John Monks – 2001 Speech to the AEEU

Below is the text of the speech made by John Monks to the AEEU on 12th June 2001.

Last Thursday, the British people spoke – and spoke up strongly – for the values which run through the heart and soul of the best of British trade unionism. They voted for better public services especially a better health service, a better education service and a better transport service.

They voted against narrow nationalism – of Welsh, Scottish and the English Conservative varieties. They voted for a decent, friendly relationship with the European Union.

They confirmed the Fairness at Work agenda – the minimum wage, trade union recognition, family friendly policies, workers learning, trade union education and partnership at work.

The result is plain. Trade unionism can now advance with a spring in its step, confident that much of our agenda can be implemented with the incoming Labour Government.

I stress the word ‘with’. It’s not just a matter of what we want. It’s not an annual pay claim. Instead it’s a matter of what we can do, how we can help, where we can make a difference.

Because we all know that the key test that the electorate will impose on Labour in four years time is has it delivered? Has the health service improved? Is education better? And can we move ourselves and our goods more efficiently, more quickly, more reliably round this country?

So the next four years will be a challenge to us. We need to rise to the occasion, to prove our worth to the nation and to demonstrate our crucial importance in achieving the results that the British people are demanding.

This must be a two way relationship. I want to pay tribute right away to Estelle Morris and David Blunkett who have made clear their wish to work in partnership with their unions. I know Alan Milburn has also made clear that will be his approach – and I am sure Stephen Byers and John Spellar in local government and at transport will take the same line.

It is important that they do. At the moment, too many public servants are demoralised. They feel that the 18 years of Tory insult and attack have not been adequately addressed.

They worry about the decline of regard for public service and the power of the belief that only the private sector can deliver.

In too many areas, there are desperate shortages of the right kind of people to carry out the jobs so essential to society. Relative pay levels have slumped. A friend of my son’s said to me the other day – only mugs go into teaching nowadays.

The concerns of public servants have been heightened in the election campaign. There were some in Millbank who were said to relish an early confrontation with a major public sector trade union. I could not believe it.

I say to them – look at the lessons of history. Look at 1978/79 when there was such a confrontation and it was an electoral disaster for Labour and for trade unionism. We still walk with those ghosts of 20 years ago. We still live with the memory of being out of office for a generation and with the collapse in public regard for trade unionism, I say never again.

Remember too the early Thatcher years. Year after year, she took on groups in the public service and this union was involved several times. We still bear the scars. For example, primary and secondary education still has not recovered in key areas from the teachers’ dispute of 1983 – look at the continuing decline of out of school activities like school sports and the problems of attracting enough bright teachers.

So my message on this is clear – no-one will deliver better public services by seeking bruising confrontation. Although the private sector will have an important place in many areas of public service, privatisation must not be the key way forward.

The watchwords the Prime Minister adopted in redefining Clause 4 – ‘it is what works that matters’ are dead right. Let’s not be ideological about privatisation.

What will work will be the partnership approach that many of you aim to pursue with your employers but which is all too rare in the public services. What will work will be a restoration of the public service ethos – that strong sense of serving the community.

Most of my family have been public servants – mother a teacher, father a district parks superintendent, brother another teacher. The approach was dedicated, honest and hardworking. I grew up with that ethos and I want to see it recover, thrive and be appreciated.

What won’t work is wholesale privatisation or a new set of rail style complex contractual arrangements or those best value systems which allow work to go private at rates of pay and other conditions under the agreed standards in the public sector. Labour have made commitments to end the two tier work forces. We want them honoured swiftly.

Of course what also won’t work is obstructionist trade unionism intent on protecting the status quo when the need is for a great step forward together.

So today I endorse the approach of those ministers who have called for partnership. I call on them to turn those into hard plans and deals. If public servants are regarded as second class, the services will remain second class.

Of course, while there must be a huge improvement in public services, the next four or five years must address other issues crucial to the importance of our nation.