Delivered Date
14 Sep 2015

Monday 14 September 2015

Check against delivery

Thank you President for your wisdom over what has been a challenging year.

And thank you delegates for the opportunity to move the General Council Statement on our Movement’s campaign plan.

We meet, as they say, in interesting times.

There seems to have been a fair bit of excitement in the world of politics over the past few weeks.

Apparently there's been a leadership contest going on.

I'm not talking about the one involving George, Boris and Theresa.

That one already feels like it's been running forever. (Like X-Factor only fewer laughs)

I'm referring, of course, to the leadership of the Labour Party.

And I'm sure you will join me in giving my warm congratulations to Jeremy, and to Tom.

After the disappointment of the general election result, few would have dreamed we'd see so many people - especially young people - cramming into town halls, wanting to get involved; few would have dared hope that Labour had a chance of becoming a genuinely mass party once again.

But make no mistake, leading Labour, and making it fit to fight for power again, is a serious job; it's a tough job.

Now, I’m all too aware that the one thing any new leader never lacks is offers of advice.

Nevertheless, I would make this observation.

A political party has to be a good deal more than a fan club.

Its success depends on membership unity and mutual respect. 

It must reach well beyond its own ranks, and appeal to the country at large.

And it must have a higher collective purpose beyond that of any one individual, or any one constituency of interest. 

Labour's purpose is clear: to deliver wealth and opportunity to the many and not the few. But that means winning a general election to deliver it.

So now the contest is over, on behalf of working people my message to Labour is this: look sharp; pull together; and do what working people are crying out for her Majesty's Opposition to do - get stuck in and oppose.

Show the grit, discipline and determination needed to win back economic trust, win back political power, and change Britain for the better.

Look around this hall and you will find workers from all walks of life. People whose labour creates the wealth on which Britain's future depends.

Scientists and engineers coming up with inventive solutions to climate change.

Manufacturing and construction workers, rebuilding Britain.

Entertainers and Educators who inspire the next generation. 

Hi tech, energy and transport workers; not forgetting the people's posties; who work, come rain or shine, to network the nation.

Dedicated NHS staff who tend our sick. And - listen up Mr Hunt - they already cover 7 long days a week.

The slogan for this TUC congress is great jobs for everyone. That means fair pay. Secure contracts. Time to spend with your family. A voice at work and respect for a job well done.

But Britain’s unions don’t just want a fair share of the cake for workers. We know we have to grow the cake too. 

Building a sustainable recovery. Raising investment and productivity. Yes, and raising wages and living standards too. 

We want a practical plan to deliver fair shares and greener growth for all.

You would think that that's what the government would want too.

But then they'd have to come up with some fresh ideas.

After all, we've already had five years of their failed remedy.

Remember when they told us that austerity would wipe the slate clean?

The Chancellor slashed taxes for the idle rich. And slashed benefits for the working poor.

But we still have a current account deficit on a scale unprecedented in peace time.

We have the slowest recovery on record.

And our balance of trade just keeps getting worse.

There is a better plan for Britain. And the Government should talk to businesses and unions about how to deliver it.

I wrote to the Prime Minister just after the election offering to do just that.

You would think that a Prime Minister who says his is the party of blue collar workers would want to meet the leaders of real unions representing millions.

But nearly 18 weeks later I still haven’t had the courtesy of a reply.

So it seems that this government’s top priority isn’t getting Britain back on its feet.

Instead, it wants to cut Britain’s unions off at the knees.

Barely had the Conservatives took office, than it published its trade union reform bill.

Now, earlier this year the Prime Minister went to Washington and paid homage to the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.

He visited the monument. He called him the Great Man.

But he doesn't seem to know much about Doctor King; his beliefs and what he stood for. 

So here is what Doctor King said about unions. He said:

"The labour movement does not diminish the strength of a nation but enlarges it.
"By raising the living standards of millions, labour miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production.

"Those who attack labour forget these simple truths. But history remembers them."

History will remember this Conservative government's trade union bill as the biggest attack in thirty years. Not just against trade unions. But against our best chance of raising productivity, pay and demand.

Because here is a simple truth: you can't create wealth without the workforce. And you can't spread that wealth around fairly without trade unions.

So I make no apologies for defending strong trade unions, including making sure they have the right to strike – if they need to.

If an employer believed we couldn’t strike, they wouldn’t bother to bargain. 

We wouldn’t have safe workplaces, we wouldn’t have paid holidays; and – let’s remember the Ford sewing machinists - we wouldn’t have equal pay.

Of course, no one takes the decision to strike lightly.

It’s the route of last resort - when your employer just won’t talk, won’t negotiate, won’t compromise.

Just ask the steel workers who balloted for strike action. They wanted to protect their pension scheme. Like most ballots it led to a settlement without anyone ever walking out. But does anyone really believe the employer would have got back round the table if the unions hadn't given notice of a strike? To protect a decent income in old age. And they won.

Or ask the Hovis workers. When staff saw new starters employed on zero hours contracts, they were appalled. How can you raise a family, run your life or manage your finances, if you don't know how many hours you'll get or how much pay you'll bring home? They tried to reason with the company but nobody listened. So, together, union members decided to strike. All of them – those on guaranteed hours supporting those on zero hours. And they won.

Or ask the midwives. You could even call one. 133 years of the Royal College of Midwives - and never a day’s industrial action. But after years of below inflation increases, they went on strike for a pay rise. Not much. Just the modest 1 per cent their independent pay review body said they were entitled to and that the government could afford. But the government said no. Dedicated to the mothers and babies they serve, the midwives made sure that every woman giving birth got the help she needed. But that spectacle of midwives, proud in their uniforms, standing on picket lines alongside other health workers, is one I’ll never forget. And they won too.

So when you ask the public, do they support the right to strike? They get it.  It's a fundamental human right. They know that sometimes employers can be unreasonable or just plain greedy.

A strike is the last line of defence against those bosses who ignore or exploit staff; or who want to take advantage of their vocation for public service.

Nobody would deny that strikes can be inconvenient. But when it comes to a threat to the fundamental right to strike, the public are with us.

Because that's exactly what this government is doing. Attacking the very principle of the right to strike.

Even the government's own independent watchdog has said this bill is not fit for purpose. No evidence; no reason; rammed through at a rate of knots.

Just think about the proposals on agency workers. For forty years employers have been banned from using agency temps to bust strikes.

Because everyone understands that if you can just replace strikers overnight, that undermines all the power that workers have to bring their employers to the table.

Imagine the impact on the safety of whole workplaces run by untrained, inexperienced temporary staff.

Think about what that would mean in education, energy or border control. But that's exactly what this government plans to do.

And just think about the proposals to restrict lawful protests and pickets during a strike.

Unions - and their representatives - required by law to produce, two weeks in advance, a protest plan. And then hand it over to the boss, the police and the authorities. 

The protest plan has to set out every detail. Will you be carrying a placard? A loudhailer? Are you going to tweet? Post on Facebook? On YouTube? Will you blog? What exactly do you plan to say? All at two weeks’ notice.

And not only that. Each picket will have to have a named lead person. And they’ll have to give their details to the police and their employer. It’s a recipe for victimization.

And we know all about that in this movement. For decades big construction companies paid a fiver a time for the names of trade unionists – who then mysteriously couldn't ever get given any work.

Stripped of their livelihoods. All because, in a dangerous industry, they stood up for fellow workers to keep them safe.

Imagine that – but in every unionized workplace. Employers and the police crawling through tweets and Facebook posts, gathering the names of picketers. Online and offline surveillance on a massive scale. 

And at a time when the police are stretched thin – and even their leaders admit they may not be able to attend every burglary report – what a massive waste of police time. And more than 70 percent of the public agree.

Of course there’s more. Attacks on political funds.  Limits on the time reps can spend representing their members. Attacks on check-off.

And new thresholds on ballots that turn abstentions into 'no' votes.

The government says it's all because it wants to see higher turnouts.

Do me a favour. If that was really what the government wanted they would allow us to use secure electronic balloting. After all, if Conservative Party members can choose their candidate for London Mayor by voting online, then why can’t we?

But it would be a mistake to see this attack on unions in isolation. It is part of a political strategy to keep the Conservatives in power for a generation.

And we need to take this power grab seriously.

They know that globalisation has created losers, as well as winners. They know that extremely unequal societies can become extremely unstable. So they’ve taken lessons from rightwing friends around the world – the US republicans, Tony Abbott in Australia.

And the key lesson? Target those blue collar workers who feel forgotten, derided and ripped off; who can’t see any future of skilled jobs or decent reward for a hard week’s work.

Then tell 'em that the Tories are on their side.

Tell 'em you feel their pain. Tell 'em it's all the migrants’ fault.  Whip up hatred of claimants.

And then steal the TUC’s clothes by promising the working poor a pay rise.

Never mind that most people on benefits are working. And never mind that migrants are no different to any other worker: hoping for a better life; contributing to our country; facing the same struggle to earn a decent living.

Just like my family who came here from Ireland – just like so many of all of our families.

And then there’s the European Union. Our country's prime minister in an undignified scuttle around the capitals of Europe, thumping tables, desperate to find some red meat to throw his backbenchers.

If David Cameron was really battling for blue collar Britain, he’d be fighting for stronger rights. To stop bosses getting away with pitting worker against worker to undercut pay.

Fighting for an investment plan so our young people get good job opportunities. And fighting against trade agreements like TTIP, and secret courts, to stop big corporations cannibalising our public services.

But the Conservative Party no longer represents the interests of industry in general. Its main purpose is to serve just one. Global finance. It's become the political wing of the City of London.

Money - and only money - talks in today's Conservative Party. The national interest trumped by vested interests. The common good sold for a quick buck.

You know, the Conservatives take every opportunity to claim that Labour is in the pocket of the unions. 

As if the small amounts of hard earned money given freely by thousands of nurses, shop workers and refuse collectors was something to sneer about. 

But the Conservative Party is in a pocket that's a whole lot larger. And it belongs to just a handful of rich men.

There is only one way George Osborne's strategy to divide people and crush dissent will succeed. And that's if good people of conscience stay silent.

But I can tell you this, the government has woefully miscalculated the resilience of working people and their unions.

Because let me make it clear - and let's send a message from this hall - with every ounce of our strength, we will oppose this trade union bill.

I am proud to be a trade unionist – our values rooted in putting working people first; fighting for a society where no-one is left behind.

I know that you feel that pride too.

That's why we say to every worker worried about their future; everyone who wants not just a job but a career; everyone who wants enough time to spend with the people they love; and a decent home to live in - join us. Join a union. Be part of our movement. Because together, we are stronger.

So, delegates, I ask you to support the campaign plan endorsed by your General Council.

For a fair economy, strong rights at work, great jobs for everyone, world-class public services; and for a free trade union movement.

Let's unite; let's stand proud together; and let's fight to win.