Address by Mr Padraig Flynn, European Commissioner for
Employment and Social Affairs
The President : It is now my great pleasure to welcome Padraig Flynn, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. We are delighted to see you back at Congress. You addressed us in 1993, and you made it very clear at that time that you were determined to press ahead with the European Social Agenda. I must say, Commissioner, that some significant progress has been made and that has been welcomed on a number of occasions here at Congress this week. We are looking forward very much to what you have to say to us.
Mr Padraig Flynn (European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs): President, members of the General Council and distinguished delegates, first of all I should say how delighted I am to be back with you today, to share your enthusiasm for building a new employment and social agenda in Europe and in the United Kingdom.
Before I move on to the business of the day, I want to mention just for a moment the European Year Against Racism. I want to congratulate the many workers, in both the public and private sector, who have made this year so substantive across the United Kingdom. I want to congratulate the trade union Movement in the United Kingdom for using the year as a focus for the long‑term task of ensuring that social justice, equality and the celebration of diversity are the daily fare of working life. Europe, in solidarity, applauds you.
The first time I had the privilege of addressing this Congress was, as the President said, some four years ago, just a few months after I took responsibility for employment and social affairs in the European Commission and just a few months before we produced ‑‑ at the behest of all of the governments of the Union ‑‑ a White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. That document and its core message of solidarity found strong allies in the trade union Movement across Europe. Its balanced approach ‑‑ making growth, competitiveness and employment complementary and sustainable ‑‑ remains central to Commission thinking. It underpins our continuing collaboration with the Member States of the Union.
Much has happened in relation to the European Union's economic and social policies since that Congress of 1993, but not enough in my view, nor I suspect in yours. The rate of unemployment across Europe remains unacceptably high.
If we are to tackle this problem effectively we must put things in perspective. Europe is failing to create enough jobs. Fair question: why? Some voices are still blaming this on our competitive performance. They say we cannot compete either with low wage economies or with more efficient developed economies like the United States and Japan. Why, you ask? Because our costs are too high? Why are they too high? Because we have over‑developed social policies, which we cannot afford, they say. The question is: what does Europe do about it? Europe compounds the difficulties, we are told, by proposing even more costly social policies.
That view has little foundation in fact. The European Union economy has underperformed for much of the past two decades in terms of growth and job creation but not because of lack of competitiveness. Europe is competitive on any criteria that makes economic sense. We pay our way in the world with a trade surplus of over one per cent of GDP. We have low stable inflation, 2 per cent, creating a positive and predictable environment for business. We have a steady 2 per cent a year growth in productivity, two to three times faster than the United States, steadily narrowing the real income gap between us. We have declining unit labour costs, and the highest levels of profitability for 35 years.
These are the facts, not fantasy. They show the true state of Europe's economic fundamentals. So to suggest that Europe is not competitive and then to blame it on Europe's social model is, in all its forms, simply misleading. Europe's social model is not a drag on our competitiveness. Public social spending in Europe is a productive factor, creating stronger economic performance. It is not a cost; it is an investment for both the short and the longer term. It is not an unaffordable luxury. It is simply the European way of coping with change and with paying for services that citizens of all advanced industrialised countries demand.
Our problem is not that our economies are weak, or our budgets unbalanced through excessive social spending. Our problem is that our competitive success reflected in trade, and in productivity, has not been matched by effective economic policy management. Our persistent unemployment is not the consequence of overdeveloped social policies, although many could be usefully reformed. It is the result of underdeveloped and fragmented economic policies, as well as poor investment in human resources.
The very success of the Single Market has highlighted the growing problems arising from having economic policies based on the old concept of fragmented national markets, rather than on the reality of the Single European Market. This is reflected in the different fates of Europe and the United States, during and after the major recessions of the seventies and early nineties. In the United States the policy guidelines and instruments of countervailing action exist. The central monetary authority, the Federal Reserve, is obliged to pursue both full employment and price stability. The FED has used its interest rate policy very effectively in both respects. Europe has lacked such a framework. All we have had has been a loose commitment to economic policy coordination and fourteen separate currencies.
And the result? While the United States recovered rapidly after each recession, Europe did not. Without the means to manage common action European recovery has been slow. Each recession has left a legacy of high and increasingly structural unemployment. The paradox is, of course, that some commentators never cease lecturing us about how we should learn from the United States with its flexible labour markets.
