Jeremy Corbyn – 2016 Speech at Unite Policy Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, at the Unite Policy Conference on 16 January 2016.

I’m delighted to be here at the first Unite Scottish Policy Conference.

But I join you at a time when we are facing the greatest attack on the trade union movement and our democracy that we have ever witnessed.

You will have already heard a lot about the Trade Union Bill, which has now passed through the House of Commons.

Only the House of Lords stands in the way of the Bill becoming law next year.

We already have the most restrictive labour laws in Europe they are now moving beyond restricting trade unions, they are trying to take away your voice for good.

Labour opposed this Bill in the Commons and our peers are opposing it in the Lords I have to tell you in all likelihood, the Bill will become law – and we will have adapt to the new realities it brings.

But amid those new realities, there is an eternal truth; Politics is about power.

The word ‘democracy’ itself contains that concept. It is formed of two Greek words: ‘demos’ meaning ‘the people’, and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘to rule’ or ‘to have power’.

So democracy means ‘the people have the power’. That is, ‘the people have power’, not the Tories in Westminster, not the suits in the boardrooms, not the billionaires ensconced in their tax havens. We, the people.

But we only realise our power, when we stand together as one.

Socialist politics is about forcing unaccountable power to be accountable and about stripping the unaccountable of their power.

Millions of people face unaccountable power every day. At work in their workplace – the boss, the management. They’re not elected by the workforce, they cannot be voted out. They are appointed by those with money.

They set your pay, decide on your pension, your working hours, your working conditions.

Never was that more brutally on display that in the Grangemouth dispute and that showed why we must strengthen trade union and employment rights.

The co-operative movement – the other historic part of our labour movement – was also established to say, ‘there is a different way’ that there is value in every worker and every voice in the workplace.

People find it when they are sacked without reason, when they cannot afford a lawyer to defend them in court, or when they are sanctioned at the job centre.

They want you to know your place to do what you’re told without thinking or questioning. To like it or lump it.

They have the power and you must accept it. I know, I’ve never accepted that either.

Our labour movement was formed to fight that powerlessness. To put power in the hands of worker, and of all people.

It is not only at work that people feel this powerlessness.

People feel it when they can’t get a permanent home because of a lack of council housing, or because buy-to-let landlords have turned housing into an investment opportunity for a few, instead of a home for the many.

Education is a right not a privilege and it must remain so. We must protect our schools, our colleges and our universities. Education is about us liberating our minds and liberating ourselves.

We built on our own institutions like the Workers’ Educational Association in 1903 – which still delivers over 14,000 courses a year in England and Scotland, and it was a Labour government that created the Open University.

We founded the welfare state – the Attlee government inheriting a national debt four times the size that Osborne inherited in 2010.

It created the NHS, built hundreds of thousands of council homes, and introduced the social security system.

Today, those institutions of fairness and opportunity – built by our movement – are being systematically dismantled. In Scotland as in England, college funding is being cut, adult education budgets are being slashed. Taking away opportunities from thousands of people.

If we look back in our history, it was the labour movement that fought for the right to vote – to extend to the working class, and to women.

Today the Tories are trying to weaken those bonds they are trying to remove 1 million people from the electoral records by rushing through individual electoral registration.

They know who this will affect: the young, insecure workers, BME communities, the people least likely to vote Tory.

These gains were only built by Labour governments or the pressure of the labour movement.

Today those bonds are being renewed and more people are coming back to Labour.

But even as those bonds are being renewed, the Tories’ Trade Union Bill is trying to break them by cutting off trade union funding to the Labour Party.

The Labour Party got a long wrong in the past, we let working people down – including here in Scotland ­- and we need to win back trust.

The Labour Party has changed and is changing still the Labour Party standing at the May elections is a different party, with a renewed sense of social justice at its heart. There will be no support from this Labour Party for disastrous foreign wars.

In Kezia Dugdale, we have a dynamic young leader in Scotland who is rebuilding our party. We are fighting the Tories attacks on social security we stopped their cuts to tax credits. We are resisting cuts to Scottish council budgets that pay for schools and social care and Labour councils across Scotland have pledged that they will refuse to implement the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. We appeal to the SNP to work with us to derail this Bill.

Whether it’s the trade unions, the Labour Party, the welfare state or public services like colleges or the health and safety executive these institutions are under attack because they are the basis of our power.

We as the labour movement have to take a new approach the labour movement – the trade unions and the next Labour government working together to eradicate the scourge of in-work poverty.

