Blair Speech to TUC 2004 – Warwick Agreement
Comment at end
Update: 24th July, 2008
WARWICK again! Fun and games for Mr Brown? Especially if today’s Glasgow by-election doesn’t turn out too well for him.
I wonder if he too will give a memorable speech?
I wonder, but I’m not holding my breath. After all, hasn’t Mr Blair already said it all?
6th July, 2008
Now that Brown is likely to be entering into battle with the unions, especially if he loses this summer’s Glasgow East by-election, I thought you might be interested in this Tony Blair speech to the Trades Union Congress in 2004. This was just a few weeks before he was taken ill with a recurrence of his heart problem supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), for which condition he underwent catheter ablation.
He does look and seem much more healthy today. And yet it seems the condition may or may not be associated with stress. Little wonder that he says returning to front-line politics “will never happen”. Can’t be too careful.
[Tony Blair pictured at the TUC conference 2004]
As ever, before the TUC speech, I’m not short of advice.
The difference this year is that I agree with it. Some have told me not to break the agreement at the Warwick policy forum in July. Some, notably Brendan [Barber, TUC general secretary], have said it’s time to come out in favour of social partnership, not be embarrassed about it. All have told me not to lose touch with the concerns of the hard-working families it’s our and my duty to represent.
So I come here to praise Warwick not bury it. To advocate social partnership not belittle it. And above all to demonstrate that our and my priority is and always will be the lives, living standards and quality of life of Britain’s hard-working families, the men and women who play by the rules and expect others to do the same; who worry about the bills and the mortgage and making ends meet; who struggle with the modern burden of work and family life, and don’t ask for or expect miracles just a fair chance to make the most of life for them and their children.
I frankly admit that too many people look at the past few years and see how the political and media agenda has been dominated by nothing but foreign affairs. Now there’s all sorts of explanations I can give. The world agenda since September 11 2001 has been different. Different for the leaders that have stood by America since then. Different for the leaders that haven’t, but dominant for both.
I can’t apologise for what I think about the world since September 11 or what I have done in the war against this vicious terrorism we face. That would be insincere and dishonest.
But vital though that war is, the daily lives of our citizens here in Britain are not about foreign affairs. It’s interest rates, the workplace, taxes and bills, schools and hospitals, crime and ASB [anti-social behaviour]. Their stage is not the world; it’s here on our streets, our towns, villages and cities.
Yet even at the height of the crises of the last three years – since I stood here in this hall on 11 September and spoke about this new form of terrorism our world faces – we have never stopped working on that domestic, bread and butter, real life agenda.
But I acknowledge it hasn’t seemed like that. I have never been away from those issues that make daily life good or bad for our people. But too many people watching the news every night might think I have. And if I can put it like this: even if I’ve never been away, it’s time to show I’m back.
The best way of doing that is to prove it by action.
Over the weekend I got out the first speech I ever made to a Labour party conference not as leader but as Employment spokesman back in 1990. I said: a Labour government would introduce a minimum wage; a legal right to union recognition; sign the social chapter; restore trade union rights at GCHQ; improve maternity leave; introduce paid holidays; end blacklisting; and remove the power of automatic dismissal for those lawfully on strike.
We have done every one of those things. But we only did them by being in government not in permanent opposition.
There is another thing I want to remind you about that period. The name of my opposite number in the Tory cabinet that gave us mass unemployment, soaring interest rates, and the poll tax. You may remember him. Mr Michael Howard.
And I’ve told you what I said in 1990.
Let me tell you what he said in 1990.
That the minimum wage would cost 1 million jobs.
That the social chapter would cost another half million.
He was talking nonsense then. He talks nonsense now.
And if we want to keep our economy strong, we need to keep Mr Howard in opposition.
None of this – not the economic strength, not the legislation to correct injustice at work, came through chance, but through choice. The choice you made was not to make demands you knew won’t be met; nor to hark back to the past; but to understand economic stability had to be the irreducible bedrock of economic opportunity and social progress.
Seven years on, our long-term interest rates are the lowest for 25 years, matching continental levels. Employment has risen steadily without generating inflation. Economic growth is currently the highest in the G8 with 29 quarters of consecutive growth since 1997. The public finances are in good shape. Immense productivity challenges remain, but the foundations of future prosperity are being laid.
