Harold Wilson once said that if Labour is not a moral crusade then we are nothing.
And in the 43 years I’ve been a member of the Labour party argument and debate has raged over that very issue. Some say ‘ideals without power mean nothing’ and others say ‘power without purpose leads to betrayal.’
But one thing is certain, that if our party is to have a future, and let me repeat that – if OUR party is to have a future it must speak for ordinary workers and it must represent the voice of organised labour.
More and more economists recognise that wage depression is a fundamental obstacle to sustainable growth in our economy. That’s why this motion seeks to address the disgraceful treatment in 21st century Britain of trade unionists.
Trade unionists are the people in this land who create the wealth of our nation, and who are responsible for the very fabric of the civilised communities in which we live. And everyone in this party – everyone – should be proud of our link with them through their trade unions.
How can it be right, conference, that the very nation which defeated fascism at the end of the second world war, and gave Europe all of the freedoms that they currently enjoy, how can it be right that German workers, Italian workers, French, Spanish and other European workers have protections than British workers? How can that be right?
Consecutive governments over the last 30 years should hang their heads in shame. It is said that rights come with responsibility. I couldn’t agree more. Every one of us in this room has a responsibility, indeed we have a duty to the workers of today, a duty to the millions out of work in search of decent employment, and to our young people. Our duty to them is not to be meek or timid in the face of the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes. It is to speak up for the millions who have no voice in today’s politics. It is to end the wage siege that means our kids are the first in generations to be worse off than their elders. The first to have their dreams cast aside. And even the most basic hope of a place to live, a decent wage, the prospect of starting a family, kicked in to the long grass.
Our duty is to set our vision of how will build our country in government, to give back dignity and a sense of fair play at work. And not to allow the ruling elite to succeed in their race to the bottom, dragging us backward in time.
When I left school, I went to work in the Liverpool docks. Dockers used to crowd in to a hall every morning, hoping for work. Bosses used to walk amongst them, tapping them on the shoulder and handing out brass tallies that we needed to get a day’s work. And when the bosses got tired of that they would throw the remaining tallies in to the air and watch men fight each other – and I mean fight – because it meant putting food in their kids’ bellies.
Zero hours in another age. The only thing that stopped it then, and the only thing that will stop it now is strong trade unions. Now I know that there are those in our party who shudder when trade unions are mentioned, fearful of the prospect of a bad headline in the Daily Mail.
I say to them: You will never, ever appease the right-wing media and to try demeans you and our party.
This motion is about the kind of nation we want to be. Not the kind of bedroom-tax, food-bank, fired-at-will Britain of the Tories, but one where hope is restored. This is Labour’s opportunity. For our party, economic credibility should not mean keeping in with the bond markets at all costs. Our credibility lies in a new deal for workers. Let’s set our ambitions high, and use the words of that great socialist George Bernard Shaw, who said:-
‘Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask “why not”?’
Comrades, pass this motion, yes. But better still, join our crusade for therein lies the path to victory.