'Not much for Unite members' in speech

Unite members unlikely to be impressed by Labour leader Keir Starmer’s speech

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Unite expressed disappointment in Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s speech on Wednesday (September 29), his first in-person address to Labour Party Conference.

Starmer outlined the cost of living crisis early on in the speech, noting, “A tank of fuel already costs £10 more than it did at the start of the year. Gas and electricity bills up. Gaps on the supermarket shelves,” and adding that “we have a fuel crisis, a pay crisis, a goods crisis and a cost of living crisis – all at the same time”.

But Unite highlighted that Starmer failed to specifically address what must be done urgently to alleviate this growing crisis.

Explicit policies in Starmer’s speech included a pledge that a future Labour government would ensure everyone has access to mental health services within one month, with spending on mental health under Labour never allowed to fall. Every school would have specialist mental health support, with every community having access to a mental health hub.

Starmer also promised an overhaul of the state education system, ensuring every child will have the opportunity to play an instrument or play in competitive sport. Th school curriculum under a Labour government will place a strong focus on preparing students for the future of work, with an emphasis on digital skills and the reinstating of compulsory two weeks’ work experience.

On climate change, Starmer said, “Action is needed. Not in the future, but now. If we delay action by a decade the costs of climate transition will double.

 “This urgency is why Labour will bring forward a Green New Deal,” he added, noting that “our Green New Deal will include Climate Investment Pledge to put us back on track to cut the substantial majority of emissions this decade”.

He pledged that over the next decade, Labour would retrofit every home to ensure all homes are “warm, well-insulated and cost less to heat” which would in turn create thousands of jobs. Labour will moreover place £28bn in capital investment to support the country’s green transition.

Starmer also promised that a future Labour government would introduce a Clean Air Act and that “everything we do in government will have to meet a ‘net zero’ test to ensure that the prosperity we enjoy does not come at the cost of the climate.”

The Labour leader acknowledged how low-paid, insecure work has blighted modern Britain, noting that those who are among the lowest paid “were the people who kept the show on the road during the pandemic and their reward is continued low pay and job insecurity”.

 “The millennial generation, clustered in low-paying sectors will be the first generation to have lower lifetime earnings than the one which went before,” he added, but failed to address explicitly what Labour would do to support people in such sectors.

Starmer drew heavily from his family background, as he explained how his mother, a nurse, and his father, a toolmaker, helped him to understand the “dignity of work” and the “nobility of care”. He said that “work, care, equality and security” would be the core ideals that inform his values.

Commenting after Starmer’s speech, Unite’s national political lead Rob MacGregor said the union was disappointed that the Labour leader failed to address the most pressing concerns of its members and working people in general.

“If you’re a Unite member worried about the cost of living crisis, empty petrol pumps, abhorrent ‘fire and rehire’ in our workplaces and the end of furlough just hours away, there wasn’t much for you in this speech,” MacGregor said.

“We needed to hear a Labour leader who is as angry as we are about the harm being done to our workers, and as determined as Unite to stand up against abusive employers,” he added. “We’re clearly not there yet.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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