Speech by Frances O'Grady, Monday 09 September 2019, Brighton
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I’m formally moving the TUC campaign plan.
Thanks to the President and to our General Council.
And my thanks to you too, delegates. And to our brilliant workplace reps.
Because of your hard work, our collective membership is up.
One hundred thousand extra new members
Let’s put our hands together and welcome every single one of them.
This movement is growing.
There is strength in numbers.
We can win.
And, believe you me, we intend to.
So, since the EU referendum just three years ago:
David Cameron walked out.
Theresa May was pushed out.
And then in strolls Boris Johnson.
We have a prime minister supposedly for the whole of the UK,
Chosen by a Tory party membership, not even half the size of this city.
Only somewhat older. Somewhat whiter.
And, no doubt, somewhat richer too.
Boris Johnson faced parliament for just one day.
Before he announced he would shut it down.
Let’s remember that this year is the 200th anniversary of Peterloo.
When working class people put their lives on the line.
To win representation for people like us.
So let me remind Boris Johnson:
Parliament doesn’t belong to you. Or your rich mates.
Parliament belongs to the people.
Now, Boris Johnson is used to getting his own way.
And if people won’t do what he wants, he calls them chicken.
That’s a bit rich.
Coming from a lame duck.
In any case, he’s the coward.
He’s the one running scared of parliament.
And he’s the one running up the white flag.
He’s surrendered to the DUP
He’s surrendered to the Brexit Party.
And now he’s ready to surrender our NHS to Donald Trump.
So now, the choice is clear.
Either we win our vision of the future.
Or the hard-right win theirs.
Because for the hard right of the Tory Party, Brexit was always a political project.
To leave the EU, yes.
But also to radically reshape this country.
As a low-tax, low-rights, free market economy.
A cold, hard place.
With no compassion.
No help in hard times.
Everyone for themselves.
They want to slash taxes for the wealthy;
Attack safeguards for our welfare.
And they insult us, saying British workers are the laziest in the world.
These are the self-styled bad boys of the Tory Party.
They think they’re Westminster’s answer to the Sex Pistols.
But, in truth, they’re just the bully boys of the British elite.
Look at the special advisers who have moved into Downing Street.
Like Dominic Cummings.
Boris Johnson’s right hand man.
A man who thinks he’s a genius.
To be fair, sisters, in my time I’ve met a few of those.
But his politics belong in the gutter.
This is what he said about the campaign to leave the EU (and I quote):
“Immigration was a baseball bat that just needed picking up, at the right time and in the right way.”
Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I hope you agree, that’s disgusting.
Denying our common humanity.
Defying all common decency.
It tells us everything we need to know about the moral vacuum at the heart of number ten.
And why we can’t trust them on Brexit.
But I will say this.
When I hear people complain that what’s gone wrong with Britain, is Brexit.
I say the vote to leave the EU isn’t the cause of what’s gone wrong .
It is a symptom of what’s gone wrong.
And those who think we can just turn back the clock;
Get back to business as usual:
I say think again.
We can’t sort out Brexit unless we REBUILD Britain.
Rebuild good working-class jobs.
Rebuild public services, homes and communities.
And rebuild our democracy too.
One reason why we’re in this mess is because,
When the bankers crashed the economy, working families paid the price.
Greed and inequality ran riot.
While wages and public services were cut to the bone.
This country is wasting our best skills and talent.
Many working-class people feel ignored.
Shut out from opportunities.
It’s hard to rise by hard graft and talent alone.
The system is rigged from the start.
Where you come from.
What your parents do.
Which school you went to.
If you’re from a working-class family, the odds are stacked against you.
And, let’s be honest, Britain is still blighted by old-fashioned snobbery too.
Inflated egos and a sense of entitlement.
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.
Now, when I talk about the working class, I’m not harking back to some old Hovis ad.
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.
To be a care assistant, as a car worker.
And to wear a hijab, as a football shirt. (Or, quite possibly, both).
And it’s not just the working class that looks different.
Britain is run by a new oligarchy.
They own hedge funds, buy property, sell data.
They resent playing by the rules.
To protect workers, or the planet.
And they certainly don’t like paying their fair share of tax.
This isn’t always about which class people come from.
It’s about which class they’re fighting for.
I’m talking about the likes of Jim Ratcliffe.
He used to be the UK’s richest man.
Until he had billions of reasons to move to Monaco.
Or James Dyson.
Who now owns more acres of land than the Queen.
And multi-millionaire Tim Martin of Wetherspoons.
Who claims he’s being so generous with the price of beer.
But is so tight-fisted, he refuses to pay staff the real living wage.
This is isn’t about the politics of envy.
It’s about the politics of justice.
Because workers create the wealth.
And workers should get a fair share of it.
But 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.
The vocational route is still looked down on as second best.
And even if you go to university and get a top class degree, it’s no guarantee.
Compared to friends from better off backgrounds, you’re much more likely to end up in a lower paid job.
