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Former Shadow Home Secretary and Labour leadership contender Ruan Preston gave a speech to the TUC on his campaign to become Labour leader, entitled “A Movement of Strivers - Renewing the Labour Movement”:


Quote:“Brothers and sisters, friends,

It’s always a great pleasure to speak to you. The story of the Labour movement is the story of working people, their dreams and aspirations, their rights and futures. That’s why the alliance between the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement is such a defining part of who we are as a party, as a movement, a keynote of that story. Together, we’ve formed a great movement of working people that has, throughout its history, adapted and thrived, always ready for the next step for all those many brothers and sisters who rely on us to be their voice.

And today, as we consider the next step in our movement that starts right now, I say to you: I value our fraternal relationship, and I believe the British people will as well. Thatcher may not have made it easy, engaged as she was on her crusade to destroy our jobs, discredit our movement and divide opinion against it. Sometimes, we have not made it easy for ourselves.

But Labour and the trade unions have always stood side by side to represent, defend and promote the dreams, livelihoods and rights of hard-working Britons. That is the truth of our alliance, and I will not apologise for it. Under my leadership, Labour will continue to take a stand for our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, so that together we can continue that strong alliance that brought so much good to the working people of Britain.

But the times have changed. We need, now more than ever, to make the case that in 21st century Britain, the trade union movement is relevant to the lives of ordinary working people. Labour has a crucial role to play. We’ve spent far too much time with ideological preoccupations, and far too little making that case. And in so doing, we have allowed the wrecking ball of Thatcher to take one swing too many at the defenders of working people, until the pernicious fantasy took hold that you can’t have strong unions while also having strong businesses.

As I launched this campaign, I asked one crucial question: why, exactly? Why can’t strong trade unions work with strong, competitive businesses? It is a false dichotomy, as so many have been created while we at Westminster laboured in a fruitless polarisation. As if the working man’s win is the businessman’s loss, and vice versa. That fantasy of the right is the true reason the trade union movement has struggled, and we must fight back against it now. Because when working people are secure in their rights and incomes, free to aspire, to dream and to realise their dreams, that’s when they contribute most to our businesses and our economy.

We have been forced into the role of a movement of strikers, while what we truly are is a movement of strivers. Strivers not just for the rights of working people, but for their aspirations, their stake in our prosperity and our society. Strivers not just for ourselves, but for others. The natural direction of the Labour movement is forward, always looking towards a better future. Our natural role is to go beyond a “no” to injustice and regressive policies into a “yes” for justice and progress for the future. It’s not enough for us to rise against the many injustices of Thatcherism. We must make the case for a new, better offer for this time that speaks to our natural affinity with those in this country who strive for a better future for themselves and their children. Because we know that when working people succeed, Britain succeeds. When they realise their aspirations, Britain realises hers. That is the case I will make as Leader of the Labour Party - a positive case, a broad case, but above all: a case that is relentlessly on the side of your members and all those working people like them across the country who need us to step up and make that case. And, by extension, relentlessly on the side of Britain’s prosperity.

To make Britain competitive in the new millennium, we need to create a high-productivity, high-skills economy. We need to make serious work combatting the unemployment created by Margaret Thatcher’s deindustrialisation policies, which has destroyed communities throughout this country. Here, we can learn something from the example of others: for instance, Germany has, through intensive public policy and working with businesses in the Ruhr, managed to set into motion a transformation of the area. The Ruhr is not unlike our mining communities: industry left, never to return. But by sound public policy and cooperation with unions and businesses, we can turn those areas around. We can teach those who lost their jobs a new trade to be proud of, and attract the businesses that will provide them, and their families, new jobs to earn their livelihood.

But we can also do this on a national scale. When you compare Britain to a comparable nation on the continent such as Germany or France, we can do better in productivity. To compete in the globalising world of the 1990s and the new millennium, we need to level up our workforce. The first thing we can do is to set a national minimum wage. It’s not just the right thing to do to ensure everyone gets a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, it’s also the smart thing to do. Because by raising wage, we create a more motivated workforce and a more prosperous economy. It’s a win-win situation for Britain that will help Britain get an advantage over our European partners in the long run.

And we need to match that national growth in wages to a national growth in skills. Under my leadership, Labour’s priority will be education. We’ll not just ensure that access to universities and apprenticeships increase and class sizes are capped at 30, we’ll see to it that learning becomes a lifelong project. Because the many working people in Britain who take pride in their work know that being a professional, really knowing your trade, is worth it. And the many businesses they work for know that having a well-educated workforce gives us a competitive edge, especially amidst the fast-accelerating technological progress of today.

So I want to work with the unions and with businesses to develop a skills policy for the new millennium. I will create a Lifelong Learning Fund for each and every Briton. Every worker in this country will be able to take out a certain amount of funding to invest in lifelong learning and skills. And to encourage businesses to invest in their workers, for their benefit and ours, we’ll create a top-up which matches those skills with government funding. It’s vitally important that our hard-working people keep developing their skills, leveling up their work during their entire working life.

And I want to call upon you in the trade union movement to play a special role in working with businesses to develop the skills of those who are currently on the sidelines. The unemployed, especially those who have been without a job for a long time, need the expertise of the trade union movement to learn the skills to get them out. This skills policy will be part of a broader reform for work-centered welfare that supports the unemployed where they must but helps them into good, paying work that fits their skills where they can. To implement this policy, we’ll create a new agency to administer benefits and guide the unemployed back into work in an integral way that focuses on supporting them in finding the right job and getting the right skills to prosper in the labour market once more. For too long, unemployment has been left to be the problem of the unemployed. A renewed Labour Party will make the case not just that unemployment is a human tragedy but also that it’s a waste of human talent that is costing our economy. A Labour government will revalue work in all its different facets - and helping the unemployed back to their feet is an important part of that.

Brothers and sisters, we need to break free of the negativity and the defensiveness that has been forced onto the value of work and the trade union movement for far too long. As Labour leader, I will never stop fighting the false frames, the false contests, which the Tories have imposed upon these vital parts of our economy. Why should we choose between strong unions and strong businesses, when both are essential to strengthen our economy? Why should we choose between the rights of workers and the competitiveness of business, when a happier, better-educated workforce can give us a competitive edge in productivity? Why should we choose between helping the unemployed back to their feet and our economic prosperity, when guiding them back to the labour market only means we use all the talents at our nation’s disposal to the fullest effect?
Britain is ready for a new paradigm of economics, a new, positive outlook that places cooperation in the place of confrontation. That breaks free of the conflicts that have been engineered by the Tories to power their cynical vision of a Britain where its each man for himself. Hard-working Britons in and outside the trade union movement are yearning for an alternative that is about their needs. That builds everyone up rather than taking some down.

An alternative that I want to shape, together with you and with all your members. Let’s renew Labour into a party for the workers, the dreamers and the strivers of this country - whether they need extra help back to their feet or an extra push to excel. Because the story of the Labour movement has always been their story. That’s the Labour Party I want to build. That’s the Labour Party I will lead. And that’s the Labour Party that will carry our Movement back to the very heart of government.

Thank you.