenetrable jargon. We've got to reach out beyond our comfort zone into the growing rump of non-union Britain.
I've already set out our top priority - reaching out and winning a better deal for the most vulnerable workers. But that is only part of the wider task we must face up to.
We need to reach out to all of our communities.
That's why we will be welcoming Dr Bari from the Muslim Council of Britain later today - and why we have agreed a joint statement that attacks intolerance and makes it clear that the MCB backs trade unions.
We need to reach out to young people. That's why we will be welcoming Gemma Tumelty from the National Union of Students - and why we have signed an agreement with the NUS highlighting the need for students to join the appropriate unions.
And we need to reach out in our campaigns. That's why we are working with voluntary groups such as the Citizens' Advice Bureaux and National Homeworkers' Group around a common agenda - and why this will be a major part of our future programme.
One thing's for sure. Black or white, young or old, gay or straight, we must welcome all workers into the trade union family.
Reach out to those who suffer poverty pay and those who do not. Reach out those who are exploited and those who are not. Reach out to those who need our help most and those who do not.
We have a word for it in our movement. We call it solidarity. It's how we argue for social justice and a fair deal. It underpins everything we do as trade unionists. And it goes with the grain of what the British people believe.
So our mission this year is clear. Our movement renewed. Our government revitalised. Our country stronger and fairer.
Minutes and agendas (2,400 words) issued 11 Sep 2006
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-12386-f0.cfm
printed 22 May 2013 at 18:54 hrs by 188.8.131.52