With authoritative delivery, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed TUC conference today (September 13) to rousing cheers as he urged everyone – especially young people – to join a trade union.
He opened by thanking the trade union movement and everything it does.
Trade unions “give people a voice in the workplace and a say in politics,” he said. “Trade unions are far and away the biggest voluntary and democratic organisations in the country.”
Even though, Corbyn said, trade unionists are abused by the powerful and their rights are attacked, he said the “trade union movement represents the best of Britain and is a vital engine of progress in our democracy.”
The Labour leader described how the British economy has become dominated by insecure work, which he said was not only bad for individual workers but bad for the economy and society as a whole.
Corbyn praised the work of Unite and its Sports Direct campaign, as well as the Bakers Union’s work organising McDonald’s workers.
“McDonald’s boss is paid 1,300 times more than the lowest paid of his staff, symbolic of the deep inequality and injustice that scars our society,” he said.
“That’s why it’s crucial for our movement to organise the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers.
“The TUC needs to represent all workers,” Corbyn added. “And the least secure have to be our priority because they need our solidarity most. Their needs for representation are the greatest.”
Public sector pay
Turning to public sector pay, Corbyn slammed the government for its stance on the cap, which he said “seems to change by the hour”.
After weeks and months of dithering, the government today announced it would give only some workers – police officers and prison guards – a pay rise.
As inflation rises to nearly 3 per cent, Corbyn said that this government is merely trying to “divide people on the cheap.
“The POA is right,” he said. “A pay cut is a pay cut and we must be united in breaking the pay cap for all workers.
“So let me be absolutely clear today,” Corbyn added. “The Labour Party totally rejects the Tories’ attempt at divide and rule, to play one sector off against another. A Labour government will end the public sector pay cap and give all workers the pay rise they deserve and so desperately need.”
The Labour leader explained why workers’ rights were so important, and told of how the Labour party has sought to protect them in Brexit negotiations.
“Rights are won by all of us together, but they have to be constantly defended and enforced. And that’s why we are opposing the Tories’ dangerous EU Withdrawal Bill,” he said. “Not out of any attempt to frustrate the vote to leave but because of the extraordinary unaccountable powers it would hand to Tory government ministers to impose decisions, scrap protections and rip up workers’ rights without parliament having any say.
“That is a threat to every worker in this country: you simply cannot trust the Tories with your rights at work, and that’s why Labour voted against the Bill last night.
“Labour respects the referendum result,” Corbyn added. “But we want a jobs-first Brexit, which guarantees full access to the European single market as part of a new trade agreement and relationship with the EU which maintains and develops workers’ rights, and consumer and environmental protections and uses powers returned from Brussels to support a new industrial strategy, with investment in good jobs in every region and nation of Britain, where work pays, where employees have security and decent conditions and prosperity is shared by the true wealth creators: the workforce.”
While the Labour party, once elected, will implement a full and wide-ranging pro-worker agenda – including a substantial hike in the minimum wage, a ban of zero hours contracts and unpaid internships, and guaranteeing trade union access to the workplace, among other policies – Corbyn said in the mean time it is incumbent upon all workers, especially young people, to join a union.
“Winning a Labour government, even one with a programme to transform the country, which is now our goal, is simply not enough,” he said. “That is why the most important thing any worker can do is to join a trade union. And I want young people especially to hear this message.
“Trade unions don’t just defend their members, they defend the institutions that benefit all employees, our NHS, our schools, our social care, and they defend our rights,” Corbyn added.
“We don’t know when the next election will come,” the Labour leader concluded to applause and a standing ovation. “We are not in control of that but you are in control of whether you join a trade union, organise in your workplace or in your community and start changing people’s lives for the better right now.”
Reacting to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “This was music to my ears. It was great to hear from the Labour leader in a deservedly buoyant mood and bringing a message to hope to union members.
“Jeremy did something today that we have not witnessed a senior politician do in a long time – praise trades union and praise their members,” he added. “He has shown ordinary, working people that he is well and truly on their sides.
“Working people are sick to the back teeth of being talked about by Tory party as the enemies within, and sick to death of the pay cuts and poverty that years of miserable Tory government have brought.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is not just a very welcome breath of fresh air. It is also a reminder that a better Britain is possible, and that these toxic Tories are well and truly on borrowed time.”