On the contrary, we learn much more from the United States in terms of economic policy management than in terms of labour market and social policy design. The former has enabled the United States to maintain a high level of employment. The latter has led to costly social problems ‑‑ the working poor, crime rates and imprisonment ‑‑ that we in Europe have more successfully avoided. Now Europe has the opportunity to escape its own policy traps, to emulate the positive aspects of United States employment performance, while maintaining the inherent strength of the European social model.
The recent Amsterdam summit ‑‑ wrongly played down or written off by many ‑‑ was indeed a watershed in this process. The new European Treaty has put employment centre stage alongside the other criterion of success ‑‑ price stability. This created the opportunity to transform the long‑run growth in performance potential of the European economy. Two phrases from the Treaty tell it all. Firstly, it says, "Member States... shall regard employment as a matter of common concern and shall coordinate their action." Secondly, "The objective of a high level of employment shall be taken into consideration in the formulation and implementation of Community policies and activities."
The identification of employment as "a matter of common concern" reflects awareness of the interdependence of Member States. If one Member State resorts to competitive devaluation, distorting subsidies to industry or a downgrading of working standards, that adversely affects job prospects in all of the other Member States. There has to be an end to monetary dumping, fiscal dumping and especially an end to social dumping.
The aim of the Treaty is not just to stop bad behaviour; it goes further. It aims to promote a positive‑sum game in economic and social policy from which we can all benefit. Amsterdam, with Maastricht, gives us the tools and the positive policy guidelines that we need to ensure the long‑run growth and development of employment in the European economies.
There are two political consequences that emerge. The first is that EMU can no longer be seen as some kind of optional extra. It is the necessary counterpart to the increasingly integrated European economy in which national, economic policies lose much of their force if exercised alone. The second is that monetary union alone is not enough. Our objective must be a full economic and monetary union, with an effective and positive cooperation and coordination of national policies and objectives, including employment, as well as appropriate monetary policy.
Economic policy failures have been the root cause of Europe's unemployment. Too often, though, unemployment has turned into long‑term unemployment because of the weaknesses in our social protection and labour market systems.
Too little emphasis on employability policies and too much weight given to unemployment insurance and other income maintenance schemes have weakened our capacity to adjust. We need to modernise, not only our economic policies but also our labour market policies, including our social protection systems.
But let me be quite clear about one thing: reform and modernisation does not the mean wholesale deregulation. Contrary to the rhetoric, deregulated labour markets do not produce higher levels of employment than well regulated ones. What they do tend to do is to reduce standards; they widen the spread of incomes between richer and poorer members of the workforce; they reduce overall levels of productivity‑enhancing investment in people and capital.
Well regulated labour markets are as essential to long‑run economic success as well regulated product or financial markets. They enable entrepreneurs to create jobs, just as much as they enable workers to equip themselves for changing skills demands. They also help to create what I believe is an essential pre‑ condition for economic and social well‑being: a skilled, flexible, secure and mobile European workforce.
To achieve this, the regulatory framework cannot remain static in a changing world. We must reconcile the flexibility which firms need with the security which workers require. This is the key to bringing our success as productive economies and societies into the new century, and into the new shape of working life.
In the new, more fluid labour market the need for security will not diminish, but its purpose, its form, needs to change in order to serve and to help create a more dynamic labour market and a more dynamic economy. An important part of this must be a new and a stronger focus in social protection systems on employability and access to skills. Social protection must actively equip people to work as well as provide basic support.
Just as important, labour law and the collective arrangements governing future working patterns must offer recognition to new forms of working conditions and contractual arrangements. The arrangements must factor in human resource investment as an integral part of the mutual contract.
The incorporation of the new, reinforced protocol into the Treaty as a chapter of social policy was a major political achievement. More importantly still, the endorsement and the opting in by the United Kingdom was very significant and it has strengthened European social policy. I warmly welcome that step taken by the United Kingdom Government. It has put the United Kingdom back at centre stage in the development of a truly European social policy, a place they should always have been in.
However, some people have warned that as a result I would be travelling here to Brighton today and that I would be coming by boat ‑‑ coming by boat and towing behind me a huge raft of European legislation as a result of the Social Chapter. What a misunderstanding ‑‑ and I am being kind in the words I use here ‑‑ as to what European social policy is all about and what the Social Protocol does and does not do. A Common Market needs common minimum standards, if all workers are to benefit from the economic benefits which the Market brings about, and to prevent social dumping.
