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General Secretary Congress Address

Monday, June 9, 2014

This is the text of speech by Paul Kenny GMB speech to GMB Congress 2014 in Nottingham 9th June.

General Secretary’s speech
I have the wonderful honour of speaking to congress in the role of general secretary for this, the 10th time.
My first was in Newcastle where we pledged to return our union to the values from which it was born.
In the years between Newcastle and here in Nottingham we have much to be proud of.
Our campaigns have changed outcomes in areas like residential care, private equity, banker’s bonuses, living wage and many more, from tied pubs to the great private landlord rip-off, and much is planned for the year ahead.
At that Newcastle Congress i made clear our reborn union would do what it was intended to do – campaign – fight bad employers and those who denied our members recognition and bargaining rights.
We said we would start with the (A’s and move through the alphabet).
 
ASDA and the AA – it has been tough but GMB doesn’t run away – GMB sticks.
 
Asda
•        Organising/led to national collective bargaining agreement in distribution, which we signed 2 years ago.
•        This was a first for ASDA/Walmart anywhere in the world
•        Now we have signed an agreement with ASDA to deliver a full recognition and collective bargaining agreement for stores by the time congress meets again.
•        This forms the largest private sector agreement signed in 50 years
•        When completed, it will cover 200,000 workers
•        Its been a long hard slog
•        A relationship education for Walmart
•        A huge achievement, but still a lot to do to close the book.
 
 
AA
•    An organisation which de-recognised the GMB in collaboration with a quisling staff group who conspired with the employer to smash our organisation and help the employer remove the protection GMB had spent years building for the employees
•    They took away our facilities
•    They took away our check-off
•    They refused to meet us
•    Our membership fell – GMB southern did not buckle, we set about re-building and fighting.

I want to introduce:
•    Robert Devine, who is better equipped than me to update you on progress
•    Thanks to all our activists/members at Asda and the AA for the efforts they have made to date and for what is to come.
 
I cannot let this event go by without spending a few minutes on the continuing scandal of blacklisting.
 
Blacklist support group Dave Smith spoke at our congress last year.
 
GMB produced the map of where the 2,300 people who were blacklisted by the construction employer’s live. Justin Bowden has done an incredible job and our thanks go to him and the GMB team who have pushed this scandal into the public spotlight.
 
We have always known that trade unionists who dare to speak up for their work colleagues on pay, health & safety  and working conditions were targets – we knew it, but never until these cases have we had the evidence to prove it.
 
How employers, police, security and politicians ignored the law and all the rules of a decent society to stop working people organising for a better life.
 
We have driven the information commission to do what is says on the tin; they, the ICO, have been foot-dragging reluctant partners in the battle to expose this scandal.
 
And much more is yet to come.

GMB is the first union to file court cases, and they will be interesting to say the least.
But with real breakthroughs possible in state accountability within our grasp in long-standing campaigns, from the Shrewsbury pickets to Hillsborough, now is not the time for easing up, oh no.
 
Now is the time to push harder.
 
The public’s trust in those four old cornerstones of society:
•        The bank manager
•        Politicians
•        The media
•        The legal system

Has been rocked by the scandals and lies and abuses of power, from bankers to media moguls, from politicians to senior police officers.
 
We have seen unfold before us in recent years their greedy bootfilling antic’s finally laid bare for all to see.
 
We have a right to expect better. The British people have a right to expect better. Is it any wonder so many are disillusioned with politics and politicians?
 
Who gets our vote or our apathy impacts on every aspect of our lives. What type of education young people get. What health care, transport, work, pay, equality, housing, who we go to war with and why?!
 
Our environment and who gets the benefit of our planets natural resources. Cant be bothered to vote? Then you are accepting you and your family will always lose out.
In the way we promised as a union we would tackle bad employers.
 
A few years ago we drew up a new political battle plan and we have been carrying this plan out.
First – get more GMB members who had real life skills and work experience into government at all levels.
Our members, real people selected for Westminster seats.
 
And we have been successful.
 
We have never felt the need to shout it from the rooftops or leak it to the press to show how tough or good we were.
In fact, where i and many of you grew up, if you had to walk about telling people how tough you were – you really weren’t.
 
Helping candidates get selected is one thing, helping them to win is another.
 
And again, without fuss, without the need to preen ourselves, we have just got on with it.
 
The vision we had of changing the makeup, knowledge and political desires of the labour party in the House of Commons, lies within our grasp.
 
