'We need to build a movement, not a moment'

Unite GS Sharon Graham: unions must work together to combat renewed austerity and the biggest squeeze on incomes in generations

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham gave an inspiring speech at TUC conference on Wednesday (October 19), as she moved a motion on rebuilding industrial power. Below is Sharon’s speech in full.

Friends, I bring with me solidarity from over 400 Unite picket lines that have lined the streets and cities throughout our nations — from the docks in Liverpool and Felixstowe, to Stagecoach in Hull.

Let’s say here together — to every worker on strike, to every worker who has been on strike, to every worker who is fighting for their families, in our unions, on our shores and beyond: we stand with you. We are proud of you. Solidarity to you all!

And Congress we now must be ready for what they have in store for us. They will make workers and communities pay again. We are already seeing the biggest squeeze on incomes in generations.

Trickle-down economics does not work. Liz Truss says all we need is a bigger pie. Well, what’s the point of a bigger pie, when the same people divide it?

Congress – we will not allow myths to be peddled. It’s not wages driving inflation. It’s unfettered profit and profiteering. We will not allow them to put one hand in our pocket and the other up our back – not this time. Not this time!

They are taking workers and communities for a ride. Workers and communities have only just paid back the last financial crash, with ten years of austerity; ten years of pain; ten years of suffering.

And now they say, “City Bankers, let rip, do it all again! Take those risks again.” They paid it back, you can start all over again. And to our energy, think of this — 30 percent of the current price cap is pure and utter profit. The Prime Minister’s answer is to freeze prices and make workers’ pay further down the line.

Well here’s an answer. Cap the abhorrent profit, and take energy back in our control!

Friends, when they threaten us further — and they will — we will be ready. We will level the playing field.

We will put more and more money into our £50 million strike fund. If they tax our strike pay, we will add the tax on. If they raise thresholds, we will meet them. And if they attack our reps we will defend them by all and every means.

And Congress, I say this to Labour, because it is important: do not stand on the side lines now playing it safe.

Be bold. Be on the side of workers. Stop apologising for sticking up for workers on strike. Because there is already a very loud voice for the rich and the business lobby – it’s called the Tory Party. Labour, we have not changed the goal posts. You have. This is the question of our time. Whose side are you on?

Friends, the flame flickers anew. The rebirth of the trade union movement has begun. But we have to be serious about winning. We must now begin on the road to real industrial co-ordination, across our employers; across our sectors; across our industries — focusing on jobs, pay and conditions.

To do that, we must commit to the hard miles of organising, with detailed planning, with workers at the table from the very beginning. There are no shortcuts. This is simply not something that can be done for us by others. We cannot trade our industrial power for political promises and jam tomorrow. Because let’s remember this, the Prime Minister only threatens us because she knows the potential in this hall.

In our reps, in our workplaces, in our unions: bad employers fear worker power — not how much money we give to the Labour party — real worker power. It is the power of collective organisation that is really feared in boardrooms.

Because let’s face it – if the bosses go on strike, no one notices. But when workers go out on strike everyone notices — because we do the work and we create the profits!

Friends, the baton has been passed to us. We should not use this precious time to re-tread old wars. We now need to believe in our ability to win, to defend workers, to fight for workers, to back workers.

We need to build a movement, not just a moment. Because that is how we will change the real centre ground of politics — for the long term. Let our heroes be the collective. Let’s win and encourage workers to take part in collective action for the first time.

Winning breeds confidence. And confident unions can and do change everyday lives. Congress, this is the moment to stand on our own two feet. It’s workers that give us hope, a hope we can believe in. We don’t have to take what we are given this time.

Let’s not apologise for who we are; let’s lift our heads up as well as our banners. Victory to the strikes! See you on the picket line!

Pic by Mark Thomas

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