Most of the relatively few laws that have been adopted in the last 30 years have covered health and safety matters, have covered freedom of movement of workers, have covered working conditions and have covered equal opportunities. Can anyone here suggest or argue that these laws are not justified or that they should be removed? I think not.
The Social Protocol is not, I repeat, a legislative agenda and it has no presumption in favour of legislation. The Social Protocol is a development of the means we have at our disposal to protect the minimum rights of workers. It is important, now that the United Kingdom has signed up, that it provides a single coherent policy approach. It also creates direct input by the social partners to the policies which directly affect them and which is the basis for a new legislative approach in which you ‑‑ yes, you ‑‑ the trades unions and the employers become the key legislators.
The European social dialogue is becoming a real and effective partnership. I look forward to supporting you in the realisation of the full potential of this new mechanism in the future.
The Protocol does not call for a whole new raft of legislation. There is no conspiracy or hidden agenda. Instead there is a clear mechanism for examining what steps are necessary and, if necessary, how to proceed.
Next year I will be discussing a new European Social Programme. It will not be a stand‑alone approach to social issues: it will present a strategic, integrated, mutually reinforcing set of social policy guidelines aimed at supporting the wider modernisation of Europe. As with everything else that we are doing, its main preoccupation will be improving the prospects for employment.
Let us be clear: people matter and workers matter. In my book, flexibility does not mean insecurity. Workers who feel insecure feel threatened and that is not the way to motivate people to produce more, to accept change and to think "future". Workers want to be part of and consulted on the way forward for a new Europe. We all know the demands of technology and up‑skilling. Workers will co‑operate, but they must be treated fairly. I do not think that that is an impossible contract in the year 1997.
I state it in clear and unambiguous terms: if legislation is necessary and needed, I will not hesitate to propose and promote the appropriate legislation.
Action on all fronts ‑‑ economic, employment and social ‑‑ will be the subject of the Jobs Summit in November this year called by the Luxembourg Presidency.
I finish today with my proposals for employment policies. In the midst of all the complex issues to discuss, we see four main lines of action that Member States must deliver on:
First is entrepreneurship, to create a new culture, a new climate and spirit to stimulate the creation of more and better jobs. In other words, we need a strong sense of business development in a growing and strengthening European economy.
Secondly is employability of job seekers. We need to tackle the skills gap by modernising education and training systems and strengthening the links with the workplace so that all can seize the new employment opportunities ‑‑ a real springboard for new jobs.
Thirdly is equal opportunities for all at work, to modernise our societies to a new order where men and women can work on equal terms and with equal responsibilities to develop the long‑term growth capacity of our economies.
Fourthly is adaptability of enterprises and of the workforce to respond to changing market conditions, ensuring that no group is left behind, and facilitating the restructuring of industries and workplaces in a way that is acceptable to both workers and employers.
In addition, we want to see governments set clear and measurable targets for tackling the priority issues of youth unemployment, long‑term unemployment and equality between women and men.
We see these actions as part of an integrated and comprehensive economic and social strategy. They must be pursued together within the framework of supportive macro‑economic policies; they must be backed by institutional reforms, making the national labour market institutions and social protection systems more employment‑friendly.
Under each of these headings, guidelines are being prepared which reflect these basic objectives. They form part of a broader framework for cooperation on employment that the Amsterdam Treaty and the European Council Resolution put in place. They provide the basis for developing the concrete actions on which the Council has insisted.
Never has there been a more propitious moment to put one's views and proposals clearly on the table. We seek a consistent framework to measure performance.
Today, as we prepare for the Jobs Summit, we can clearly see that employment and social policies are top of the European agenda. The new employment provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty give Europe a real opportunity to make low growth and persistent unemployment a thing of the past. They provide the political and operational means by which we can address our deficiencies and failings through an effective conjunction of national and union‑wide policies.
Within this framework, European social policy stands as an integral part of the process of modernisation in Europe.
I understand that invitations are the order of the week. In the run‑up to this Jobs Summit and in the period beyond, my invitation to you is to join us in managing the process of change.
