Paul Kenny Warns Employers And Cameron That EU Without Social Rights Will Lead To GMB No Vote In Referendum To Stay In EU
If employers want exploitation and if they think that we are going to line up with them on an agenda that just gives a Yes vote to stay in the EU on that sort of sweatshop Britain, then I am telling you they have a fight on their hands Paul Kenny tells Congress
Paul Kenny GMB General Secretary made an address to GMB Congress in Plymouth today 4th June 2013. See text of speech in notes to editors.
Paul Kenny said “Well, let us be clear, many trade unionists were wary, or even hostile, to becoming part of the EU but we went with it. Our union, the GMB, embraced the European process.
But let’s be clear, and let the trades union movement be clear, with no social agenda, no social advancement, if Cameron thinks that this union will campaign for a Yes vote without a Social Chapter, then he is wrong. No social rights mean a No vote from me and I guess it is going to mean a No vote from you. (Applause)
Let Cameron and the CBI, and the employers associations understand that if they want to benefit from free trade but they do not want to accept any of their responsibilities, if they want exploitation, and if they think that we are going to line up with them on an agenda that just gives a Yes vote to stay in the EU on that sort of sweatshop Britain, then I am telling you they have a fight on their hands.
We are not going to stand by and just allow Cameron, and any government, to sign away the obligations of a social agenda as part of the whole EU agreement. We are not going to stand for it.”
Contact: Kathleen Walker 07841 181 549 Kamaljeet Jandu 07956 237 178 or GMB press office 07921 289880
Notes to Editors
Text of speech by Paul Kenny 4th June
THE GENERAL SECRETARY: Congress, President, I commend the General Secretary’s Report to Congress and I wish delegates particularly to note the introduction on page 3 of the General Secretary’s Report, which, although it was written during the snowy weeks of early spring, confidently, confidently, predicted that this week in Plymouth would be sunny. And who said we are not optimists?
Emma, can I just say thank you. You got to Westminster and the first thing you wanted to do was get on a train down here and come and meet and be with your fellow activists, your fellow trade union members, and we are very proud of your election. We are incredibly proud of you and we look forward to the day when you will be amongst dozens and dozens and dozens of other working class MPs who have had experience of life and who will change the face of this country. Thank you very much, Emma. It is a brilliant start. (Applause)
I was going to go through a bit but I just can’t help it, I just can’t help this bit, I have got to actually start, really, by talking about David Cameron. I hate to do this, you know. David Cameron, what can I say? Now you know what an Eton Mess really looks like! (Laughter) At a time when you have Accident & Emergency Units closing, waiting times going through the roof, another Tory MP caught with his hands in the till, youth unemployment going through the roof still, what does David Cameron put at the top of the agenda, attacking trade unions and attacking working people’s representation. That gives you all a clue about what the Tories have an interest in. (Applause)
Most of you who have been here before know I like to put a little bit of humour into my speech, which is why I wore this particular suit today. I want to tell you a little story to start off with. David Cameron was out riding with Rebekah Brookes, the News of the World, some remember that? They were out riding. They were jogging along on their horses in Rotten Row. Where else would they go? A good friend of mine, Jim Hiom, from the London Region, bless him, there he is, he was riding his nice new shiny bike right alongside Cameron. Cameron looked down at him with a bit of a snarly old lip, and said to Jim, “Did Father Christmas give you that bike for Christmas?” “Yes,” said Jim. “Well, he should have given you the sense to ride it properly as well,” said Cameron. So Jim looked up at Cameron and he rubbed his chin and he said, “Did Father Christmas give you that horse for Christmas?” “Yes,” said Cameron. “Well,” said Jim, “Father Christmas should have known that the arsehole went at the back, not on the saddle.” (Laughter) At least I am told that is what happened.
Can I just spend another moment on Cameron? I am not going to spend too much time on him but he juggles with our future, he plays games with our future, because he has a bunch of rabid, swivel-eyed — I mean, that is the most sane of them — backbenchers and they are in a sense real little Englanders most of them. They hanker for or just dream about a world that does not exist any more but where they would like to take us back to.
He reacts to Ukip. Do not underestimate Ukip, they are dangerous. Don’t think they are not. Do not underestimate their message of division or their appeal to millions who are, frankly, hacked off with mainstream parties and the lack of hope so many politicians offer.