And the difference we have made to the living standards of hard-working families since we came to office is crystal clear. Average monthly mortgage payments are £400 less under this government than under the Conservatives. Property repossessions, so devastating during the late 1980s, are now at a historic low. Families are far better off with living standards growing by a fifth since 1996/97. The average working family with children is £1350 a year better off in real terms since Labour came to power. The poorest fifth are over £3000 a year better off in real terms.
It’s a clear reminder that economic stability is for a purpose – to create a fairer, more prosperous society with decent provision for the least advantaged, and world-class public services for all.
Full employment has transformed regions of the country left behind in the 80s. Across Britain’s cities, City centres and riversides that had become drab, empty at night, are now vibrant. Derelict factories and empty warehouses have been converted into new homes and businesses providing the jobs of the future. Britain is working, its economy now one of the most dynamic and competitive in the world.
We are the only major nation in the world that for the last two years and the next two will be increasing public investment in healthcare and education as a percentage of national income. The only one.
Alongside that 700,000 children have been lifted out of poverty. Almost two million pensioners relieved from acute hardship. And there has been record help for poorer families through childcare benefit, tax credits and family support.
So when I hear people saying we should pursue Labour policies not Tory ones, I say what could be more Labour than record jobs, record investment in the NHS and millions lifted out of poverty.
And yet you don’t continue to govern on the basis of your record but on the basis of your vision of the future.
The truth is modern life for many of our people is tough. There are jobs but they are often insecure. There are still too many people who are sick and disabled who would like to work, but don’t have the opportunity to do so. The minimum wage may give some protection but it’s hard to raise a family on it. Years ago, if you talked of pensions, you meant pensioners. Today, there is real anxiety amongst those of working age as to how to save for their retirement. More women work than ever before but balancing work and family life is a struggle and equal pay still an aspiration not a reality for millions of women.
And what’s more, even if people are in work, reasonably secure, comfortably off, the economy they work in is part of a world market that has never seen such revolutionary changes in technology, in consumer tastes, and in the scale of competition. China and India each with well over one billion people mean that every European nation no longer competes today only with America and Japan, let alone only each other.
So how do we – us in government, you in trade unions and in business – help our people cope with change, survive it and prosper in it?
When I opened recently one of the many new community centres in the former coalfields in the north-east, there was a union banner. It featured a picture of Peter Lee, who in 1869 founded the miners’ union in the Durham Coalfield. The union was formed to break the virtual serfdom with which the coal owners ruled those that worked for them. The union successfully fought for miners’ rights. In time, in Durham alone over 120 collieries employed 150,000 men. But the union did more than fight for them at the workplace. It founded mutual societies to provide them with help for medical care and pensions. It looked after legal claims and families bereaved. The unions stood for solidarity not only at work, but also through life.
No one works in the mines of Durham today. The whole economy of the north-east is new. The jobs are new. The way of life is new. Within a few years of the mines closing, Fujitsu, one of the great Japanese hopes of inward investment, had set up its factory in my constituency and closed it again when the microchip market collapsed. The process of change is constant.
So the issue for trade unions is the same as for the rest of us: how to adapt to change, to keep principles intact whilst the reality in which they exist, has been transformed.
Once before, you took a decision to put aside the past in order to equip the Labour party to govern successfully. Today, I ask you – as social partners to do the same – to help the country succeed.
This to me is the significance of what was agreed at Warwick.
There can be no return to the industrial relations framework of the 1970s, no move away from the enterprise and dynamism a modern economy needs. We cannot and will not reverse the programme of change and modernisation that together with record investment is delivering public services combining equity with choice and excellence.
Union members are not just workers. They use the NHS. They need good state schools for their children. And they know that the welfare state of 2004 not 1945 has to be one that re-distributes opportunity not merely pays more out in benefit.
These changes as much as the money are allowing us to cut dramatically the waiting time for operations; make sure, for example that no London borough now has pass rates of under 40% for GSCEs, up from 25% in 1997; and make long-term youth unemployment literally disappear. This is not selling out; it is paying back, reducing inequality, extending opportunity, giving hope.