Let me just give a couple of examples.
 
First – Peterborough. Lisa Forbes, a real person – a mother, no silver spoon, lifestyle good – solid – GMB. If any journalist cared to ask Lisa how much her weekly shopping bill was she could answer to the penny.
Because like so many in our country, she has had to stretch every penny at home to feed and clothe her family.
 
And recently, 150 GMB members from London and midland’s region turned up to help leaflet and canvass in Peterborough.
When Dennis Skinner arrived he said
They say trade unions are dead, well the GMB is alive, kicking and get what it says done”.
 
And just to mention one person as an example of the army of GMB members now getting off anger pots and onto the knockers again, can i mention Dean Gilligan, London Region.
A typical workplace rep, who fought hard for his members in the workplace, of course he did, but has blossomed into first a community campaigner for things like the NHS, to standing as a local councillor in the recent elections in Harrow in London.
Dean didn’t win a seat, but he and the team he encouraged to get active raised the labour vote by 1,000 and gave the sitting Tory councillor the fright of their life.
 
Or in Yorkshire, where with the support of the region 7 out of the 8 seats seeking candidates chose a GMB member.
 
Or in Islington Council in London, whose radical agenda over the last few years on everything from bringing services back under public control to re-introducing free services again for the young and the over 60’s, and a council which votes never to give a contract to blacklisters.
 
Islington labour swept back into power with a landslide by not just having a radical manifesto but delivering it.
 
And on a slightly lighter note Andy Newman,  Swindon branch in the  Southern region, spoke at congress 2 years ago about the party within a party called “progress”.
 
Much Sainsbury’s cash has flowed under their bridge since then but recently they decided to drop any references to “new labour” from their self-description.
 
So now it’s official.
 
The relatives have identified the body and officially declared it expired years after the rest of the country. But none the less another sign of progress at progress.
 
I want to mention the euro elections and  UKIP. I don’t subscribe to the view that UKIP just gets its support from racist voters; it does not.
Whilst it may be a slightly upmarket and more respectable vehicle than the bnp for such people to cast their vote or expound their views, i am afraid there are more fundamental problems about Europe that we have to face up to.
 
Whatever the European vision was on integration, harmony, economic advancement and political stability, what we currently have isn’t it.
 
The balance of free movement of labour and the single market were to be balanced by the social charter where all the people of Europe would live in freedom and with those in the poorer economies, benefitting from the harmonisation of standards across all member states.
 
Workers protection, TUPE, excessive hours, health & safety, information and consultation and so many others were meant to keep the power of labour exploitation in check.
 
That dream has been chipped away at for years.
 
And right wing governments and employer’s who want to suppress employment rights and established agreements on pay have engineered massive change in the direction of the eu vision.
Judgements in the European Courts like Viking-Laval were the green light to massive assaults on organised labour  across Europe, but especially in the UK.
 
From Lyndsey Oil refinery to food production, we have seen workers recruited in certain member states by agency’s and exploited.
Shipped in “literally” in order to undermine the terms and conditions of existing workers on those contracts.
 
Exploitation – don’t blame the exploited; damn those who exploit. This has been repeated up and down the country over recent years. And that is part of the discontent that UKIP turn into xenophobic rhetoric to win votes. So please look past the simplistic tag and face the challenge of exploitation.
Lets reach out to those migrant workers not to attack them, but to organise and protect.
I end with a simplistic but heartfelt plea to labour: if you really want to win in 2015, to get back those millions of votes lost, then speak to the people in the language and currency we understand, and do it with passion.
•        Britain does need a pay rise;
•        People need homes;
•        Rents need capping;
•        Housing benefit should be renamed “corporate welfare”
•        Stop landlords off-shoring tax payments, money and avoiding tax on the profits;
•        Bricks before landlords profits;
•        Support and deliver a “workplace without fear”
•        Stop the privatisation of our health service;
•        Give control of our water industry back to the people
•        Give people the right to vote on whether rail franchises carry on lining the pockets of private sector companies or come back under democratic control;
•        Outlaw bogus self employment and zero hours contracts;
•        Give the people a national care service, built on the principles of care, not the dogma of the workhouse;
•        An education system for all – not a feeder for Eton;
•        Give us back our vision of hope, for a better secure life;
•        Not as a cliché, but with passion from the heart;
•        Kiss the badge;
•        Don’t be ashamed of being radical; rejoice in it
 
Be proud, and you can make us proud.

 

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