On Europe itself, membership of the EU has brought benefits at a time when employment rights were under attack and pretty much under attack from previous Tory governments. TUPE working time as well as Health and Safety laws were coming from Brussels, they were not coming from Westminster. Make no mistake about it either, if the Tories could scrap all of them they would.
That brings me to the Referendum. I think there will be one because all parties, effectively, will be drawn in to that argument. What Cameron seeks is a Euro life membership of the EU, all the benefits for the bosses without any of the responsibilities for the social agenda, free movement and exploitation of labour, free markets for businesses and multinationals, and opt-out from the social agenda, and opt-out from all social employment protection, making Britain a sort of free port trading area, sweatshop Britain, low ages, lack of rights, a land of exploitation.
Well, let us be clear, many trade unionists were wary, or even hostile, to becoming part of the EU but we went with it. Our union, the GMB, embraced the European process. We were the first union to open an office in Brussels and Kathleen Walker Shaw has engaged, and we have benefited from that engagement. But let’s be clear, and let the trades union Movement be clear, with no social agenda, no social advancement, if Cameron thinks that this union will campaign for a Yes vote without a Social Chapter, then he is wrong. No social rights mean a No vote from me and I guess it is going to mean a No vote from you. (Applause)
Let Cameron and let the CBI, and the employers associations, understand that if they want to benefit from free trade but they do not want to accept any of their responsibilities, they want exploitation, and if they think that we are going to line up with them on an agenda that just gives a Yes vote to stay in the EU on that sort of sweatshop Britain, then I am telling you they have a fight on their hands. We are not going to stand by and just allow Cameron, and any government, to sign away the obligations of a social agenda as part of the whole EU agreement. We are not going to stand for it.
Mary, I just want to say a few words about the National Office. I want to mention the Pensions Department lost Naomi Cooke, who left to become Acting General Secretary of the FDA, which is known as the First Division Association Trade Union. Whilst I want to thank Naomi for all the work she did, the public sectors workers know she did a huge amount of work in the pensions dispute, I have to say to her, I think that going from a premier league union to a first division association is a downward step. (Laughter)
Anyway, I want also to thank publicly Phil McAvoy for picking up the reins and doing a great job.
I wish to bring congress’s attention to the outstanding work done by Bob Crosby and organising colleagues, who last summer during the Olympics recruited over 8,000 members, the most successful trade union organisation of any Olympic Games in history. It was a fantastic achievement. Well done, Bob and Holly. (Applause)
In fact, I will let you into not a well kept secret — we recruited more people in G4S than turned up for work. (Laughter)
There is also the outstanding work of our Health and Safety and Environment Department, Communications and Media, our Political Department, and our Legal Department.
President, I also want to tank all the officers, staff, and branch officers who help bring about another year of membership and financial growth for the GMB, eight straight years of membership growth after decades of decline. The secret, eight or nine years ago now we stopped moaning and we started fighting again. I am going to remind delegates tomorrow of what has been achieved when I present the Finance Report to congress. But today let us reflect a little on where we are and who we are.
We are the GMB. We fear nothing but complacency. We fight for our members for social justice, but, colleagues, never again against each other. We are real people. We are not actors playing parts. Our motivation comes from helping others, not ego trips or self-glorification. A sense of purpose and passion for fairness and decent lives for all leave most employers, politicians, and the media scratching their head, completely at a loss to understand this because their morals are based on personal greed. They just do not understand what makes us tick. It is a wonderful thing, trade unionism. It is a wonderful thing, which is why our badges and our T-shirts say, Union and Proud, because we are.
Another little secret, the GMB does not walk away. We may not always be able to guarantee that we can win but we can always guarantee that we can surely have a fight. GMB has built a reputation for organising and campaigning. We have been robust, some might even suggest aggressive at times, with those employers who have sought to harm or attack the rights or living standards of our members. We have secured agreements by making it clear that we do not run away. On behalf of the members, our business will be done in public or it will be done in private, but it will be done.
We have secured agreements this past year in retail and the care sectors which offer organising opportunities and real trade union organising opportunities for other a third of a million new members. We are bringing collective bargaining rights to the care sector where they did not exist before.
Our construction membership is on the up backed by a new organising approach and a growing reputation in a section that has seen its fair share of false idols.