The common concern on the scale of unemployment in Europe and the deterioration in job standards has now been joined by a common understanding of the causes and the remedies that we can bring to bear. The ground is laid for a good future. Let us turn Europe around for the better and let us get on and complete the job. I invite you to be part of it with me. (Applause)
The President: Commissioner, it is obvious from the warmth of the reception you received that a number of points you made really hit home for many of the delegates. The way you destroyed the myth about European competitiveness being bad compared with the North American model, the underwriting of the European social model, the issue of flexibility going hand in hand with job security and the promotion of the social dialogue are all areas that we have been talking about this week. What you have said is in line with the TUC's view of many of those issues. We welcome you coming along today and appreciate your contribution. You can be assured of the TUC's continued involvement and commitment to developing the whole European social dialogue. Thank you once again.
Export of techniques of oppression
The President : The General Council support the following motion.
Ms Penny Holloway (Association of University Teachers) moved the following motion:
(Insert Motion 101)
She said: In March The Guardian and other newspapers ran a story on the plans by King's College London to organise a six‑week summer school for 50 senior officers of the KOPASSUS, one of the Indonesian special forces. This summer school, part of a five‑year programme, would have taken these officers through a range of military defence and security issues. It appears that General Prabouo, son‑in‑law of President Suharto (head of the KOPASSUS) was the driving force behind this initiative.
The KOPASSUS is reputed to be the most ruthless of the special units, used for Indonesian counterinsurgency operations. It has been reported by Amnesty International that members of this force have carried out deliberate and arbitrary killings. Indeed, one leading human rights activist has described this force as basically a bunch of killers.
Even though King's College, London stated that they had full control over the curriculum (which would have included courses on human rights and international law), the course has been described as a neat arrangement to give Indonesian forces a human rights gloss by those opposed to the KOPASSUS.
When this news became public, the AUT, together with Amnesty International and other interested organisations, made strong representations to the college. Eventually the college agreed to shelve the proposals indefinitely. Following the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's visit to Indonesia, I have no need to remind delegates of the appalling human rights record of the Indonesian Government, nor of the brutal repression by that same government of the people of East Timor following the annexation of that small country in 1975. The proposals for the summer school in King's College were developed during the previous Government when the Tories actively promoted international arms exports and paid very little attention to human rights records of governments who buy such equipment.
Amnesty International, through its trades union network, has long campaigned against the export of military equipment which was to be used for the repression of human rights in those countries to which they were exported.
Thankfully, we now have a Labour Government committed to the promotion of human rights. We particularly welcome Robin Cook's recent announcement that human rights will be put at the top of this Government's agenda and that the granting of arms export licences will take into account the human rights records of customer nations. Anyone who listened to his speech yesterday can be in no doubt of his commitment to this issue.
The training and education of the forces of internal repression is the same as the supply of military hardware. If it is unacceptable to sell the means to break people's limbs, then it is equally unacceptable to sell techniques to break their minds and spirits. Clearly it is not an easy task to implement this policy. We accept that it is not easy in many cases to determine that equipment and techniques not clearly described as intended for torture are in fact being used for internal repression. A realistic view has to be taken as to whether a regime with a lousy human rights record is buying surveillance equipment for reasons more likely to oppress people than to monitor traffic.
In our own way, we believe we have made a small contribution to the promotion of human rights in Indonesia by persuading the colleges involved in the education programme for the KOPASSUS to pull out. We will continue to oppose vigorously any future similar programmes.
At this point, it is appropriate to mention briefly the swift and welcome decision taken by the Labour Government to rejoin UNESCO. The right to education is a fundamental human right enjoyed by many but one which has to be fought for under many repressive regimes. The withdrawal of all educational access to ethnic Albanians in the Kosova region of the former Yugoslavia is but one very recent example where repressive regimes have denied this right to its citizens.
If anyone here is still in doubt about the seriousness of new technology and the leading edge of the development of instruments of torture, all you have to do is surf the Internet. You can buy a tasor through the Internet, a new high‑powered weapon which shoots out five meters of razor wire and envelops the victim. This is then followed by a 75,000 volt shock. At $189.95, with guaranteed international delivery in next to no time, it is a real bargain. I ask you to support the motion.
* The motion was CARRIED
Peace process in Ireland
The President : The General Council support Composite 18. During the debate I will call the General Secretary to explain the General Council's position.
Mr Gerry Doherty (Transport Salaried Staffs Association) moved the following motion:
(Insert Composite Motion 18 and amendment)
He said: My Association extends its thanks to the AEEU for tabling its amendment to our motion and indicates our acceptance of it.
