Speech: CWU Youth Conference

Hello, good morning and thank you to the Youth Committee for the opportunity to talk to you today on the occasion of the Youth Conference.

I very much enjoy the opportunity to get out and about and talk to the equality conferences and the youth conference as well.

This conference really is one of my favourites because the energy and the ideas and the clarity of view that our young activists have really is refreshing, encouraging and at times inspiring.

So I want to start by saying a big thank you to all of you who have made the effort to be here today.

I can see a number of familiar faces from the National Youth Education Event in Edinburgh last Autumn and that is really encouraging.

I am told that a number of branches who sent people to Edinburgh are not here today.

We have started the process of finding exactly why there has been that mismatch.  Today’s turnout is good and quantity is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

But it remains the fact that I am concerned that there are not enough young people being encouraged to get involved in the CWU.

I am delighted to see so many people here from Kent Invicta and I think this shows just what can be done when the right attitude and amount of effect is put in to youth engagement – so well done to Dave and to Shelly and to Becca Hufton for their work on this.

I want to spend this morning talking about two inter-related things in particular, both of which I think are key areas of concern for young members in the CWU.

I will come onto UKIP and why I think this is even more of a problem than I think all of us in the this room would say it is later on.  But first I want to talk about the General Election.

And the most important about the General Election, of course, is to defeat one of the most reactionary, aggressive, pernicious, sectional and unkind governments in living memory.

No, that’s not right or fair.  It is not one of the worst governments in the living history; I would say it is THE worst government.

But although dislodging the Conservative-led government would be a huge step forward and benefit to people in Britain, we must also try and ensure that we have a progressive government in its place.

But whatever your particular politics, the key to achieving a change of government is for enough people to vote for that alternative.

And the key number here, and it is terrifying because it is so large, is 4 million – in fact to be precise 4,260,000.

That’s the number of missing votes from young people in the 2010 election.

I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the maths, but briefly it is this.  In the 2010 election 33% of 18-34 years voted.

64% of those aged 35 and older voted.

The number of missing votes from young people needed to match the voting rate for those over 35 is 4,260,000.

That is a staggering number.  That means the average number of missing votes per constituency is more than 11,000.  Yet the average majority in each constituency in 2010 was 8,000.

The message is simple.

If young people vote in the same numbers as their older counterparts, it will have a dramatic effect.

People are already saying it is the most open election for years and years.  Despite how unpopular the Conservative-led government is, Labour has not got a commanding poll lead.

You could argue that we are no longer in a three party system, although maybe the LibDems have just been replaced by the UKIP, or in Scotland, the SNP.

But the inescapable fact is that if young people vote in significant numbers they will make a decisive impact in a decisive election.

But there are two problems with all this.  Neither of these falls into the rocket science category.

The first problem is about why young people don’t vote.  Why didn’t they vote in 2010? And why are they equally likely not to vote in 2015?

When we have done work on this internally, it has become clear that some people don’t vote because they genuinely and sincerely don’t believe in the current system of determining our government.

That is, of course, everyone’s right, but on the basis of our work there are very few people in that category.

The much larger category overwhelmingly I believe are disenchanted with the political system and disenchanted with voting.

Crudely speaking – they do not believe that any of the parties on offer speak for them or if elected would do anything for them.  Worse still, there is a view that those who are elected will not even stick to their manifesto commitments.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats are excellent examples of people who didn’t stick to some very clear pledges and I am sure will pay a heavy electoral price for that in May.

However, I think it is a vicious circle.

If you do not vote you do not have a voice.  If you do not have a voice then you cannot be heard.

If we were in a situation where there was an incipient likelihood of change in the way in which we elect the people or the range of representatives we have to choose from, then this would not be such a problem.

However, we are not in that position.  With the exception of UKIP which I think is a wholly different type of phenomena, voter turnout for non-mainstream parties remains stubbornly low – rarely venturing above the 5% threshold.

The second problem is that since 2010 it has become harder for people to be able to vote.

I say this because you now need to register as an individual in order to vote.  The process is quite straightforward and very simple, but it is still something you have to do.

Now, of course, one will feed off the other.  If you don’t feel that politics offers anything for you then why would you bother to register to vote? It  becomes a vicious cycle.

I do not think this is a coincidence, I think it suits Conservative forces in society very well to have large numbers of people opting out of wanting to vote.

It is because it is an abdication of their ability to influence the political process that leaves power evermore concentrated in the hands who do work the system.

What can be done about all of this?

Well even without the particular threat of UKIP and the far right politics that they allow, there is a wonderful campaign that I recommend very strongly that has been set up between the TUC and an organisation called Bite the Ballot.

There is Bite the Ballot material on every seat in this room today.  This sets out the reasons why it is important to vote and talks about the practical steps of how you can register to vote.

It also sets out a collection of ideas which challenge the myth that voting doesn’t change anything or that you can exert no control over elected representatives.

We need a politically engaged, registered, vibrant society.  Otherwise, we are letting other people speak for us.

As Bite the Ballot says, not registering to vote is not being in anyway rebellious, still less, revolutionary.  It is simply doing what the system expects.

So please register to vote.  I am sure no one in this room, however unintentionally, wants to be part of reason that David Cameron or Theresa May or Boris Johnson or heaven forbid – Nigel Farage get into positions of influence.

And like it or not, politics inevitably affects us.  Look at some of the statistics.

We say that there should be a living wage, but the government says there should be a national minimum wage.  The national minimum wage does not provide a level of income that people can live at.