The scandal of blacklisting workers because they were trade unionists or tried to raise safety concerns is made even more unpalatable by accusations and defence from the various employers that certain trade unions or officials were complicit in assisting with those blacklists.
Colleagues, I am proud to say that GMB is not one of those unions but for the sake of clarity any official of this union who acted in such a way would face the most severe sanctions available to us as their employers. There is no room at the GMB for people who collude with employers against the interests of our members. (Applause) Not now. Not ever.
Let me say this. Being paid by the members to do this — and I was having a chat with Danny in the lift this morning — is incredible. People pay you to get up in the morning to have a row. Jesus, most of you get up and do it for a living without getting paid for it. It is fantastic. It is a great honour; indeed, any job in the union is a great honour and a privilege but it brings with it the responsibility to serve, to help, to fight for, and always, always, to be available to the members we serve.
I have never asked any steward or officer to do a job I would not tackle myself and people who know me know that is true. I am proud of working for the membership, they are my friends, even when they are giving me a bit of stick — Dick! Every person who takes on a paid role on behalf of the members must have that same approach, an attitude, or, frankly, this is not the job for them.
By way of illustrating what is great in our union I want to pay public tribute to the work done by the Swindon Branch. Their determination to fight for Carillion members’ rights at Swindon Hospital not only changed things at Swindon but started a chain of events which today led us to file High Court claims for victimisation and blacklisting against Carillion and others in the biggest legal case of t his type ever. (Applause) Well done, Swindon.
If you have not checked it out, and it is about the third time of telling you, go to the stall with Phil Read, go and have a look. You may not be on it but there may be someone from your town who is on it. If there is, then we can contact them, or you can. We are determined that those thousands of people who do not know they are on those lists have a right to understand, and to an apology, and for compensation for being denied the right to work by those scurrilous blacklisting companies that has gone on for far too long.
A word of thanks to the Scottish Affairs Committee: you do not find me very often saying thanks to any Commons Committee, but thanks. They actually took up the blacklisting claims and they called to account these firms, and the Information Commission called them to public account, the Information Commission that had failed so miserably, frankly, over as period of years to do the job they are supposed to do, inform people. I have to say those MPs earned our respect and I would like you today to thank them for having the courage to look into something that, frankly, successive ministers had failed to do. Well done Ian, and well done those MPs. (Applause)
The next big battle for us, well, there is plenty on the horizon: the living wage. Ed Balls, and I will not repeat the joke that he would give an aspirin a headache, that has been well worn, Ed Balls wants to know how to find billions to rebuild the economy after 2015. Well, try this Ed.
Make prosperous companies earning massive profits pay their workers a living wage and stop subsidising corporate wealth through propping up low wages through benefits. Make the wealthy companies play living wages. (Applause)
I can hear it now, “Oh, oh,” the Chief Executives howling and screaming, “Oh, we can’t afford it. We can’t afford to pay.” Well, let’s see if they can. I had a look at a few of these companies.
BP — they have been known to make a few quid in their time. Profitable, or what? Their Chief Finance Officer, Dr. Brian Gilvary, I have no idea what his doctorate is in, I could not tell you, but he is obviously earning more there than he is in the Health Service. How many times the minimum wage do you think good old Brian earns? Have a guess. Double? It is 291 times the living wage. Impressive, eh? He must be doing some graft.
What about Vodafone? I mean, those well known mobile phone and tax experts. Their Chief Executive is a bloke called Andy Halford. How many times the minimum wage do you think he gets? If he gets 291 — I’m not going to go down, am I? 400? Good call. It is 527 — 527 times the minimum wage. Oh, it gets better.
HSBC, now they were a really well run outfit, weren’t they? The Group Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver. If the other bloke was 500 Kenny would not be going down, would he? No. It is 691 times the minimum wage.
