Check against delivery
Thank you Gail, and thank you to Frances for inviting me to speak today and for your continued leadership and support.
When I spoke to you last year, it was from my attic.
This year, I’m at least speaking from a podium.
With any luck, next year I will finally be able to address you all in person.
I want to congratulate our new generation of union leaders, elected in the past year or so:
Paul Fleming (Equity); Christina McAnea (Unison); Gary Smith (GMB), and most recently Sharon Graham.
And with no disrespect to Gary or Paul, can I say how welcome it is to have two female General Secretaries leading major unions.
Women are in the majority in many key worker sectors, and it is hugely encouraging to see women increasingly leading from the front at the head of our major trade union organisations.
It is of course those key workers – your members – who we all have to thank for displaying the dedication, strength and hard work to get us through the pandemic.
And while our key workers pulled us through, unions have been by their side every step of the way. I particularly want to pay tribute to:
- USDAW’s continuing Freedom from Fear campaign against violence and abuse towards shopworkers;
- The FBU negotiating a collective agreement for firefighters, enabling them to deliver essential items like food and medicine to vulnerable people, drive ambulances, and assist ambulance staff - demonstrating why collective bargaining is such a fundamental principle of strong, positive industrial relations.
- The GMB’s incredible campaign in support of their engineers working for British Gas - many of whom risked their own health during the pandemic to enter the homes of elderly and vulnerable residents to ensure they had heat during the winter - only to be threatened with the despicable practice of Fire and Rehire
- And health and safety reps across the union movement, who have been indispensable, ensuring safety at work at a time when guidance from the Government has been confused and contradictory.
And there are many more examples.
In this time of national crisis, the labour movement has demonstrated why it is more important now than ever.
Why it needs to have a role when decisions are made, from the workplace to the national level.
And it’s why more workers are joining unions, because they know that unions will have their backs.
But what has the Government done for those key workers, the heroes of the pandemic?
- 1 in 10 at risk of fire and rehire;
- A cut of £1,000 a year in the incomes of working families on Universal Credit;
- A broken promise on national insurance, raising taxes on working people;
- Failure over 18 months to increase sick pay, putting workers in the impossible position of choosing between going to work and feeding their family, or isolating at home and protecting our public health;
- And an unjust pay cut for our key workers in the public sector.
Carers, teaching staff, police officers. This is the thanks they get from the Conservatives.
We’ve had a summer of chaos, where at every turn the incompetence, complacency and lack of leadership from Boris Johnson has created unfair outcomes for everyone else.
An exams crisis for the second year in a row, asking teachers to pick up after the Government’s mess, and resulting in state school pupils falling further behind their private school peers.
A failure to prepare for the lack of HGV drivers, with the Government dismissing warnings as “crying wolf,” while retailers from supermarkets to fast food restaurants report shortages not seen for decades.
Nowhere has the chaotic approach of this Prime Minister been seen more starkly than in Afghanistan.
He had 18 months to plan, yet hundreds of those Afghans who stood by Britain, protected our officials, and worked with our troops have been let down and left behind.
And while the Conservatives hand out contracts to their donors and friends, there’s no such generosity for everyone else:
- Record numbers of children in poverty;
- 1 in 5 workers in insecure work;
- Wages down £1,000 in real terms over the past decade.
After all we have been through these past 18 months, this cannot be how we go on.
Instead, let us work together to secure a better deal for working people.
I want to thank our affiliated unions for their efforts and their contributions in helping to develop Labour’s new deal for workers. Building our shared vision for a better future.
When I think about what that new deal for workers needs to look like, I think of my Dad.
He’d go to work every day at 8 in the morning, come home for his tea at 5, and then back to work, 6 til 10 in the evening, 5 days a week.
He worked on the factory floor all his life.
I think about what he would want, what his aspirations were, and how they could have been realised.
Dad worked so hard so that he could provide for our family.
Everyone should be able to get a job that you can raise a family on.
For a start, that means a real living wage.
Labour would immediately increase the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour.
For a carer on the minimum wage, that’s a pay rise of £2,500 a year.
And we would ensure a greater role for unions in boosting pay, with more workers covered by collectively agreed deals.