To raise wages and improve terms and conditions people traditionally look to unions.  It’s true that union members tend to be paid higher – 15% higher – than non-union members.

But the government is absolutely hostile to trade union recruitment and organising campaigns and is seeking to undermine us in every way they can.  That’s the government that is doing that and that is why we need a change.

Younger people tend to live in private rented accommodation rather than have a mortgage.

There is no tenancy security; there is no regulation of private sector rents.  Landlords have made more money in the last five years than virtually any other group apart from the self-selecting, self-serving 1% of multi-millionaires.

Private landowners hoard land which pushes up the prices of houses and the notion of affordable housing has become a joke because it is linked to property values rather than income.  All these are political issues that we need to address.

Young workers are the most likely group to be on insecure contracts and have been hit hard by unemployment.  37% of people on zero-hour contracts are aged between 16 and 24.

Youth unemployment has only very recently fallen below the 1 million mark and is still scandalously high.  These are political issues.

But one of the biggest and most important reasons to register to vote and to vote itself is linked to a wider campaign in society and that is as antidote to the toxic influence of the UK Independence Party.

Over the past 12 months, we have seen the success of the antifascist movement in ensuring that Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons lost their MEP seats.

Well done Unite Against Fascism, and all the organisations and individuals who contributed to this victory.

There are still remnants of the EDL, which requires serious attention when they pop up. But it appears that this wave of fascism has been beaten back.

Unfortunately, the same European elections saw UKIP become the largest party. They pose a different problem – they are not fascists, but they are very dangerous.

UKIP are the 21st Century embodiment of Enoch Powell’s legacy.

They are anti-migrant and anti-EU.  They are as racist as Powell, but they cannot use the same language.

Decades of anti-racist struggles mean there are some real restraints. So they are coded in their terms. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to understand their targets.

When Nigel Farage told UKIP Conference that our cities and towns have become “unrecognisable” he was finessing hatred of migrants and black people.

When he claimed that “In many parts of England, you don’t hear English spoken anymore” he’s stirring up fear of the foreigner.

UKIP’s scapegoating tactics are making  progress because so many people are experiencing real economic distress. Politicians  who promote austerity policies are responsible for UKIP’s surge.

Too many of these politicians then feel forced to concede ground, by accommodating to UKIP’s racism towards migrants.

UKIP are poisoning community relations and politics in this country. Just take Farage’s response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

He says this is the result of “multiculturalism”. In so doing he tars millions of people with the brush of terrorism.

This is reinforced when he talks of a “fifth column”. Such language is every bit as provocative as a Powell’s notorious “Rivers of blood”.

We must stand up to UKIP, and insist that the Labour leadership gives no ground to their reactionary agenda.

Some say the UKIP isn’t really like this. It’s just some members, candidates and elected representatives who keep coming out with unauthorised racist, xenophobic, homophobic and misogynist statements.

Yet no matter how often they distance UKIP, these vile messages keep coming out. It reminds me of an old joke by Simon Fanshawe “I’m not gay; I just sleep with a lot of gay men”.

And remember, they are led by someone who feels uncomfortable with the idea of living next door to a Romanian, and at the sight of a woman breast-feeding.

So, we have to ensure that in our work leading up to the General Election, we take up every argument we hear in support of UKIP.

One additional thing you must do is get your branch committed to support the UN Anti-Racism Day on March 21st. We must stand up to racism, not stand aside.

People say unions are  about  what happens at the workplace, and that is true.  But you can’t divorce what happens at the workplace from the society and community that  that workplace is part of.

And things like  voting, politics, standing firm against racism and xenophobia and challenging it wherever it emerges  are part of all that.

It is all part of an ongoing campaign for a decent society. Thank you for your support for your union. It really matters. Together we are strong and together we will win.

Thank you.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Retired members’ conference

As always, it is a privilege to address the Retired Members Conference. By remaining in membership you are continuing your commitment to the union.

This is tremendously valuable to the rest of the union, as we need your viewpoint to be expressed.

That is why the union’s Annual Conference in 2014 agreed to seat the Chair of the Retired Members Section as an ex-officio member of the NEC.

This brought the Retired Members into line with the seating of the Chair of CWU Youth at the NEC. It’s been a pleasure to welcome Brian Lee to the NEC meetings.

This means you can be sure of having your views conveyed on issues likely to affect retired members.

The NEC will be proposing to CWU conference to extend this practice to the four Equality Advisory Committees via a rule change.

We hope to strengthen the NEC by making its discussions more reflective of the ever-growing diversity of the membership, and workforce in the communications sector.

It is my firm opinion that you get the best debate and decisions when the leadership most closely reflects the make-up of the membership.

We have problems of under-representation, particularly of women, and members from black and minority ethnicities.

But for the past couple of years we’ve made a big effort to address this issue, and we are beginning to see the results.

The thing to stress is that having a more diverse leadership makes the union stronger for everyone.

Now, it has been a busy year for pensions’ legislation. There have been three Acts added to the statute book, and another Bill on its way through the Parliamentary process. We’ve had:

  • The Pension Act 2014, which makes provision for a new single tier state pension from 2016; and an increase in the state pension age to 67 from 2028
  • The Finance Act 2014, which arose from the Chancellor’s budget, but does involve an increase in the level for trivial commutation
  • The Pension Schemes Bill introduced in June, which introduces the concept of defined ambitions schemes – which have elements of both defined benefits and defined contributions
  • The last Act is perhaps the most significant and potentially the most dangerous. This is the Taxation of Pensions Act 2014.

