Energy back into public hands call

Unite GS Sharon Graham calls on Labour to 'be bold' and take energy back into public hands

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham reiterated her union’s call to take energy back into public hands at the Labour Party Conference on Monday (October 9), in a speech that was dominated by cheers and applause.

Moving a motion on critical infrastructure, Unite’s leader began by thanking workers in Britain who “fought the profiteers as well as this shameful government, who put a stake in the ground; workers who took action at great personal cost, workers who made the choice to put others before themselves and to defend others from the biggest attack on living standards in generations”.

She slammed the government for presiding over the sixth richest economy in the world, “where workers and communities are merely existing, and we don’t even own our most basic of needs”.

She went on to condemn the government for making workers and their communities pay for the last financial crisis, through “ten years of austerity, ten years of pay cuts, ten years of devastated communities.”

Graham noted that during the pandemic, when these same ordinary workers were saving lives, the Tory government again made them pay, by delivering “pay cut, after pay cut, after pay cut” and “doing exactly what it says on the Tory tin – making the rich richer and enabling rampant profiteering”.

“But Labour’s mission is fundamentally different,” she added.

“Labour’s job is to be the voice of workers and our communities and yes, to make different choices — we must take our energy back into public hands,” she said, to thunderous applause in the conference hall.

Turning to the failures of energy privatisation, she highlighted how people in France have drastically lower energy bills because they own their own energy, while in the UK, “we have let energy monopolies fill their boots, by picking the pockets of UK workers – how they must have laughed”.

“And there it is, crystallised in one crisis, the stark failure of mass privatisation,” Unite’s leader noted.

She urged Labour to be bold like it was in 1945, when, “despite the ravages of war, the Labour government made a choice to build the NHS and a more just society, where it matters less the family you were born into, and more about the contribution you could make”.

Concluding her speech, she said, “Labour, now is the time to be bold; to do what it says on the Labour tin. Back ordinary men and women and be their voice — the people who clean our roads, who teach our children, who look after our parents. Let’s put our arms around them like we did in 1945. And Labour, let them be in no doubt whose side we are on.”

Seconding the motion, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan began by commenting on Graham’s speech and its rapturous reception, noting, “Follow that!” to yet more applause.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas