‘The time to be bold’

Unite GS Sharon Graham calls for energy in public hands

Reading time: 5 min

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham moved a motion on public ownership of energy at the TUC Congress on Monday (September 11).

Opening her speech to vast applause, she thanked “many of you taking action for the very first time. We stand with you – victory to the strikers – solidarity”.

She then paid tribute to the “reps in our movement in this hall, for the confidence that you have given to workers for standing tall when they were tested, for putting the stake in the ground and money back into workers’ pockets. And for showing that this is the real power of the trade union movement — in this room and rooms like this.”

“Because make no mistake, collective bargaining is still the tried and tested method of pushing up pay. It’s what they really fear — practical action at the point of production.

“And friends, at Unite, we’ve gone through 900 disputes covering 200,000 Unite members in the last 18 months. We’ve won over 80 per cent of those disputes with £400m going back into workers’ pockets.”

Sharon continued, “We were told to back off, that workers asking for a pay rise was an absolute national disgrace, that they were driving up inflation. Friends, we were told this by the same people who clapped the City like seals before the last financial crash — a crash they never saw coming. Well, friends we’re not taking any lessons from the Pied Pipers of the establishment, because it wasn’t wages pushing up inflation, it was rampant profiteering on an unprecedented scale.”

Sharon slammed energy companies for choosing “to plough £45bn in profits rather than cut household bills. Friends, the price hikes delivered a toxic double whammy of rising costs and rising pain”.

And all the while, Sharon continued, workers were told to tighten their belts while City bonuses soared.

“But none of this was inevitable,” she added. “There are clear choices — energy privatisation has failed, pure and simple. There is only one credible answer – we need to take our energy back into public hands.”

Sharon highlighted that it would cost only £90bn to take energy back into public ownership.

“Of course, it’s affordable – it is a choice. But friends, it does seem our politicians are pro- nationalization, as long as it’s another country doing the owning.

“And where is Labour on this issue?” she continued. Addressing the Labour party leader, she said, “Our economy is broken. People are suffering right now. We’re in the worst cost of living crisis in decades. This is the time to be bold – it’s not 1997. There’s no point grasping for a policy mix stuffed down the back of 1990s sofa. When spending limits become austerity light, when you refuse to even discuss taking back control of our national assets, and you’re watering down promises to give workers a real voice. If you lose sight of what we’re in there to do, then you are not seeing whose side you should be on and what we created you for.”

In her concluding remarks, she urged delegates not to wait for “jam tomorrow”.

“If politicians won’t do what’s required, then we have to take action ourselves and become a real workers’ movement,” she said. “So friends, let’s be bold and not retreat. Let’s swap the path of prestige for long term opportunity. This is in our hands; it’s in this hall. Let us be the change that we so often demand from others. Friends, the flame flickers anew. Let’s rise up together. See you on the picket line.”

She left the rostrum to a standing ovation.

You can watch Sharon’s speech in full in the video below:

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By UniteLive team

Pic by Mark Thomas

Video by Felicity Taylor