Warwick should be seen not as diluting the changes we have made but conditioning them with one very basic set of principles at its heart: good jobs don’t come with bad work practices; successful employers don’t succeed by abusing their employees; quality public services don’t achieve excellence by undervaluing public servants.
In other words, our belief is that the more we value, invest in, understand and resolve the dilemmas of those that produce the wealth and services of our nation, in the modern world, the more likely we are to have the future we desire.
What does this mean in practice?
First, let us be clear. For Britain to prosper and thrive in the future, we need a vibrant modern manufacturing sector, just as much as a powerful service sector, and world-class public services.
Manufacturing in the UK has gone through a difficult time as it has in every developed country in the world. There are real successes: pharmaceuticals and aerospace, or ICT and the biotechnology industry; truly world-class enterprises, of which any country should be proud.
Britain’s car industry – once thought to be in terminal decline – has been reinvigorated, gaining a new lease of life.
Nissan in Sunderland is the most productive car plant in Europe, last month producing the millionth Nissan for the UK market. The new Mini built at Cowley is a runway success with half a million cars now coming off the production line, and the sector as a whole is now the UK’s largest source of manufactured exports.
But there is a huge amount to do. We will continue to see how investment in technology, the tax system for capital investment, and help for businesses to grow can benefit manufacturing.
And in every region, each Regional Development Agency is now working up a strategy to build on the particular strengths of its manufacturing enterprises.
This government now set to make the largest sustained investment in science for a generation, £3bn a year. Such a commitment means modernised labs, better pay for researchers, new research programmes at the cutting edge of human knowledge.
Let me also make it absolutely clear that the government is determined to protect research staff facing daily threats of intimidation and violence from animal rights extremists and will bring forward legislation to ensure this.
Second, Warwick signifies that skills, once a social cause – are now an economic imperative.
Britain will not succeed if over a third of its workforce lacks basic qualifications.
We’ve started by creating a new framework for skills and are on course to meet our 2007 target to help 1.5 million adults get basic skills and qualifications. We’re also working with the TUC on the proposals for a TUC Academy to take the skills agenda even further.
Since 1998, we’ve invested £35m in the Trade Union Learning fund, and put Union Learning Reps on a statutory footing. We want to treble these numbers by 2010.
Education Maintenance Allowances have been extended to every 16-19 year from a low-income background remaining in full-time education. We are extending the offer of free tuition for those without level 2 qualifications to every worker. And we are now examining whether it is possible to extend financial support to those seeking Level 3 qualifications for 19-30 year olds which with the other changes would represent the biggest expansion in access to skills for half a century.
In over a third of the country, we are now piloting employer training schemes.
We have expanded Modern Apprenticeships from 70,000 to 200,000 but I can tell you today we are now aiming at 300,000 modern apprenticeships by the end of 2006.
Next, because there is today, rightly, far greater interaction between public, private and voluntary sectors to deliver public services, we have agreed a new deal to tackle the two-tier workforce.
In local government, we have already acted to end the ‘two-tier’ workforce. At Warwick, we made the commitment to end it across the public sector; and we will fulfil that commitment.
In some workplaces, there is a long hours culture regardless of whether it is productive. We have introduced a right for people to choose not to work more than 48 hours, and an entitlement for the first time to four weeks paid holiday a year. We are committed to ensuring that people are able to exercise a genuine choice about the hours they work.
And let me repeat the commitment we made at Warwick that in a third term, the Labour government will extend the paid holiday entitlement, so that the four-weeks is always an addition to eight days of public holiday.
Our new family friendly law means that employers are now required to consider seriously requests from parents with children under six – or disabled children under 18 – to work flexibly. Nearly one million parents have taken advantage of the new law, and have applied for a change in working hours. Eight out of 10 requests have been accepted in full.
It is not right that mothers or fathers are refused time off to see their sick child through a hospital operation, the right to time off when a family member is ill.
So we want to build on what’s so far been achieved.
We’ve made a commitment to our social partners not to introduce any changes before 2006. But the time is right to start thinking about the next steps. In particular, we will examine how we can extend this right to flexible working to the growing numbers of citizens who have caring responsibilities for the elderly and disabled.