When our original motion was formulated it was in the wake of the brutal murder of two RUC officers in Lurgan and also of the particularly callous and brutal murder of a wee 18‑year‑old lassie in the bed of her young lover. She was murdered for the offence of nothing more than worshipping, ironically, the same God as that of her equally young boyfriend but via a different religious persuasion. The effect of the amendment in almost entirely rewriting the original motion does illustrate very starkly the quite incredible pace of developments in the peace process. For that progress much praise should, as the motion says, be directed to the tenacity and resolve of both Mo Mowlem and Tony Blair. Who would have believed at the time that, just a few months later, the IRA cease‑fire would be restored, that Sinn Fein would have found an avenue to the peace talks and, furthermore (as the Prime Minister told us on Tuesday) would also have signed up to the Mitchell Principles.
When the original IRA cease‑fire was instigated in August 1994, followed quickly by a similar Unionist declaration, I was my union's Irish secretary based in Dublin but with responsibility for the whole island, both North and South. The reaction of the Irish people (obviously particularly those in the North) to those momentous pronouncements cannot be summed up in a few words. Their joys, hopes and aspirations for the future knew no bounds. These hopes, as we now know, were cruelly dashed.
I am sure I am on safe ground when I say that history will not view John Major's reign as Prime Minister in a favourable light. However, in signing the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 he did have a very real opportunity of dispelling the image of the "grey man" and inscribing his name amongst those prime ministers who, by some specific action, earned a position of some status and even worth. Instead, he chose to jettison the best chance of peace for a generation or more in return for Parliamentary support, propping up a discredited, clapped‑out, divided and clueless administration at the very fag‑end of its life span.
The landslide Labour victory, as the composite motion states, creates new opportunities. Before turning to that specific issue, however, may I quickly refer to the part of the composite motion which calls on the General Council to offer support to the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. I specifically pay tribute here to Terry Carlin and Inez McCormack as representatives of the Irish trades union Movement for their courage and resolve in standing firm against the most hostile intimidation imaginable in the defence of working people in that sometimes most hostile of environments.
It was, I believe, Lloyd George who was credited with the phrase, "Only the Irish can solve the Irish Question". In the spirit of Congress's mood of modernisation, I suggest those words need to be updated: the Irish Question can only be solved by all of the Irish people. The decision by some elements of Ulster Unionism not to engage in the talks is, to say the least, regrettable. I understand that progress will be difficult. Indeed, anyone who believes that a solution, or even an accommodation, will be anything other than a tortuous and frustrating experience does not understand the magnitude of the task. But the prize is peace.
Peace is not simply the absence of violence. It is also about creating all of those things outlined in the ICTU Investing in Peace programme, the eradication of intimidation, sectarianism and discrimination. We know that Sinn Fein will attend those talks with a united Ireland as their ultimate goal, and they are entitled to their political ambitions and aspirations provided they have signed up to the Mitchell Principles of renouncing violence to achieve it. They have done that, but I say this to them:
Even if you could achieve your goal, it would be absolutely worthless if all you achieved was the unification of the land of Ireland. Your task should be to achieve the unification not of the land but of the hearts, minds and souls of all of the Irish people.
The Unionists, in the absence of any other proposals, will presumably seek to maintain the status quo. How can such a circle be squared? I do not know. What I do know is that the longest journey starts with a small step. In the context of Northern Ireland, that first step is all‑inclusive talks. At this historic time, a great burden of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the leaders of all those parties involved.
Immediately prior to attending Congress, at long last I found time to read a much‑loved book of this Movement, the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell. I was struck at the significance of one phrase. Even though it was written in a totally different context to the Irish situation today, it is very apt nevertheless. It reads as follows:
"Every man who is not helping to bring about a better state of affairs for the future is helping to perpetuate the misery and is therefore the enemy of his own children."
Reverend Ian, David, at this critical moment in time the body which represents the working people of Great Britain has this to say to you: for the sake of human dignity, for the sake of youngsters who want to choose who they will love without the threat of the bullet, for the sake of your own children, please talk; "you have nothing to lose but your dogmas". Congress, please give your unanimous support for Composite Motion 18 and, in the words of John Lennon, "Give peace a chance".
