Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Trade unions together fringe "A bit of common sense: Winning for ordinary people" #Lab14

This was my first fringe of Conference which took place on the Sunday lunchtime. The speakers were Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the  GMB, Louise Haigh PPC, Chair Byron Taylor TULO, Lisa Nandy MP Shadow Minister for Cabinet Office and Joanne Hepworth, Npower workplace rep.

This was a packed out fringe with standing room only at the back of the room. Paul spoke first and pointed out that the Scotland referendum shows people are interested in politics. What he wants is Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, to not be radical but normal. Normal people go to work and should not be in fear. It is not normal for rich bosses to be earning a fortune, while the state subsidises their low paid workers and then they go off to fiddle their taxes!

Louise talked about the economy and the need to question what type of economy we want? There was not a global crisis because we paid teachers too much. We need to drive down tax avoidance and drive up wages. The lowest paid spend more of their income which drives growth. She used to work in the City. We need to change the financial system.  We need to dismantle banks and restructure them. Tax high frequency trading. Get worker representative's on company boards.

Joanne believed that we need to get young workers involved in the union movement by listening. She first needed a union after being issued with first written warning for being sick following a serious car accident. She was suspended in the Npower call centre for putting the phone down on an abusive customer. Luckily she knew she had rights and fought the decision with her union and won.

Last speaker was the always very good, Lisa Nandy MP, who wanted to restore common sense in Westminster. To do that we need more women.  Not only Parliament since she recently shared a question panel with 3 men who were all called Simon.

She spends too much time in Parliament and should instead spend more time in her Consistency in Wigan. How can we have diversity in politics since there are currently 18 millionaires in the Cabinet? We need people in Parliament who actually "get it". Trade unions use to be this route and it is good they are doing this again.

The media is controlled by small handful of wealthy men so no wonder the issues of low paid women are never there. She was born and loves being in Manchester but half of its children live in poverty. The Conference is taking place at the site of the Peterloo Massacre. Politics is not just about a seat on the table but about changing society.

I asked the panel a question that I remember hearing on the radio, when a German historian said "Why is it that in Germany the trade unions are seen as partners you can do business with but in the UK they are seen as the enemy? How do we change this?

Paul responded by saying he was not a great fan of the German model. A Partnership needs to be equal. Otherwise there is no respect for labour. Germany has its own problems and its traditional model is falling to pieces and they actually want to be a bit more like us.

Lisa said she was born in 1979. She didn't know what had happened before but in every job she ever had the solution to problems at work is trade unions.

Louise said she doesn't believe in importing other models to the UK and that in Germany there was less union membership. She also said that Labour must change the way it selects candidates. She had to spend 2 months of her life working 16 hour days to be selected as a PPC. Only "professional" candidates can afford to do this.

Paul made a great typical "telling it as it is" last comment by saying the union movement must take its share of the blame for the lack of working class trade unionists selected as prospective Labour MPs in recent years.  Things are much better now but our fault is that for a long time we just said what "great organisers we were" when actually we were being out organised left, right and centre by Progress and others.
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