A job that you can raise a family on must offer security and certainty.
Not worrying about how many hours you’ll be given next week or how you’ll pay the bills if you fall ill.
Labour will provide that security, ensuring rights for all workers from their first day of the job, including holiday pay, protection against unfair dismissal and guaranteed sick pay.
We have one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe.
It’s not good enough and it’s a failure to learn the lessons of the pandemic.
So as well as ensuring all workers are eligible for sick pay, Labour are committed to increasing it.
And we will give workers the job security and pay security they need to plan their household budget, by banning zero hours contracts.
Instead, workers should be provided with a regular contract that reflects their normal hours and allows them to plan ahead.
Raising a family is also about being there, spending time with them.
That ought to mean paid parental leave for all workers and the right to flexible working.
Work should fit around people’s lives, not dictate their lives.
It’s a right that should be there from the first day in employment, and that’s what our new deal would provide.
My Dad took real pride in his work.
He was an incredibly skilled toolmaker.
Yet he felt he wasn’t treated with the dignity he deserved, because he was a factory worker.
I won’t tolerate a lack of respect for those who don’t go to university.
And a Labour government under my leadership will strive for better prospects and dignity for all workers, not just those with a degree.
We’ll do it by supporting industries that create quality jobs.
By buying, making and selling more here in Britain.
We should be giving more public contracts to British companies, big and small.
It cannot be right that just one UK-based firm was shortlisted for billions of pounds worth of HS2 contracts, with the other shortlisted firms all based overseas.
Visiting a wind farm in Scotland this summer, I was told that the turbines are shipped across from Indonesia, 7,000 miles away.
Another sign of the Government’s failure to back British manufacturers, local economies, and jobs.
These are the jobs of the future, and we need them here in Britain.
That’s why we have a plan to Buy, Make, and Sell more in Britain.
And that’s why as a first step in our Green New Deal we’ve been arguing for £30 billion of new investment to create 400,000 green jobs in manufacturing and low carbon industries.
I see no conflict between tackling the climate crisis and protecting and delivering more well-paid, skilled jobs.
Cutting our carbon emissions is an urgent necessity, and it can spark the level of job creation and training programmes that our economy needs.
And trade unions have a key role to play in building and delivering on the national retraining strategy we need to fill those new roles.
It is the Labour Party that I lead that understands what needs to be done and why this matters. You see, I worked with the NUM in the courts to prevent the Tories’ pit closures.
I saw the pain caused when communities were faced with losing their industry, their jobs, their purpose.
It was utterly shameful of Boris Johnson to make jokes about shutting down coal mines.
And it showed just how out of touch this Prime Minister is.
When it comes to dignity at work - the theme of this Congress - nothing sums up the problem more clearly than the appalling practice of fire and rehire.
A cheap trick to get around the law and cheat workers out of the pay and conditions they have earned.
It’s no surprise to see a boom in this practice after a decade of Conservative Governments undermining workers’ rights, cutting enforcement, and allowing the gig economy to spiral.
I’m proud that Labour is standing shoulder to shoulder with the unions, campaigning against this unfair practice.
We’ve arranged opposition day debates;
We’ve put down amendments;
And Labour MPs have fought to introduce the legislation in Parliament to ban fire and rehire.
But neither our party, nor our movement, has yet been successful in defeating it outright.
Because the truth is until we have a Labour government, Congress, our ability to deliver the transformational change that we all know is necessary will be frustrated.
It is why our Party was created.
Look at the principle written into our constitution.
“By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.”
You know it to be true when it comes to the workplace.
It is why Unite was able to prevent the fire and rehire of British Airways workers, and GMB to win its historic deal for Uber drivers.
It is the belief that drove me to represent the print workers in the Wapping dispute, and the dockers against P&O.
The principle is just as true in the political arena.
But we have lost the last four elections, and if we don’t change then we won’t be in a position to deliver the new deal that workers in Britain, your members, deserve.
We have an obligation to them to unite and work together. If we do, we can face down the challenge from this right-wing government, and be ready to fight the next general election.
That work starts at our party conference, where I will be spelling out my vision for the country and setting out the direction Labour will take to win the next election, so we can deliver for working people.
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