As usual, under the false flag of “freedom of choice”, the Tories are inviting people to access their pension savings.

This Act was pushed through with minimal consultation. TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, called the proposals “rash and irresponsible”.

Those accessing their pension face the dangers of large tax bills, or complex annual allowance calculations.

There will inevitably be potentially risky, or over-cautious, investment options. Either can lead to pensioners being short of income in their old age.

Even the Coalition Government is having some second thoughts. It has launched a review led by David Blake of the Cass Business School.

This is welcome, because we can well remember the pensions mis-selling scandal that arose from the last Tory Government.

I know how important the NHS is to older workers. Doubtless you will have followed the news of the crisis in Accident and Emergency services this winter.

This is clearly been a result of the introduction of market mechanisms into the NHS, combined with the freeze on real spending for the service.

This hasn’t been a severe winter yet. Seasonal flues don’t usually impact upon the A&E either. Yet waiting times are now the worst in a decade.

Despite the Coalition Government denying it, the introduction of the market is having an impact.

Doctor Clifford Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, told Radio Four listeners that:

“… elective surgery is profitable. Emergency surgery will always be unprofitable, and so hospital trusts have not invested in it.”

There you have it, no profit in the A&E.  So expect things to get worse if the current policy remains in place.

The Tories and Lib Dems claim that they “ring fenced” NHS spending. All this means is that current spend isn’t cut.

But it is frozen, and the effect of inflation means the same amount is worthless. In fact, inflation in drug and medical equipment is higher than inflation in the general economy.

Actually, even the Office of Budget Responsibility let out the true position. Its projection is that NHS spending as a proportion of GDP will fall from six point five percent in 2012/3  down to 6 point two percent in 2015/16.

So much for the Tories’ fairytale. Another reason to fight for a different government in May this year.

And, another reason why austerity just does not deliver for the vast majority of people.

Now there are 11 million pensioners who have a vote on May 7th. I welcome the manifesto proposals set out by the National Pensioners Convention:

  • A basic state pension for all of £175
  • Pensions linked to the best inflation measure, or 2.5%
  • Universal pensioner benefits to be maintained without means testing
  • A National Health and Care service, free at the point of use, funded through taxation
  • A legally binding Dignity Code to improve care for older people.

These seem to me  elementary common sense in a society that values its elders.

Unfortunately, there are alternative priorities for many politicians – particularly the vanity project of spending £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.

The CWU supports the return of a Labour government. But we will not be taken for granted. We expect that government to act in support of the majority, not the wealthy one percent.

As a union we must oppose the continuation of austerity whatever the stripe of government.

We will work to return Labour in 2015.  But we will fight against wage freezes, cuts in benefits, and the reduction of public services.

Tory spending limits will not be acceptable from a Labour government.

We expect Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to invest in the infrastructure, invest in housing, and invest in the creation of quality jobs.

An economic recovery will only be guaranteed if it raises living standards.

Labour leaders can’t have it both ways.

If there’s a cost of living crisis then austerity isn’t going to solve it.  As has already been shown by the Tories.

So we will continue to insist that Labour must promote a different, more progressive economic policy.

Now, I’m sure many of you will want to work around the General Election. Your branches have local funds, and the autonomy to get stuck in.

We have also authorised substantial spending at a regional level.

What we do makes a difference.  Your skills as union activists are very helpful for constituency campaigns.

The Tories know this – that’s one of the reasons why they jump up and down about union influence.

You can be certain that the national union will support retired members who want to offer their services in the election.

Now, these are difficult times, but you are activists hardened by struggle.  By our efforts, you know we can make things better.

Let’s get busy kicking out the Tories.

Good luck with your discussion and decisions today. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Message of support to Our West Hendon and People Power West Hendon groups fighting the compulsory purchase and evictions in West Hendon

I’m writing to send my support to your campaign and efforts in resisting the compulsory purchase of, and eviction from, your homes in West Hendon. The actions of Barnet Council are deplorable.

Housing is a growing problem for working people everywhere but in London more so because of the sky high rents and house prices. The loss of social housing from West Hendon is another example of capitalist greed ripping the heart out of communities and trampling over ordinary working people. The broken promises of both Barnet Council and the developers Barratt Homes to rehouse tenants on the same site is shocking and I agree with Karin Khalick of People Power West Hendon that it smacks of social cleansing.

We need more, not less, social housing in our country.

You are to be congratulated in pushing the issue to public inquiry. The CWU has members who live on the West Hendon estate and we will support them and the wider campaigns to protect social housing in the area and get justice for the current tenants.

Yours sincerely,

Posted in Letters |

Speech: Cornwall Amal branch AGM

It is a privilege to be able to speak to you today. These are difficult times for the trade union and labour movement. In such times it is reassuring that branches like yours stay strong and active.

The next few months, like it or not, are going to be dominated by the General Election in May. The parties are already on the campaign trail, and much of the media is preoccupied with the contest.

It is important.  And whenever we begin to doubt this, the Tories do something outrageous to remind us that it is.

The most recent provocation is the proposal to introduce further restrictions on the ability of trade unions engage in industrial action. This time they’re proposing a vote of 40 percent of those entitled to vote being necessary to constitute a majority.

It is a figure they will never apply to themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t be in government, and they would lose a large number of their MPs and Councillors.

Still saying the Tories apply double standards is stating the obvious.

Certainly it is our policy to support the return of a majority Labour Government. We don’t expect unanimous support for this position – but I don’t doubt that the overwhelming majority of our members want a change.