By doing so we can tackle the exploitative casualisation of the workforce – and make work a source of security.

I was elected on a platform of extending democracy in every part of the country and every part of society giving people a real say in their communities and workplaces, breaking open the closed circle of Westminster and Whitehall – and yes, of boardrooms too.

We are setting up a commission for workplace rights it will be led by my shadow minister for trade unions, the former President of the National Union of Mineworkers, Ian Lavery MP.

Not only will we repeal the Trade Union Bill when we get back in 2020 we will extend people’s rights in the workplace – and give employees a real voice in the organisations they work for.

That means new trade union freedoms and collective bargaining rights of course because it is only through collective representation that workers have the voice and the strength to reverse the race to the bottom in pay and conditions.

The Tories are determined to tip the scales still further in the direction of the employer. That same rigging of workplace power is what has led directly to the explosion in executive pay and boardroom excess while low wages and insecure employment have mushroomed under Cameron.

Myself and Ian Lavery want your input as we draw up policy for the world of work fit for the 21st century.

Over half of the 422,000 people who voted in the Labour leadership election, voted online and even the Tories used online voting to select their London mayoral candidate.

But they don’t want us to have equal rights to do the same one rule for them and another for us.

We will also modernise trade union balloting.

Trade unions should be allowed to ballot their members online and securely in their workplace.

The Tories boast that there are record numbers in employment.

But don’t just look at the quantity of that employment, but the quality too.

It is no coincidence that the quality of jobs has declined as trade union membership has also declined.

It is also no coincidence that productivity has declined as trade union strength has weakened. Trade unions force employers to invest in their workplace and their workforce unionised workplaces mean greater job security, and if workers are staying then employers invest in them.

We also need to redouble our efforts to promote equality – to reduce and eradicate the gender pay gap partly that is about stopping discrimination against women workers, and partially about ensuring an equality of status and pay for the sectors in which women workers dominate; care, cleaning and catering.

It is our movement, the labour movement, that challenged this way of thinking that found practical solutions to this wielding of power.

It was Labour’s Barbara Castle who started that process with the Equal Pay Act 45 years ago. It’s time it was implemented by all employers in the spirit in which it was intended.

We founded trade unions to bring people together in their workplace to provide a counterweight to the power of the owners and to management.

The Tory party was founded when working class people didn’t have the vote. The Tories’ purpose remains to keep power from the majority that the only wealth creators are billionaire tax dodgers.

They believe they have a divine right to rule and they are currently stuffing the House of Lords with Tory peers to weaken opposition to their divisive agenda.

After the travesty of the Poll Tax, the Labour government delivered devolution, which has meant you as a country can make different choices; over health, education and housing.

Democracy means you can make your own choices based on your values. We as the labour movement always fight for the extension of democracy at every level and in every sphere.

That is the historic mission of the labour movement to share power in more and more hands they want to restrict it in fewer and fewer hands.

When you act together in solidarity when we realise our collective power, then we stop being individuals who get things done to us we become a force that can make choices and determine our own destiny.

We say austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity because it is true and it is empowering. It is not inevitable, it is something that can be resisted and stopped.

And when the Scottish Parliament receives more powers over tax and welfare, the Scottish Parliament should harness those powers to end austerity in Scotland.

For workers and trade unions too, the rate of technological advance can be disorientating and a threat to jobs. But why should it be?

Why isn’t it the case that making labour less intensive, making our work easier, is something we all share in? Why is it only the bosses who benefit by reducing costs or making higher profits?

There is a better way.

The best way to get job security, get a pay rise, or win equal pay is through well-organised unions in every workplace.

You are the most effective opposition to the Tories’ austerity agenda and you also stand in the way of their plans for privatisation.

This Tory government wants to sell the goods and services we have collectively built over generations.

They want to row back every gain that we have made together. But we can resist and we can defeat them.

I want to pay tribute to all the Labour led local authorities who have promised not to assist in the draconian attacks this Trade Union Bill represents.

That spirit of resistance and rebellion is what won us democracy it is what built trade unions it is what will enable us to see off austerity and this Tory government.

The slogans of our movement are not empty slogans they are truths learned in struggle. United we stand, divided we fall. Unity is strength. The workers united will never be defeated.

We will defeat this government. We will defeat austerity when Labour gets back into power:

We will repeal the Trade Union Bill and extend employment rights

We will bring the railways back into public ownership

We will democratise our energy so that communities are in control

We will rebuild a social security system that is about support, not sanctions

We will build a fairer society, together.

Thank you.