Ian McCartney – 2000 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian McCartney to the 2000 TUC Conference in Glasgow.

On the quay, just opposite, which you will see, that was where I, at the age of 15, joined my first iron ore carrier and went to sea as a member of the National Union of Seamen. After three weeks I thought I had better have a career change when I came back. But it was an all too short visit to look at places far and wide.

Last year, a few days after we presented these awards, my son died. It was the strength and support of the letters, phone calls and the friendship from trade unions and trade unionists across Britain which helped me and my family through the past difficult year. With your generosity of spirit and also your generosity in financial terms, in this City today, there are four projects up and running now to assess young people who have got a drug, alcohol or abuse problem. With your generosity, there will be young people who will be alive today who may not have been. I want to thank you on behalf of my family for that generosity.

Colleagues, I am known for my diplomatic skills. When I was in the DTI I had to go to Japan to meet our colleagues there, and I went to a factory which made robots. The Japanese are very proud of their robots. In front of the assembled workforce was the president of the company, and I was asked to watch robots playing traditional Japanese drums. I just knew that at the end of it he was going to ask me what I thought of this, and being a diplomat, at the end of it when we all cheered and clapped the robots, I said to him, “When they can play the bagpipes, come back and see us”.

Colleagues, I hope this morning is going to be as much a credit as it was last year. There are three awards; the Women’s Gold Badge, the Men’s Gold Badge and the Youth Award. The recipients are the embodiment of all that is good in the labour movement, representing without fear or favour their fellow workers. Day in, day out, month in, month out, year after year, they have represented workers in their place of work, promoting good practice, promoting the cause of trade unionism and promoting the skills and abilities of their fellow workers, and sometimes they do it at their personal cost. So the awards today to the three people concerned are not just personal awards to them but a recognition to the tens of thousands of men and women who each and every day go about their jobs on behalf of our movement, without whom we would not have the strong, vibrant movement that we have today. So it is a recognition to both them and to the movement as a whole.

Being a trade union representative is not an easy task. Yes, it has been a bit easier in the past year as trade union membership has increased and employers are recognising more the worth of the trade unions in the workplace, but there will never be a day when every employer will be on board for collective representation in the workplace. It is like painting the Fourth Bridge – when you get to the end you have to start again. That is why it is important that we recognise the worth of our members, because it is our members who gather the strength of the Movement, year in and year out, with employers large and small across the country. So, it is a privilege for someone like me to be asked to come and preside over these awards.

The words which I have been given this morning, are about three very special people. They are not my words but the words of their fellow representatives from the T&G, the GMB and the MSF. It is what their fellow workers, their fellow trade unionists, think about their contribution, and that is why these words are most powerful.

Let me tell you, John and Rita, that I have been head-hunted by the CBI. They have offered me a full-time job. At the last meeting of the CBI, Digby Jones said, “I think it is time you came and worked here full-time”. Thompson raised a finger, and he said, “Perhaps we should ask someone to give us a resum’e of this man’s career. Perhaps we should ask someone to give him a reference”. This was agreed. Somebody leaked it to John Monks and John Monks passed it to me last night. I will read it to you. This is a letter to Digby Jones. “I saw Ian on Question Time last night. He is a most ignorant, arrogant, lying, uncaring, hypocritical, bombastic, thieving little sod this nation has ever seen.” This is a reference for a job at the CBI. “I would not trust him with my dog. A disgusted Peter Mandelson.” So I will stick with my day job in the Cabinet Office at the moment and work part-time for the TUC at weekends.