The Coalition Government’s austerity policies have failed.  The British economy is now only a tiny bit larger than it was in 2008.

Any growth has been based on consumer debt, and housing inflation. Most people have witnessed a drop in their living standards with the average wage worth  over seven percent less today than in 2010.

The growth in employment is dominated by 1.4 million zero hour contracts. In addition, many workers are being forced to define themselves as self-employed, when in reality they are subcontracting for an employer.

Austerity is not acceptable.  And we should not accept it from an incoming Labour Government. We cannot agree to a further squeeze on living standards, no matter what government is in power.

We need the government to invest in recovery.  Labour should make public investment in modernising infrastructure & public services.  It should launch a huge housing program, including public housing for secure rental.

We must continue to argue for these types of policies with a Labour Government in power.

But we have seen some important commitments from Labour. Not everything we need, but a good start.

Take the issue of Royal Mail.  At the National Policy Forum, and the Labour Party Conference last year, the Labour leadership agreed to:

  • retain the 30 percent of the shares in the public sector
  • review  the privatisation process, with nothing ruled out
  • defend the universal service obligation from cherry picking in delivery competition
  • extend the inter-business agreement between Royal Mail and Post Office counters
  • extend the Parliamentary guarantee of the existing universal service obligation
  • and review whether competition is leading to a deteriorating terms and conditions for postal workers.

This is not re-nationalisation. But it’s a good package to defend our interests and support the immediate future of the industry. We will continue to press on the issue of re-nationalisation.

Overall, Labour’s manifesto commitments are going to be positive.

Doubtless some members and activists in the branch will play a direct role in the election. The national union will offer what support we can.

Tomorrow I will be in discussion with your branch officials about the unions drive to achieve “proportionality”. By this, we mean that we achieve a branch and national leadership that more closely represents the diversity of our membership.

The evidence is that women members and members from black and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in elected positions in the CWU.

Both the NEC and delegates at our Annual Conference have voted to ensure that particular obstacles women and black members face must be removed. So we are discussing with branches how we make the best progress on this.

It is easy to underestimate how diverse the membership is. Your branch has 115 women members out of a total of 645 members.

That’s about 18 percent, or put another way, nearly one in five branch members are women.

The percentage of members identified as black and minority ethnicity, or BAME for short, varies widely across the country. But we do want all members to let us know their ethnicity, so we can get an accurate picture.

At the moment only 349 of your branch members have given these details. Of these, seven are BAME, just two percent of branch members. That’s low – but presumably reflects the make-up of the communities in Cornwall.

For the sake of completeness – in your branch you have 46 young members, i.e. under the age of 30. That’s seven percent of the branch membership.

At the other end, your have 72 retired members –that is 11 percent of the branch membership.

We very much wish to engage young and retired members in union activity, and we have separate organisational support for them.

The more the union leadership reflects our diversity, the stronger the union is for all.

The problems that members face are not straightforward. We need to draw on the expertise and skill of them. Being a local rep is a tough job, and we need to value and support them.

They are the backbone of the union.

On January 26, it will be “twenty years ago today” that the CWU was founded. The two former unions, the National Communications Union and the Union of Communication Workers, merged to establish the CWU.

Looking back, I think we have much to be proud of.  We established a single union for all grades in the communications sector.

Previously two unions bargained with the same employer. That gave the employers endless chances to divide and rule.

Not any more, we’ve settled into a single union, with single bargaining and a single policy.  This has meant real benefits in securing positive deals for the membership.

It has also meant that we have been able to act more strongly, inside the TUC and inside the Labour Party.

Our reputation in these bodies is that we punch above our weight. The old saying is true, unity is strength.

As one union, we have been able to deal more strongly with industry regulators and the media. Neither of these are pushovers.

You need all the skills, expertise and professionalism possible. As one union the CWU has flourished.

Older activists will remember how difficult the first few years were. There were different expectations and traditions to meet.

But we got through the problems; we stopped fighting each other and started fighting as a team.

On this anniversary we must honour our past and build the future by keeping our union strong. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Letter in the Guardian: Workers must retain the right to strike

Workers must retain the right to strike

On the same day the government pledged to curb public-sector unions’ right to strike by introducing a 40% minimum vote threshold (Report, 10 January), it also pledged to cut the pay of health workers. This is no coincidence. The government fears strikes and knows that if it wasn’t for the unions and the right to strike there would be no barrier to moving millions of public-sector workers on to minimum-wage, zero-hour contracts. This government is out of touch. It believes that portraying unions as “the enemy within” will play well with the electorate. It could not have got this more wrong. There is more public support for unions today than there has been for many years. Especially when they take strike action to defend services and their members’ living conditions.

The public understands that working people need someone in their workplace who will stand between them and bullying managers. The hypocrisy of such attempts to further blunt the ability of unions to defend their members is not lost on the public. The same government that holds our pay down at 1%, while awarding itself 11%, unsurprisingly, doesn’t think voting thresholds should apply to it. If it were to apply a 40% threshold, then this government would not be in office. Once again the Tory-led coalition has one weapon: divide and rule. It blames migrants, people on benefits, public-sector workers and now trade unionists. We have four months to ensure that this government of class privilege is driven from office.

John McDonnell MP
Ronnie Draper
General secretary, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union
Sean Vernell & Jane Aitchison
Unite the Resistance
Ian Hodson
President, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union
Billy Hayes General secretary, Communication Workers Union

Posted in Letters |

Nov/Dec ’14 Voice column: Another Day

Slumped in the back of the cab, exhausted. Another day in the life of the union!