Diageo, Paul Walsh, Executive Director, 871 times the minimum wage. You look at those companies and I will have a bet with you, in fact I will have a bet with them, I bet that in their workforces across the UK, either directly employed or indirectly employed cleaners, and others, I bet they could do with a living wage. (Applause)
So, Ed, if you make the people who create the wealth get some of that wealth, then actually the economy will start to move again. If good old Stuart can pay himself 691 times the minimum wage, then I am sure the people who clean his offices are entitled to a few more quid an hour, don’t you? (Applause)
It is time to force challenge and to force change and that is what we are going to do, that is what we have been good at. The housing benefit scandal: Ed, my dear Ed, I want you to understand this is all for your good, and good advice from the GMB. You want to have more money? I have just given you a ton of money in the economy here. You do not have to pay people top-up benefits if they get a decent wage, so there’s a load of money. That’s can go straight to the Health Service. That is great, Ed. It is as simple as that.
What about we build more affordable social houses — sorry, council houses? Why am I frightened about that? (Applause) We stop lining the pockets of private sector corporate landlords — (Applause) — many of whom, places like Wandsworth and elsewhere, whole blocks of flats virtually have been bought up, not the right-to-buy, that was just a vehicle, and they have been snapped up, snaffled up by property agents and all sorts of other people, most of whom have their companies offshore and they jack up the rents, we substitute with housing benefit payments and they take that offshore and do not pay any tax on it. Why don’t we use half of the £23bn a year that it costs us to build decent homes for people to live in at affordable rents? Why don’t we just do that? You make building jobs, you make manufacturing jobs, you create services, oh, and at the end of it people get a decent place to live. What is so bloody hard about? At the end of it, by the way, Ed, I have just saved you another £10bn. (Applause)
I haven’t even touched the tax dodgers yet. I have just given him another £20bn, £20bn here, £20bn there, it is that easy, basically. It is. Do you know why it is? It is because for 20-odd years now, effectively, people from business and vested interest, private equity, or anywhere else, have had their feet not inside the door of senior government departments but on the desk. That is where they have had them. Suddenly now people, politicians, are saying, “Oh, Google, Starbucks, Amazon.”
Do you know when we were saying it? We were saying it five, six, seven years ago. That is when we were saying it from these rostrums. You are, but I am not the smartest knife in the drawer but even I could see that people were getting incredible tax advantages. The rest of us, who pay PAYE, we cough up; that is what we do. Maybe we do not all like paying it but we understand you pay taxes for a civilised society, that is what you do. Then you see corporates effectively making tens of billions out of this country, and then doing that. They do that. They do that. Some of them are making so much money, they do that. (Laughter)
Ed, it is time to tackle it. I was pleased Ed Miliband went down to Google and said to them, “It’s about time you started paying your tax.” I also believe there is something else. Why do I go and find Starbucks and they have these coffee bars, and they have them in public premises. How are they allowed to do that? Frankly, they don’t pay their tax. We as a movement should absolutely boycott them. They don’t even pay their workers a decent wage. Imagine the money they are making, they are putting it offshore, and their own workers are on minimum wage, or a few pennies more.
Amazon, wonderful, a third of their workforce are on zero hours. It throws itself back to the Liverpool Docks. People stand outside for a bit of work. These are the people you are holding up and, by the way, Amazon, great job creator, who do you think is actually creating all the jobs? Where do you think all the High Street jobs are going? How are they able to buy and purchase, because they are getting round paying VAT and they are getting round paying proper tax. Their defence, they pay tax because their workers pay tax.
It is a scandal and it has to end. I am sick and tired of telling politicians, reach out and do something. It becomes a bit embarrassing when actually, and I have to say this, the Tories and the Liberals are a bit more aggressive about tax policy with these people than Labour is publicly. It is time for that to change. Be bold about it. The majority of people in this country know that that tax regime is wrong. They are being cheated, they are being deceived, and it is time to end. Be bold about it. Frankly, would my life fall apart if Starbucks buggered off? No, it really would not. (Applause)
Our message is clear, Labour, just be bold, be radical, be truthful. Tory Lite is not going to do it. It just is not going to do it. Employment and trade union rights are going to have to be on the agenda for the next election. Make no mistake about that. (Applause) I will tell you why, because the Tories have put them there. The Tories have put them there. Are we to say nothing as a movement and a party when the time comes for the public to vote about a government that has denied access to justice to thousands of people who have been victimised at work, who have to find £950 in order just to go to a tribunal to get their employer to cough up? The Tories have done that. Don’t we have the courage as a movement and as a party to say that is wrong and, frankly, while you are at it, what about giving people employment rights from day one? It seems a pretty sensible idea to me and a lot of people need it. (Applause)
You heard Dave this morning, went to a tribunal, had everything, had the evidence, he had been blacklisted, he had been victimised, the company had to admit it, they had to admit it, the documents were there, but he lost on a technicality. You know what the technicality was, that actually he had been employed through an employment agency. There is a simple way of dealing with that injustice as well, is there not? Isn’t it just about time that agency workers have exactly the same employment rights as permanent staff? (Applause)
There are answers. You see, Ed, there are answers. They are answers people want, working people out there in the workplaces, every single day. I went recently to an Asda store and I will tell you, I spent a couple of really good hours with Asda workers. Do you know what, their issue was not about pay. Do you know what it was about? It was about respect; it was about respect and dignity. When you come to work you may have to sell your labour, unless you are all Lottery winners who just do this for a laugh. That is what you have to do in life, you sell your labour, but you do not ever have to sell or give away your respect or your dignity. (Applause) Too many employers think that through fear and through bullying they can take away the dignity and respect. Well, there are a few less of those around during the last few years and there is certainly a few less around the Asda stores I visited up in East Anglia. That is the way we have to be. We are proud, and we are union.