From the spring of next year, employees will have new rights to information and consultation at work, not preventing necessary change at work, but ensuring employees are treated as partners in that change.
We will we act to root out abuse at the very bottom of the labour market where working people are most vulnerable. The government will support Jim Sheridan MP’s private member’s bill to curb exploitative activities among agricultural gang masters. We will improve protection for migrant workers, strengthening measures against employers who seek to exploit them. It is neither fair for those who are exploited, nor for those firms who do play by the rules when a few rogue employers are able to get away with ignoring the law.
You know our concerns on agency workers to maintain necessary labour market flexibility. But whilst we must meet those concerns, we will support the EU directive on agency workers.
And we’ll ensure greater safety for front-line workers in retailing, transport, and the public services, those who working to help others, face the constant daily threat of violence and anti-social behaviour.
We will publish proposals on corporate manslaughter in the current parliamentary session, and introduce legislation to ensure that corporations are prosecuted for a serious criminal offence where they show such wilful disregard for their employees that it results in death.
Finally, building on Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, Margaret Prosser’s Women and Work Commission will enable us to ensure that in our generation, we close the gap in pay and opportunity between men and women at the workplace.
This is not an agenda about flying pickets, secondary action or the closed shop. Leave the past to the past. But it is an agenda that if carried through, will radically improve the lives of Britain’s hard working and hard-pressed families.
Work with us to get these changes. Help us to fashion them in a way that most benefits your members, actual and prospective. Make a reality of the social partnership with sensible forward-looking employers who share the belief that efficiency and fairness go hand in hand.
Trade unions have a past of which they are rightly proud. Today they are reaching out to the future. In the public services, “Agenda for Change” in the NHS, the “Schools Workforce Reform” programme in education mean radical change in the way services will operate, but they are changes not just supported but in many cases, shaped by constructive union participation.
Across the private sector, unions like Amicus at Rolls Royce, UNIFI at Royal Bank of Scotland, CWU at Alliance & Leicester have protected or enhanced company pension schemes in imaginative ways to keep their members. The GMB, GPMU, and TGWU are now actively involved all over Britain in setting up skills and learning centres with the help of the government’s Modernisation Fund. The Shop workers Union is not just increasing members but taking the lead, where the employer is in difficulty in helping the company change, restructure and prosper.
One final area for work: pensions. There is no easy solution. The blunt truth is that the population is ageing; people live longer; and yet want, unsurprisingly, the higher living standards they experienced while working, to continue into retirement. We need to get the balance right between what the State ie the taxpayer, the individual and employer each contribute; and we need to get the system right to facilitate that contribution. But one thing I can say to you: the basic state pension and guarantees against pensioner poverty will always be an essential part of our solution to this issue; and you in the trade unions should be, along with business and industry, part of the partnership to get it right.
Those who said unions could never adapt to the challenge of the new economy and its changes are being proved wrong. Of course, wherever there is the possibility of industrial disputes, those capture the headlines. But the true face of modern trade unionism is not to be found in the exception of industrial breakdown, but in the broad rule of social partnership and progress.
We won’t go back to the agenda of the past. But there is much for us now to do on the new agenda and do it together. To people at work, wondering whether membership of a trade union has anything to offer them, I would say: go and see. See what a modern trade union can do; see the breadth of services they provide; see the help in troubled times they can give; and if you want to, join.
And in doing so, join us in building on the record of the past few years to seek new ambitions, new heights to scale, new ways to work, live and prosper.
I go back to that 1990 speech. I said then: “These are the forward-looking priorities we shall establish by our historic decisions today. The British people can now be clear. It is the Tories, not us, who believe that industrial relations is merely industrial warfare, arcane endless legal disputes about strikes and pickets as if the field of employment were merely a field of battle. It is they who are unable to escape the politics of conflict and grasp the potential for partnership. It is they who embrace the agenda of the 70s and 80s because they have no answer to the problems of the future. Let them: leave the past to those who live in it. This party belongs in the future and we can address that future with confidence and hope.”
It was true 14 years ago. It remains true now.