“I’ve picked you up before,” the driver said. “How’s life in the CWU?”

Taken by surprise, I replied: “It’s not called ‘the struggle’ for nothing.”

The driver went on to explain he was a CWU member and that he thought the union had done a great job. He added that his local CWU representative had just signed off a transformation of the duties in his office. It wasn’t perfect, but he was happy.

The experience made my day. Most of the time, as a union rep, you’re subjected to complaints about the union’s activities or claims that we’re somehow in the pockets of the political establishment, or even the bosses.

It’s understandable, given the pressures our people are subjected to. They vent their anger on their local rep or senior leaders within the union.

Holding leaders to account is in the CWU’s DNA. It makes our union strong. The wisdom of crowds is crucial to making the union increase its power and reach.

So, given the difficulties all CWU members face, why does one member react in a positive way while others become dispirited?

We live in difficult times for working people. Falling living standards and overt hostility to trade unions by many employers.

Strong workplace organisation and good reps are two of the ways in which we can fight back.

The union’s job is to deal with immediate matters but also to tackle the underlying issues.

Local representation is not just key but essential for the health of our union – and recognising the pressure that those reps are under is crucial. We need to be more mindful of this, and the CWU is currently reviewing the support it provides.

The recent Mandela film shows how, when he entered prison, Nelson made a small and seemingly innocuous demand for short trousers for the prisoners, which was eventually won. He built solidarity with his fellow prisoners and showed them to take little steps at first. Small successes matter.

In exactly the same way, CWU members across the country need to have the immediate issues of concern addressed in their workplaces.

Sometimes the CWU isn’t successful because of constraints around the context of the problems we face.

Our strategy has to be building a perspective that involves short-term success, followed by medium-term and long-term strategies.

The CWU has a good record on both. Our job is to continue to build strong workplaces while having a broad strategy – to think globally, but act locally.


Talk doesn’t cook rice.

Chinese proverb

Posted in Columns |

Speech: ULR Networking event, Belfast

I’m delighted to be here in Belfast for this the CWU’s 11th National ULR Networking Event.

And how appropriate that, with Martyn Lynch, David Kendall of the Reading Agency and the launch of the “My Family, My Town” book, we find ourselves discussing the power of language.

We’ve all sat in meetings where so-called experts in management, economics and social science talk in a language of their own.

This year has seen the publication of books from our own Norman Candy and Phil Chadwick which between them tell the story of postal workers as it was lived from 1839 to the present day.

That’s important because despite what the history curriculum might say, working class voices are as valid as anyone’s. Working class writers, poets and song smiths expressing themselves, making their voices heard.

And despite what the papers would have you believe, young people are at the heart of that as much as ever. There are poetry slams and rap battles in every town.

But in every age group we should be seeing an explosion of self-expression. Blogs and online self-publishing makes it easier than ever to get your ideas out there.

You can even create your own TV channel – if you have the IT skills.

Learning and education can’t be reduced to being about being work-related or hobby-related (as Margaret Thatcher, then Education Secretary, famously dismissed the Open University as being about the hobbies of housewives).

People are more than their job – so the skills they learn ripple out to affect every aspect of their lives – and the lives of the people they come into contact with.

A 20-year international study by the University of Nevada identified that having books in the home has as much influence on a child’s education as having university educated parents.

That’s why our work with the Reading Agency is so important in helping to break the inter-generational cycle of educational disadvantage, which has been identified, not just by theorists on the left such as Pierre Bourdieu but has been repeatedly proven by academic reports and even Government reports.

The recent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study found public school old boys and Oxbridge graduates massively over-represented from board room to parliament to the courts and senior ranks in the military.

And, just last week a report published in the British Journal of Sociology showed that social mobility has not just stalled but is actually going backwards, there is plenty for us to do.

This is the terrain that ULRs fight on.

Because the establishment has a nasty habit of blames the victims of inequality rather than addressing the causes.

So we find that the poor are to blame for their own under-employment, their own ill health, their own inability to find the extortionate rents driven by the property bubble.

They are prevented from accessing education by ever increasing fees (which can see the cost of a degree now reaching £27,000) and the closure of libraries (which the Library Campaign calculates will have reached 1,000 closures by 2016) and the cuts in museum funding (the Museums Association predict that by 2016 national museums may have had their government funding cut by almost 30%.)

Then employers blame the workers for lacking skills, lacking motivation and even being lazy. They should try swapping places and see how superior they feel then!

It’s ironic that we currently live in a society that supposes itself to be superior, not just to nature but to other people of the world, primarily based on the knowledge and culture that politicians try and appropriate as a product of specifically British values.

Increasingly, anthropologists and biologists identify culture as an engine of human evolution.

Yet in Britain our society narrows participation, effectively narrowing the intellectual gene pool to an ever more distant elite, who often gain their wealth on short term speculation rather than long-term development.

This is not just a personal tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for us all.

Our civilisation faces massive challenges that require us to draw on all of our collective skills and imaginations – not abandon education and knowledge to corporate self-interest.

Right now, the cure to cancer, the production of clean energy or solutions to any number of other world issues could be fading away in the mind of a disheartened child in an under-resourced school, who has already resigned themselves to never being able to afford a university education.

We are not satisfied to see our comrades disadvantaged, our progress stifled by the marketisation of education.

We are out there negotiating free and affordable courses for our members and their families.

Be they tutor-led, formally accredited, informal or online, our ULRs have maintained learner numbers at over 6,000 per year at a time of an ideologically driven assault on education.

