Speech by Trades Union Congress President Dougie Rooney

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Speech by Trades Union Congress President Dougie Rooney

Address to Congress in Manchester on Monday 13 September 2010

[Check against delivery]


It's a great honour to be your President.

It's a great privilege to the first person from Unite to hold this position.

And it's a great pleasure to be the first person from the old Amalgamated Engineering Union to be TUC President since Jack Tanner back in 1954.

Truth be told, that wasn't a great year. The Tories were in power. The economy was struggling. And

a dismal England team were knocked out in the second round of the World Cup.

Congress, some things never change.

I want to begin today by saying thank you. Thank you to Derek and Tony and everyone at Unite for their support over the past year. Thank you to my colleagues on the General Council for the way in which they have conducted their debates.

And thank you to everyone at the TUC for their help. Not just Brendan, Frances and Kay - but all the TUC staff. It's because of the support I have received from so many people that my year as President has been so special.

There have been countless highlights. I was proud to attend the second ITUC Congress in Vancouver, where I saw for myself the depth and diversity

of our global movement. And in a year when we have witnessed tragedy in Haiti, I have been proud to work with colleagues to advance our work on international aid.

But for me, this is work is not just about disaster relief, vital though that is. It's about railways, roads, clean water, electricity grids - about supporting industries both here and in the developing world, about investing in all our futures, about helping people to help themselves. The very essence of trade unionism itself.

And last month, I was also proud to travel to South Africa, where I visited our inspirational comrades in COSATU. They are fighting massive unemployment, discriminatory pay practices, and the pernicious legacy of apartheid with dignity and determination.

I was privileged to meet ordinary trade unionists, take part in the National Women's Day celebrations, and visit Soweto. But for me, the biggest honour was speaking at a massive rally in Pretoria on the day when 1.3 million public sector workers took strike action.

It was one of the most moving and powerful

displays of collective action I have ever seen -

and today let the message go out from this hall that we stand in solidarity with our South African comrades in their struggle for decent wages and decent housing.

I also discussed with COSATU and Swaziland

trade union representatives the proposed day of action that would take place in various countries throughout the world to highlight the need for democracy in that country.

I am delighted to state that last week, on 7th September, I took part in a small demonstration outside the Swaziland High Commission in London, with staff from the TUC International Department, Unison, and Action for Southern Africa representatives. This is a cause that we must support.

And, Congress, there have been many highlights closer to home.

I've enjoyed attending a number of conferences, especially the four TUC equality conferences, where the standard of debate and discussion has been exceptionally high.

My theme as President this year is 'Equality for All', and with the gap between rich and poor at record levels, with social mobility in decline, with our public services under attack, I believe there has never been more need for equality than now.

And Congress, the case for equality is not just moral: it is economic. At a time when our economy is struggling, it's absolutely crucial that we harness the talents of everyone in our society.

Black and white, men and women, young and old, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled: we

all deserve an equal chance in life, we all have something to give, and we all have the potential to better ourselves.

But colleagues, if we are to make Britain a more equal place, then we must fight the coalition

government's brutal spending cuts.

These are cuts that will impact most severely on our poorest, most vulnerable, most disadvantaged communities - these cuts are wicked to all!

These are cuts that will choke off growth, undermine the private sector, and risk recovery. And these are cuts that will, by the Treasury's own

reckoning, cost 1.3 million jobs.

Congress, it is just plain wrong that ordinary people should suffer because of the greed of super rich.

To the bankers and speculators who caused this mess, let us say: we will not pay for your crisis. There must be not going back to business as usual or bonuses as usual.

We need to build a new and very different kind of economy. An economy where our manufacturing and engineering industries regain their rightful place as engines of growth, prosperity and jobs.

Because it's time this country rediscovered the virtues of designing and making things and selling them to the rest of the world. That is the best way to rebalance our economy, and the best way to build a stable, sustainable recovery.

But we can't just leave this huge task to the whims of the market, because the industries of tomorrow need support to flourish.

Let me give you just one example.

With oil running out and the environmental

catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico fresh in our minds, we've surely got to invest more in electric cars - and where better to begin than by building

a network of charge-in points linked to our

national grid.

Not only would we build the infrastructure of the future and help Britain become a world leader in what is sure to become a massive global industry - we would also create tens of thousands of skilled, green jobs.

All it needs is the right support from government.

But colleagues, don't hold your breath.

I was dismayed by the coalition's decision to withdraw an £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters - a loan, remember, not a grant - which would have enabled the company to become one of only two in the world capable of manufacturing large forgings for PWR nuclear power stations.

Development of offshore wind farms will require a fleet of maintenance and supply boats that could be built in a refurbished shipyard in the UK. There is also a massive opportunity to recycle millions of tons of steel and other metals that could

be achieved through the decommissioning of redundant nuclear plant throughout the UK.

Congress, those people who say that backing industry doesn't pay are on the wrong side of

the argument.

Let me tell you about a company called Ferranti, where I began my working life as an apprentice mechanical fitter.

It was a engineering company that made radar

systems for aircraft. A good firm that nurtured a skilled, and mainly women, workforce. But like many companies, it hit hard times in the mid-1970s as the oil crisis took hold.

So the trade unions got together and started a campaign to save the firm. We enlisted the support of the Industry Secretary - Tony Benn - and

persuaded the government to take a 50 per cent stake in Ferranti.

It cost them £7 million, a lot of money in those days. But in 1980, the government sold that

stake for £54 million. A £47 million profit for the taxpayer in just six years.

So the lesson is surely clear: sometimes the state can deliver where the market cannot.

But what I learned above all else during my time

at Ferranti was the value of trade union solidarity: workers sticking together through good times

and bad.

Congress, this movement has been my working life.

I left school at 16 with no qualifications, and trade unionism has been my university, my education,

my inspiration.

I became a branch official at the age of 18, then

a shop steward, then a convenor, and I've been a full-time union officer for the past 25 years.

Everything I've achieved in that time I've achieved because of our movement. I haven't just learned about politics, economics and business. I've learned about people, leadership and friendship.

And I've been privileged to work alongside some great trade unionists. The likes of Alex Ferry at the CSEU, Mick McGahey at the NUM, and Jimmy Knapp at the NUR.

People from ordinary working-class backgrounds who because of our movement achieved extraordinary things. They were the beneficiaries of a great

system of workers' education in Scotland, where the likes of Robin Cook and Gordon Brown first cut their political teeth.

That was the labour movement at its best. A great coalition of workers, trade unions and politicians. A coalition that urgently needs rebuilding.

Congress, trade unionism is the greatest force for progressive social and economic change I know.

Fighting injustice is our mission. Winning for

workers is our goal. And delivering equality for all is our defining purpose.

It's why we are gathered here this week. It's why our forebears first met in this city 142 years ago. And it's why we are proud to be trade unionists.

So let's make equality our number on priority, let's fight those cuts, and together let's build a fairer and better Britain.


Thanks for listening and have a great Congress.

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