I have a couple of other little things, Ed, I want to give you a bit of advice about while I am at it because I have the floor. One, let’s take back the railway industry into public ownership. (Applause) Come on. It does not have to cost us a bloody penny. Every time the franchise ends, we take it back. It is easy. They paid the money. Take it back.
Be honest about it, the most difficult things for a government to give away is our heritage and yet through the ‘80s and the ‘90s they gave them away. They said they had sold them but they actually gave them away. I think the railway industry should be back under public ownership and I think the water industry should be back under public ownership, and I think we should do it in the first term of a Labour government.
Why on earth you would hand over control of a natural asset like water to the private sector, any asset, but a natural asset like water? The great thing about it as well — I don’t get it, I am not switched on to this — this stuff falls out of the sky for free and yet by the time it comes out of your tap someone is making billions out of it.
Basically, it is not a big demand, I am not asking for the earth, but give me rail because I think that you can do it, and give me water, even if we have to pay for it, but I think there is a way of making sure you don’t have to do too much of that. Give me those two in the first term and I will tell you something, I will be a very, very happy bunny. I think even Terry might be satisfied with that, and that is saying a lot.
I also say about blacklisting, Ed, listen to me, please, just come out and be bold and make it plain, absolutely, not a single firm who is found to have blacklisted working people in this country, trade unionists, activists, environmentalists, not a single firm should ever be given a public sector contract again until they have purged their guilt. (Applause)
I am going to finish, I suppose, where I started with the Tories and the LibDems. They attack working people: surprise. They attack the disabled, the poor, they attack the NHS, and they attack trade unions. We are not just surprised by any of this. We just cannot be. The reason they do it is that they actually despise, and I am going to use that, they despise the first group, and they fear the last. They despise, actually, the disabled. I am sorry I am going to say it, they despise them. The poor, look down on them, give them a shilling and move on. The NHS, well, look it is all right at the moment because we can make a load of money out of it and when we are finished we will be off to our own private hospitals.
Trade unions, they fear us. They do. You think I am joking. I am not puffing that up, they fear us. I will say this, our trade union has actually more members than the Liberals and the Tory Party put together. (Applause) Apart from me on Thursday evening, we haven’t got a swivel-eyed person amongst us. (Laughter) Look at our job, congress, and look at what we have already had this week, look at the passion, look at the fighting, with Margaret and Dave, and Owen. What are we talking about, we are talking about what we are and what we do, and you have to fight. Would Margaret and the others at Hillsborough, if they had given up, would the world be a worse or a better place? I think you know the answer. Dave, maybe Dave could have just said, “It’s not my job. Let someone else do it.” But he did not. The injustices that face us, face our society, our families, our members, it falls to us, and it will always fall to us because trade unions are actually the most fantastic movers of good that probably have been about in modern society.
I say to you this, I am really proud about our union but I think we have a load of battles ahead, and I mean it when I say that. You wear those shirts and those badges with every ounce of pride that you deserve because what stands between the destruction of the Health Service, workers’ rights, and a decent society, what stands between the destruction of all those from this Government, frankly, comrades, is you. Thank you very much, congress. (Standing ovation)