Our interventions promise benefits not just for this generation but for those that follow.

The future is unwritten lets write it.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Unite the Resistance Conference

Session – “How can we beat the austerity agenda?”

The prime objective of austerity is to place the burden of the economic crisis upon the working class. It involves a transfer of wealth from the poorer to the wealthy.

Living standards for the vast majority have fallen since 2008.  Meanwhile the richest 1% have grown wealthier.

The crisis of 2008 was above all a failure of private markets.  Economic activity fell because profitable outlets for investment had been reduced. Those outlets which remained became very speculative – such as the financialisation of mortgage debts.

Even now, critical market conditions remain largely in place.

The Office of National Statistics found that at the end of 2013 there was a hoard of £501.9 billion un-invested cash built up by private firms in the UK.

This is because these firms prefer the steady interest rates return instead of productive investment.

Presumably these people are just waiting for wages for plummet further before moving their capital.

To address this, requires a good deal of political will from an incoming government.

But it is through investment that the economy will achieve genuine growth again.

What we are must aim for is a recovery based on rising wages and benefits, and the creation of good jobs.

This week, the TUC found that only 1 in 40 jobs created since 2008 have been full-time.  The market is not correcting itself.

We need public investment by the government – or government direction of private capital from bank funds.

This investment also has an impact on the public spending deficit.

Increasing economic activity allows government spending on unemployment to naturally fall, and increases revenue to the government as tax is paid from the newly employed.

The result is clear.  Investment expands the economy, raises living standards, and reduces the public deficit over the investment cycle.

Even the IMF is beginning to promote this in their recent report on infrastructure investment.

The IMF found that between 2015 and 2023, a one percent of GDP increase in infrastructure investment would raise GDP 2.8 percent and reduce government debt by 1.75 percent.

Now, I’m not expecting an incoming Labour government to race down this path.

The leadership’s stated goal is to maintain Tory spending plans for two years and achieve a budget surplus by the end of the parliamentary term.

If adhered to, this will not expand the economy, raise living standards or close the deficit. No more than Osborne has been able to do with similar policies.

So, I believe we must popularise the alternative in order to have the prospect of having a government that is prepared to carry it out.

As activists, we have the responsibility to seek broad-based, united actions against the impact of austerity.

This means action on issues from the freeze on public sector pay to the defence of the Independent Living Fund for people with disabilities.

We therefore need alliances which are broader than just the unions. We have to connect with local communities; and with every social group who are being assaulted by austerity.

Unite the Resistance can play its part here – particularly in arguing for the unions to see the need for this wider unity.

The obstacle to this unity is not simply the Westminster consensus on austerity.

It is also the reactionary social programme which follows the adoption of austerity.

If you’re going to cut the benefits of the disabled, you have to convince those without disabilities that the disabled can do without.

If you are going to cut unemployment benefits then you have to convince the employed that this will resolve unemployment.

If you going to lower wages, you have to convince a large number of workers that they are in competition for declining wages because of migrant labour.

Hence, all the bigotry that is being spewed out by the media, opinion formers, and main-stream politicians.

If we want to defeat austerity, we also have to make the essential arguments in defence of the rights of the disabled, the unemployed and migrant workers.

This is becoming especially important given the growth in UKIP. They are Powellism for the 21st-century.

They are just as racist as Enoch Powell, but today this has to be presented in a more coded language.

Decades of antiracist work has influenced what may be said or not said in contemporary politics.

But UKIP’s blaming of immigrants and hostility to the EU is fuelled by racist scapegoating. Every so often the mask slips – as in Mike Read’s poisonous ditty.

Their supporters are being driven to the right in the panic of those facing greater insecurity.

These are people who despair of answers, and are looking for someone to blame.

Nigel Farage is not going to blame his mates in the finance industry, or the capitalists sitting on cash piles. No, he’s going to blame immigrants, legal and illegal.

Perhaps it is natural for Tories to lean in this direction.  But there is no reason for Labour leaders to bend towards this muck.

Let’s be clear. We must stand up to UKIP. We must oppose racism and defend our multicultural society.

Now, things are difficult in Britain and the EU.

The biggest parties opposing austerity are becoming more popular, such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos and the left in Spain, and Sinn Fein in Ireland.

But even in these cases, we are talking about the growth of minority parties.  In Britain we are a long way from such developments. Austerity still has its claws in all the major parties.

We are in a defensive position. We must hold the line where we can, and elaborate an alternative.

I believe that we are going to have a Labour Government in May.  All the major polls of the marginals point in this direction.

I also believe that the Labour Government will begin by strongly defending austerity policies.

But I think this can be changed when enough people take part in united action against austerity.

Today’s conference is one arena for us to debate out the work ahead. I congratulate Unite the Resistance on pulling this together.

We need many such events, if we are to overcome austerity.

I’m convinced that united action lays the basis for a progressive alternative to austerity. Together, we will win. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Disability Conference, Leeds

I am privileged to be able to address you today. The work of disability activists within the CWU is essential to the future of this union.

From your activity, and through your eyes, the problems facing disabled workers become clear and can be addressed.

The whole union needs to bear in mind the slogan of the disabled people’s movement- “Nothing about us without us”

Your struggle for inclusion and equality is needed now more than ever.

Opposition to the Coalition Government austerity policy is well founded. It has deepened economic stagnation. It has widened the inequalities within our society. It has resulted in deteriorating public services and rising poverty.