Mr Brendan Fenelon (Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union), seconding the motion, said: We meet at an historic moment in the long search for comprehensive peace in Northern Ireland. The heartbeat of peace still beats expectantly and for this my union applauds the people of Northern Ireland, as I hope Congress also applauds them. They demand that government, politicians and the peacebrokers sustain the momentum of creating conditions for a stable settlement with lasting peace, for we must not forget that the people of Northern Ireland have the final say in deciding whether or not peace is secure and lasting. The advent of inclusive talks marks a new opportunity to begin the process of achieving lasting peace. The talks are a chance to settle the future; they are not to continue debating the past. Join me in congratulating those involved for the progress made since the General Election.
It is also incumbent on all organisations involved in social, economic and community life to assist the development of the future partnership arrangements that the peace process strives to secure. Here in particular the trades union Movement has a very special opportunity of making a significant contribution. The importance of a comprehensive settlement is enshrined in the Investing in Peace programme. Pioneered by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, which has worked for peace even at the most depressing times, Investing in Peace addresses every aspect of the path to lasting peace. It addresses the need to form a new consensus in Northern Ireland, abandoning all divides in favour of new partnerships and it identifies the interrelated issues of the economy, society, and, most important of all, justice. The programme offers the opportunity to gain full consent for a lasting peace.
At the heart of Investing in Peace lies a complete rejection of all forms of violence and the adoption of an exclusively peaceful means of achieving a political and constitutional settlement. Those who wish to enter the political process must show complete commitment to exclusively peaceful means. Investing in Peace accepts that (without such a commitment) trust and confidence will prove impossible to build. Without trust and confidence on all sides, peace will remain a dream instead of a hope. An environment must be created in which peace is worth having. Investment in skills and jobs is vital to that peace process and requires immediate attention throughout the Northern Ireland economy. A secure future depends on the provision of training for all our people, those in employment, the unemployed and our young people. Without training, the skills shortage can only get worse. The peace process requires a clearly developed strategy of job creation, and government leadership and funding of the Northern Ireland economy is essential to any development strategy. The type of investment is critical. There needs to be a controlled and co‑ordinated approach to all inward investment. I ask Congress to think long and hard, but please support the composite motion.
Ms Mary Ferris (UNISON): UNISON supports Composite Motion 18.
Since its inception, UNISON has taken the view that it would accept its own responsibility to act as agent in the change for peace. It is always easy to tell others what they must do and how they must change. That is the politics of easy rhetoric. UNISON has tried to act as a disciplined, non‑partisan agent of change and has consistently argued that the absence of a culture and practice of justice, fairness and inclusion was a major factor or cause in the conflict. It must be at the heart of any solution, not as a bargaining for chips but as a principle and a practice by which any constitutional solution must be tested as relevant and workable.
This is a time of historic opportunity; the stars are in the right constellation. There are two new governments who are ready to move on Northern Ireland and there are the friendly European and American players. There is a yearning from the people for peace. We are not saying it is going to be easy ‑‑ it will not ‑‑ but then it is not easy for our members, who are playing a full part in the local partnerships set up by the European initiatives, to sit around a table with those with whom they profoundly disagree politically and with business and government representatives who have different outlooks and views of their own. Nevertheless, our members are doing it and have been doing it for the past 18 months. They find the process very uncomfortable and time‑consuming and are consistently worried about whether they are getting it right. They do it because they believe they have a responsibility to contribute to creating a peace that will last.
UNISON is involved in and supportive of many initiatives which are based on community activists, each with their own strong political convictions coming together and working for a common purpose. We do not believe this will produce an agreed constitutional settlement on Ireland, but we do believe we are making a serious and disciplined contribution to creating a culture of dynamic change. If our members and such activists can do it, then so can politicians and governments. They have a duty to accept their responsibilities. In the past year, members of ours have taken strike action on the issue of fair treatment for women workers. We have also commissioned proposals that such treatment can be mainstreamed into government policy to help underpin the peace process.
Recently, the Government's own advisory body published a report with nearly 200 recommendations for change in decision‑making by Government departments and bodies. These recommendations have broad support on the ground. What we need to hear is that the Northern Ireland Office is going to accept its own responsibilities by implementing the report now. We cannot ask others to change if we ourselves will not change. Our members have much less political space to live in than the Northern Ireland Office: we simply do not believe their commitment to voluntary change tomorrow or the next day. Change is needed now.
