Toggle high contrast
Frances O'Grady at Congress 2019 New deal
i
Jess hurd

We're a working class family – and we should be proud of ourselves

Published date
Without us there's no NHS, no schools, no transport. And in tough times we stick together, because together we can win.

Today at Congress was all about family.

A family of unions coming together to do what we have been doing for over 150 years: debate and vote on motions that will best serve the working people of Britain.

A family of friends talking about things we all care passionately about: standing up for workers’ rights, saving our NHS, and protecting workers from a devastating hard Brexit.

A family of workers, representing the working class and defending them from Tory attacks on jobs and livelihoods.

It was fitting to see our democracy in action today, 200 years after the Peterloo massacre – when working class people put their lives on the line to win democratic representation for people like us.

That’s why in my speech to Congress today I reminded Boris Johnson that Parliament doesn’t belong to him and his rich mates, it belongs to the people.

And right now we have to do everything we can to defend them from Johnson’s disastrous no-deal Brexit.

 

A nightmare vision for workers

For the hard right of the Tory Party, Brexit was always a political project. They don’t just want to leave the EU, they want to reshape this country as a low-tax, low-rights, free market economy.

They want to slash taxes for the wealthy, attack safeguards for our welfare and sell off our NHS to the highest bidder from Trump’s America. And they insult British workers as laziest in the world.

This is the post-Brexit vision we’re fighting to stop. But when I hear people complain that what’s gone wrong with Britain is Brexit, I tell them that the vote to leave the EU isn’t the cause but a symptom of what’s gone wrong.

Because we can’t sort out Brexit unless we rebuild Britain. That means securing more good working-class jobs, restoring our public services, and rebuilding communities.

Time to rebuild Britain

This country is wasting our best skills and talent, with many working-class people feeling ignored and shut out from opportunities.

It’s too hard to rise by hard graft and talent alone because the system is rigged from the start.

Where you come from, what your parents do, your accent and which school you went to all contribute to stacking the odds against working-class families.

And, let’s be honest, Britain is still blighted by old-fashioned snobbery too.

Picture Jacob Rees Mogg, treating the government front bench like his own living room sofa when he’s supposed to be there to work and serve.

Some people seem to think that working class means white and male, but today’s working class looks like modern Britain - as likely to work in an office as a factory.

And it’s not just the working class that looks different. Britain is run by a new oligarchy that resents playing by the rules.

I’m talking about the likes of multi-millionaire Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, who claims he’s being so generous with the price of beer but refuses to pay staff the real living wage.

So this isn’t about the politics of envy, but the politics of justice. Because workers create the wealth and workers should get a fair share of it.

We’re all working class now

In Britain, too often it’s a case of who you know, not what you know.

Unpaid internships and work trials make the entry ticket unaffordable, and the vocational route is still looked down on as second best.

Even if you go to university and get a top-class degree, you’re still much more likely to end up in a lower paid job than those from better off backgrounds.

That massive gap between those at the top and everyone else has reshaped British society.

Remember back in the day when New Labour proclaimed ‘we’re all middle class now’? Well, times have changed, because we’re all working class now – and we should be proud of ourselves.

We are the backbone of Britain. Without us there is no NHS, no schools and no transport. The services we rely on grind to a halt.

And we are ambitious for change – for a new, fair deal for working people.

We demand a new deal

So today I issued a challenge to politicians. It’s high time we outlawed discrimination against working class people.

And we must rule out a ruinous no deal Brexit that will hit our people, first and hardest.

Whatever happens, our family of unions will defend working people. And if the PM refuses to obey the law that stops no deal, this whole movement will stand together as one.

When working people organise, we have the courage to fight. We are only weeks away from a general election and I know that we can win that vital new deal.

Because together we are stronger. Together we can win.