And, it hasn’t even ended the public spending deficit that was supposed to be its key target.

Yet, despite everything that has been said and written, it is still astonishing the degree to which austerity has become a war upon disabled people.

11.5 million people in the UK are covered by the disability premises set out in the Equality Act.

According to the “Inclusion London” organisation, disabled people lose nine times more than other people under the Coalition’s austerity measures.

Indeed, the nature of the assault upon disabled people has created a unique achievement for this government.

In August, we learnt that the UK has become the first country to face a high-level enquiry by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This enquiry will investigate the potential “grave or systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people by a country signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Now, the enquiry proceedings are confidential. The enquiry is also unlikely to report before the General Election. Both of these restrictions are a great pity – the Coalition Government needs public exposure in a timely manner.

But, we should take this development as a spur to step up the work we are doing – our arguments are beginning to register.

Let’s take the issue of Work Capability Assessment, as an illustration.  Even the governments own research demonstrates that it is employers’ attitudes that prevent disabled people from being employed.

Still the government insists that it is disabled people who are the problem.

By ignoring the facts, the government is violating the human rights of disabled people.

Between January and November 2011, 10,600 WCA claims were ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks.

This is an incredible figure.  No wonder the Department of Work and Pensions stopped publishing this particular statistic.

Or take a single piece of research published by the Northeast Region of Unite. This found that in 2013, in their region, 28,702 unemployed disabled people with were refused Employment and Support Allowance – the replacement for Incapacity Benefit.

Where the claimants appealed against the Atos assessment – 90 percent won their appeals.

The misery inflicted upon unemployed disabled people is glossed over as the government says it terminated Atos’s contract because “significant quality failures”. Management speak to hide vile actions.

Equally, the closure of Independent Living Fund is assault upon disabled people with the most profound needs for support.

18,000 severely disabled people have been helped by this Fund to maintain a greater degree of control over their lives.

With it removed these people now either become trapped inside their houses, unable to work, or be forced into residential care.

The DWP, reluctantly, and belatedly, carried out an impact assessment on the abolition of the Independent Living Fund.

If found that the impact of the closure of the Fund upon disabled people would be severe. But, it announced the closure anyway.

Such vicious actions are the less publicised side of the Coalition’s austerity policy.  But we can find ways to respond to these outrages.

One contribution you can make on this issue is to make sure your MP signS EDM113 which opposes the Fund’s closure.

And remember, this is a government that refuses to dispense with the services of Lord Freud.

He, who suggested that some disabled people aren’t worth the minimum wage. He, who wants to consider a two pound an hour wage rate.

No wonder hate crimes against the disabled are increasing. The Crime Survey showed 62,000 disability hate crimes in 2012/13.  Only 1,800 of these were reported.

The facts and figures on hate crimes are atrocious. I’ll just give you a couple from the Disability Hate Crime organisation:

  • 90% of those with learning difficulties say they have been bullied or harassed in the previous year.
  • 20% of people with learning disabilities have experienced being attacked every week or more.

NACRO discovered that people who were disabled were four times more likely to be violently attacked in comparison to the non-disabled.

And in these times of cuts to Legal Aid and the introduction of Tribunal fees, justice is harder to achieve.

I have not mentioned the 30% gap in employment rates, nor the Bedroom Tax.  This litany of outrages becomes exhausting.

We have a chance to get rid of the authors of these policies next May. That is some small comfort, and a stimulus for our activity in these next few months.

As you know, the national leadership is making a big focus on achieving proportionality in the leadership of the union, of both the national and local levels.

Since the Branch Forum in January, we have been pushing this forward. Certainly, CWU Annual Conference gave a big boost, with a raft of equalities resolutions carried.

Although the immediate priority is to ensure better proportionate representation of women and black and minority ethnic members, we are also charged with improving the unions work for members with disabilities.

One change from Conference I want to draw your attention to is the new rule under which Branches have to ensure that sufficient funds are made available for participation in the Equality Conferences.

I hope that you will check that this has been discussed in your branch committee. Our aim is to double the size of this, and the other equality conferences in the next few years.

Our monitoring figures for members with disabilities are very poor.  Any suggestions on how these can be improved will certainly be considered by the leadership.

There are many challenges facing members with disabilities, both inside and outside the workplace. It is vital that the union develops a more rounded, active approach to confronting these challenges.

Your work today, and throughout the year, helps to light the way to a better union for all.

Good luck with your debates and decisions. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Greek Postal Congress, Rhodes

I want to thank you for the privilege of addressing your conference.

These past few years we have watched with great concern the struggle of the people in Greece to deal with austerity.

Many people in the labour movement in Britain have been inspired by your defence of your basic rights and living standards.

I bring you best wishes from the CWU in this continuing fight.

The CWU in Britain has been campaigning against privatisation since the early 1990’s.

During this period, the CWU’s campaign has resulted in the defeat of 2 Parliamentary Bills in 1994 and 2009; the defeat of a management lobby for privatisation from 2004 – 2007; and the failure of other less public attempts to privatise the industry.

Last year, the Conservative-led Coalition Government succeeded in selling 60 percent of Royal Mail on the London Stock Exchange.

Obviously this was a great disappointment.

The union had been on campaign alert when the Coalition was elected in 2010.

Following a Government announcement, we commenced our campaign from 2011, which ran the Government very close.

The Government majority in Parliament proved too strong for the union to defeat the 2011 Act authorising a sale – they had a majority of 85 at the time.

But the strength of our campaign threatened to wreck the sale.