Those who hold the most power hold the most responsibility to implement the change. The same holds true on the application of the international standards of human rights. I live in place which is a living testimony to the brutalisation of behaviour and standards. There is a political acceptance of an argument that human rights are correct and necessary but not possible when things become difficult. It is exactly when things become difficult that they are essential, otherwise we get a current of culture that the only abuses we condemn are those with which we disagree. We have consistently supported and commended the work of local human rights bodies which have made these arguments and ideas impossible to ignore. The Secretary of State has said that justice and fairness are at the heart of her purpose. Ensuring such words are put into detailed practice, which makes them a living reality for those who need them the most, is the work in which we are currently engaged, creating a culture of change which is based on the belief that human rights are only real when they are owned by those who need them the most and when they can participate in the economic social culture decisions which impact on their working lives. These initiatives and movements are right in themselves and also create the threat of a very good example for all our politicians.
Mr John Freeman (Transport and General Workers Union): We support Composite Motion 18. In Ireland today, no goal is as important as a quest for peace. This Congress and the Irish Congress of Trades Unions have consistently worked together to attain this goal. We never wavered even in the most depressing circumstances. Our common view is that a comprehensive peace process must have a number of key dimensions.
First is the total and unequivocal end to violence. Secondly is the establishment of internationally recognised standards of justice and equality. Thirdly is a political settlement which is inclusive without trampling on the needs or aspirations of any section of the community. Fourthly is a major investment in initiatives and processes to combat sectarianism. Finally, there is a need for economic and social reconstruction.
Those dimensions have been at the heart of Congress's efforts in both parts of Ireland. Individual initiatives have been conducted within the rubric of these overarching imperatives. Whatever the difficulties, the present situation offers greater opportunity than almost any time in the past two decades. Dublin and London each have a new administration that have placed a high priority on making peace. However, peace cannot be made from the top down; it is impossible to impose peace. Peace must also be made from the bottom up. This is a long‑term project of building grass‑roots organisation and continuing to oppose intimidation, discrimination and sectarianism.
The membership of trades unions in Ireland is greater than for almost any other social institution. If they became active for peace, the potential of such a vast number of people would be enormous. Turning that potential into a functional reality must be a long‑term objective and the trades union Movement has a crucial role to play.
However, when we have moved from the ghettos of the streets, we must remember that we can still be locked in the ghettos of the mind. In Northern Ireland we are all immersed in the ideology of sectarianism and are scarred by our history, which remains a living experience. No one can be complacent. We must engage not just with the problems that we see in others but also our own preconceptions and prejudices. Only when we have stood up to our own tribe can we legitimately condemn the actions of others because, in the final analysis, our priorities are essentially political. There is decreasing space for any strategy which attempts to get on with developing the economy and engaging in social reconstruction without also working for political stability because a political crisis will crowd out any opportunities for advancement.
In facing these challenges, I have always been struck by Edmund Burke's comment that the greatest mistake was to do nothing because one could only do a little. Even if little can be achieved in the current situation, the commitment of Congress to peace‑making must be absolute. I remain optimistic that, in this most difficult of situations, there are new opportunities for trades unions to make a contribution to the development of the economy, North and South, and to make a lasting peace in Ireland, for peace will come to Ireland as surely as the rising of the moon.
Mr John Monks (General Secretary): For the past 30 years, from the days of the first civil rights marches through the aftermath of internment, of Bloody Sunday, of the terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland, in the Republic, in England, up to the devastation of the centre of my home city of Manchester, Congress has held to unqualified support for the Irish Congress of Trades Unions and its Northern Ireland Committee. They have stood out constantly for peace, for economic progress, for toleration and social justice, for reconciliation and a better life for all. That is trade unionism at its best over many years in the most difficult circumstances. We salute them today. In the past month we have seen signs that their perseverance in policies of courage and common humanity has helped pave the way for the breakthrough and for the beginning of all party talks about a just, peaceful settlement with which all the people of Ireland can live.
The first months of the Labour Government have shown what formidable problems lie ahead in the search for peace, but today I want to salute Mo Mowlem. She has shown real courage and leadership in the most difficult circumstances. Yet, with her determination and real courage I think the prospects for talks leading to a joint solution are as good now as they have ever been in the past 30 years.
Today, from this Congress we call on all the elected political representatives to go to the table and to keep at the table until they reach agreement on the basis of peace, justice and a better life for all in Northern Ireland.
* The composite motion was CARRIED
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-2425-f7.cfm
printed 24 May 2013 at 22:04 hrs by 184.108.40.206