Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner gave a stirring speech in support of an emergency motion on tackling racism and the rise of the far right.
He lauded the trade union movement for taking up the challenge of racism and the far right and spoke in support of a national demo against fascism but he urged conference that “our movement need[s] to be doing so much more.”
Steve called for there to be a bigger debate for trade unions, the TUC executive and general council but said in the meantime it was “not enough to simply organise another London demonstration”.
“It’s not good enough for our movement to simply write another cheque and outsource our responsibility to take on the fight to outside organisations,” he added. “It’s a mistake to condemn all those who protest about terror on our streets or the grooming of vulnerable young women as fascists, racists and Islamophobes.
“We know there’s a well organised, well financed, global alt-right movement seeking to undermine our democracy and bring hate and violence to our communities — building a street movement reminiscent to that of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s and the Hungarian far-right Jobbik today,” Steve explained.
But he told congress that to defeat this far-right movement, the trade unions must “be more sophisticated and do more than talk to ourselves.”
“It’s not enough to pat ourselves on the back at the end of a demo that made us feel good,” he said. “We have to be talking to those who are attracted by the opportunistic – populist – messaging of the far right.
“We know that they have no answers to the genuine problems our communities face. But we do and we have to own this work politically.
“We have to work in our communities, in our workplaces, understanding that people have genuine concerns and fears only fuelled by forty years of industrial decline, ten years of failed austerity and a crisis of identity and belonging.
“We must recognise that people are fed up with being told what to think by people who never talk to them,” Steve added. “It’s our job, our responsibility – to take our message into our workplaces, our communities and homes; into the pub and onto the terraces.”
He urged congress to “stand up as only our movement can.”
“How we do that together – as a Labour movement – is a debate that needs to be had and had quickly.
“Of course, support the demo, and definitely support the motion,” Steve concluded. “But comrades we must do more.”
The motion was carried.