TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady hailed Unite in a speech today (July 2) on the first day of Unite’s policy conference and urged Unite, as the largest private sector union, to “lead from the front” in offering working people hope.
She paid tribute to Unite members now fighting for justice — from Serco workers at Barts Hospital Trust fighting for pay parity; to low-paid workers at Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, cheated out of a Living Wage; to “inspirational strikers at TGI Fridays who, like their friends at McDonald’s, have given us all hope and courage.”
Branding Unite general secretary Len McCluskey the “Harry Kane of the TUC”, O’Grady highlighted Unite’s recent victories.
“You led the campaign against US tariffs on Bombardier that would have cost thousands of good, skilled, unionised jobs in aerospace. And you won,” she said.
“You campaigned for agency workers to be put onto permanent contracts at Pirelli tyres. And you won. And on the world stage, you fought for union recognition at Ryanair. And, delegates, you smashed it.”
She praised the NHS, which she called “Britain’s greatest socialist achievement” and the work of its staff on the eve of the health service’s 70th birthday this week (July 5) as she recounted attending last weekend’s NHS march.
“I had the privilege to march with striking porters and cleaners from Wigan,” she said. “Fighting those who aim to dismantle public ownership of the NHS, piece by piece. Determined to defend our NHS.”
She highlighted that the march was the result of community organising through the People’s Assembly, a brainchild of Unite, and likewise praised the Unite-led community work in support of Grenfell survivors.
Turning to Brexit, O’Grady warned of the grave dangers to members’ jobs a hard Brexit would pose as she denounced the government and its shambolic mishandling of Brexit negotiations.
“If anyone thinks that the warnings from the likes of Airbus, BMW and Nissan are just more project fear, take a long hard look at the investment figures,” she said. “Investment in the car industry alone has been slashed by half. And we know what that means for the future.”
She called for working people to have a voice in any final Brexit deal — but she went on to say that “whatever happens with Brexit, and whichever way people voted in that divisive referendum, the whole TUC is united in our determination to fight for a fairer, more equal Britain, a more equal Europe and a more equal world.”
She added that this aim “must mean a new role for public ownership” as she branded the outsourcing model undertaken by failed private firms such as Carillion, Virgin Trains East Coast and Capita as “rotten to the core.”
O’Grady likewise denounced tech giants such as Facebook, Google and others for “dodging taxes owed to society” and the role they played in handing over personal data “to be used on an industrial scale by the alt-right.”
Progressives must understand that the conditions giving rise to the far right are here, O’Grady argued, pointing to “stagnating living standards, scapegoating of migrants, rising racism, anti-semitism and contempt for women; and a surge in right-wing nationalism.”
The only way to defeat the emboldened far right is to “tackle people’s root fears and insecurities – and give everyone the dignity of a decent job in the parts of Britain that need them most.”
She called also for genuinely affordable homes and proper funding for public services as well as “fair wages for the dedicated people who provide them.”
She urged trade unionists to fight for a Labour government in power but, she said, “we can’t wait for it.”
Instead of waiting for a change to the law, for example, she urged the trade union movement to use its collective bargaining clout, and “with one united charge ban zero hours from our workplaces, once and for all.”
‘Combine our power’
Unite should take the lead in Britain’s progressive movement but she said unions across the board must step up, “combine our power and coordinate our demands much more systematically.”
O’Grady reminded delegates that now is a “critical time” for the trade union movement.
“But I believe that together we can face the future with confidence” in delivering “hope for all working people,” she concluded to rousing applause. “For dignity, for equality, and for justice.”