Lumped with a lifetime of student debt.
That massive gap between those at the top, and everyone else, has reshaped British society.
After all, doing well at school or college doesn’t stop you ending up on a zero hours contract.
Working hard doesn’t stop your boss watching you like Big Brother.
And too often promotion means bags more responsibility; but precious little extra pay.
Remember back in the day when New Labour proclaimed ‘we’re all middle class now’?
How times change.
We are all working class now.
And we should be proud of ourselves.
We are the backbone of Britain.
Who build the houses, drive the lorries, stack the shelves.
Wash and feed our older neighbours.
Teach our kids, take the x-rays, sort our post.
Deliver our babies, cook, clean, wash, and make the tea.
Without us there is no NHS
No culture or entertainment
The services we rely on grind to a halt
And we are ambitious for change. A new deal. A fair deal.
I’m proud that, over the years, this movement campaigned to outlaw discrimination;
against women, disabled and black workers, older workers, younger workers and LGBT workers too.
Those rights matter.
Not just to individuals.
But as a foundation unions can build on.
And let’s pay tribute to the glorious women of Glasgow - cleaners, cooks, nursery nurses. Thanks to their union, thanks to their courage, thanks to their strike, they have finally won equal pay.
But there’s more to do.
So today I want to issue a challenge to politicians.
It’s high time we outlawed discrimination against working class people.
Let’s change the law and stamp out class prejudice once and for all.
But let me be clear.
Class justice isn’t just about the law.
It runs much deeper than that.
Long before Brexit, for many working people,
The world was already harsh.
And we were already in the grip of vicious austerity.
A political choice that caused untold hardship and heartbreak.
That’s why it’s so important to rule out a no deal Brexit.
As we saw after the financial crash:
Economic shocks always hit our people, first and hardest.
We know what recessions mean for our jobs and industries.
We know what happens to mental health, crime and communities.
And we know those scars last generations.
And now we also know just how bad the alternative could be.
Yes. I’m talking about Donald Trump.
After Brexit, he’s promised us a special relationship.
Yeah. Like a dog and a lamp post have a special relationship.
The President owes favours to his friends in big pharma.
They want health care in the UK turned into a free market.
And he wants a deal that would drive up prices for medicines.
Not so much a trade deal. More a protection racket.
With secret courts, where corporations hold our NHS to ransom.
So let’s be clear.
If it takes the last breath in our bodies.
We will defend our precious health service.
We’ll do whatever it takes to protect staff and patients.
Donald Trump, get your tiny little hands off our NHS!
It didn’t have to be like this.
After the EU referendum result
The TUC tried to find a way though that would help bring the country back together.
We set out our priorities for a deal.
Protecting jobs, rights, peace in Ireland.
Our bottom line was that workers mustn’t pay the price.
But as each day passes, it’s clear that Boris Johnson never wanted compromise.
He never wanted a deal.
And he will do whatever it takes to get his own way.
And he thinks he’s above the law.
The prime minister acts like he’s the clown prince of Downing Street. But the last thing we need is BoJo the clown in charge. And Brexit isn’t a game.
What happens next matters to people’s real lives.
And the responsibility for this mess sits squarely on the prime minister’s shoulders.
As we live through this political crisis.
I know that many people feel overwhelmed. Anxious. Intimidated.
All the more reason to join a union.
Because in the trade union movement we stand up to bullies.
Make no mistake.
We will defend working people.
And I’m here to give a warning.
If the prime minister tries to trick us.
Or refuses to obey the law that stops no deal.
And workers vote to strike to defend their jobs.
Then the gloves are off.
And I want to make this crystal clear - this whole movement will stand together.
We will stand by our friends who are EU citizens too.
We won’t allow another Windrush.
And we’ll stand up to violent thugs like Stephen Yaxley Lennon, Tommy Robinson.
That man is no working class hero.
He’s a racist.
Now banged up in prison.
Where he belongs.
You see, when working people organise, we have courage.
We stick together, stand up and fight.
And, we are the true optimists.
We know there is a better way.
Where this country draws on the talents of all our people.
And makes sure that everyone has a voice - and a stake - in rebuilding Britain.
A new deal for working people.
So let’s use our political voice. Hold our nerve.
And get no deal ruled out for good. Then we can have that general election to get the change working people need.
And, Boris, you bet we’re ready.
Because we want a government that:
Respects working people
Makes it easier to raise a family
Helps us win a fair wage
Remove the obscenity of families queueing at food banks
Builds homes and keeps communities safe
Takes care of our NHS.
A government that is compassionate and tolerant
And, for the sake of our young people, brings hope for the future.
A government that will rebuild Britain.
And, on Brexit, one that trusts the people to have the final say.
A popular vote on any deal.
With Remain on the ballot paper.
We are only weeks away from a general election.
We know that together we can do it.
Together we can win.
A government of the people, for the people.
And for the sake of our democracy
For the sake of common decency
Let’s get Jeremy in, and send Boris Johnson packing.