In 2013, we were utilising three main tactics:

  • continuing to engage with the government,
  • organising a political campaign against any sale
  • negotiating with the employer to secure protection for postal workers in the event of a sale.

We were meeting with government ministers regularly.  There were few concessions, but it did allow us to understand the issues better. This in turn allowed us to sharpen up our anti-privatisation work.

Our political campaign involved some distinct tactics.

We became part of an alliance of organisations in the “Save Our Royal Mail” campaign.

They could present the arguments free from the accusation that the union faced of being a “vested interest”.

At the same time the union took its independent political initiatives.  This was particularly true inside the Labour Party.

As the official Opposition to the Coalition Government, Labour could raise matters before a wide audience and really press the government.

So we discussed many tactics and policies which wouldn’t stop privatisation, but could secure the industry, and our members, in the event of privatisation.

This approach came to a head when we put forward a motion to Labour’s Annual Conference that an incoming Labour Government should renationalise Royal Mail in the event of a sale being carried through.

This was carried unanimously by delegates.

This position wasn’t supported by the Labour leadership, which didn’t come as a surprise to us.

At the same time, we were trying to negotiate a new pay and staffing agreement.

In order to carry this through, we had to organise a strike ballot. After an intense campaign, the membership voted for strike action with a 78% majority on a 64% turnout.

With this result management began to negotiate very seriously. The result also seriously rattled the Government. They could see a dangerous combination of our political initiatives alongside a campaign of strike action.

The Government therefore took the gamble, rather than risk them missing the tight timescale it had to set for privatisation.

On 11th October 2013, the shares were sold below their value.

The sale achieved £1.98 billion. The market immediately understood the shares were cheap and valued them at over £3 billion.

The scandal around this has continued for some time.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office revealed that the Government sales strategy had failed in a number of ways.

These included:

  • the shares were sold nearly half their real value
  • investors that the Government had given priority to as long-term investors sold off shares within weeks at a huge profit
  • financial advisers to the Government did not defend the interests of the general taxpayers in the country.

So, even though successfully selling the company, the Government still paid a price for their unpopular policy.

We had hoped that a combination of political campaigns and a strike would defeat the sale. But this could not overcome the market’s rush for cheap assets.  The sale was oversubscribed 25 times.

Once the sale went through, Management were keen to settle down industrial relations.

Consequently, they made major concessions and came to an agreement with the union.

The agreement was very innovative – giving the workforce legal guarantees on its existing terms.  The agreement includes:

  • a 9.8% increase in pay over a three-year period
  • guarantees against outsourcing, selling or transferring any part of the business
  • no franchising out any part of the business
  • no introduction of self-employment
  • no two-tier workforce – new employees take up same conditions as established staff
  • existing staffing agreements maintained – only to be amended by agreement
  • no compulsory redundancies
  • employment model to remain primarily full-time
  • no zero hour contracts and…
  • a variety of guarantees on other benefits, including pensions, expanding the industry and the governance of the industry.

The legal protections are extended to the time of the first review in January 2019.

This agreement was carried by a 94 percent “yes” vote one in the members’ ballot. This was an extraordinary result for a complex major agreement and shows how strong it is.

Overall, our assessment is that the agreement does not solve all our problems – but it gives us an excellent platform from which we can defend the workforce in a privatised company.

Before finishing, I want to make some remarks about our defensive tactics in the run up to privatisation.

Privatisation separated the Royal Mail from the Post Office Counters, which remains a publicly owned company.

Post Office Counters is simply the local post offices, and their administrative centre.

It is loss-making service and receives a government subsidy to maintain the network of 11,500 branches.

In the run-up to privatisation, we campaigned hard to get a long-term commitment for Royal Mail to use Post Office Counters for its services.

Our concern was that a privatised Royal Mail would prefer to use commercial retail chains, rather than the publicly owned post offices.

Through a great deal of political campaigning, we got a 10 year contract to guarantee Royal Mail use of Post Office Counters. This runs until 2022. We will be looking to extend this when, as is likely, Labour is returned to government in 2015.

We also fought hard to ensure that the existing provisions of the universal service in the UK are not subject to an easy change by government, or management.

We have a six-day delivery service and a uniform tariff – even though these are not in the EU directive.

Again through our political campaigning, we got a commitment that the universal service could only be changed by an act of Parliament. We are considering how to further strengthen this in 2015.

Such defensive tactics are not a substitute, or a diversion, in the fight against privatisation.

These, and other safeguards we secured, mean that conditions in the industry for the workforce, and services for customers remain on a high level. This is better than if we’d simply accepted the market will now dominate all the functions and outlook of the industry.

Following hard on the heels of privatisation, we are now having to address the problem of delivery competition to Royal Mail.

Since 2004, we have been addressing the issue of competition in access mail. At that time, the regulator rigged the market, which resulted in Royal Mail subsidising competitors who had access to its network.

By long-term pressure we got some relief on this, but it took around five years work.

We now face similar problems with deliveries. The regulator is refusing to act while a competitor is selecting profitable areas in cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester within which to organise a delivery service.

The competitor – TNT – delivers three days a week, pays its staff the minimum wage rate, and hires on zero hour contracts.

We are engaged in a political campaign to press the regulator for measures which ensure that Royal Mail continues to be able to fund the universal service.  So we are raising questions like:

  • a cap on competition
  • customer protection which forces competitors to publish details of their quality of service
  • a living wage in the sector for all postal workers.

Doubtless this is going to be a difficult campaign – but we will press hard because that is what our members and the public need.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |