Richard Leonard

STUC Conference Speech 2018

It is a real privilege to be able to address you as the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and to bring solidarity greetings from the Party of Labour in Scotland.

And I say that because our very reason for existence is that we are a party of labour not a party of capital.

A party of labour whose purpose should always be shaped by the daily experiences of working people.

And that very existence comes about not because the trade unions are the industrial wing of the Labour Party, but because the Labour Party is the political wing of the trade union movement.

And we forget that at our peril.

I want to begin by quoting Tom Leonard, Scotland’s greatest living poet, who warns us of “missiles launched from moral high ground”.

And he also wrote this: “The universal human is inclusive absolute, there is no individual outside it.”

After the weekend’s events these short lines of poetry serve as a reminder that our politics must have higher goals of peace above war, of hope in place of fear and an understanding that our movement, this movement, is a worldwide one and our causes common and universal.

Congress the very first STUC I attended was exactly thirty years ago this year.

It was in Ayr in 1988 - I’ll never forget it.

The President that year was Charlie Gallacher of NALGO and I was there with Tony Benn, who was addressing a fringe meeting with speakers like Kathy Finn of the EIS.

Ann Henderson was there.

It was a rally to mark the start of Tony’s leadership challenge to Neil Kinnock.

It was packed

Standing room only.

But by the time Tony got to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool six months later he lost the trade union block vote by 99.2 per cent to zero point eight per cent.

I think it’s fair to conclude that my effectiveness at organising Labour leadership campaigns has improved a bit since then!

One of Tony’s other supporters in that campaign was a young MP called Jeremy Corbyn, who set out his vision before this Congress last year, at the start of the General Election campaign.

And who went on to show that people will not simply respect principle, integrity and conviction in politics.

They will go out and vote for principle, integrity and conviction in politics.

With nearly 13 million people putting a cross on a ballot paper for a radical Labour manifesto with an unflinching commitment for the first time in a generation to end austerity, to extend public ownership and to bring about a redistribution of not just wealth but of power, including the repeal of the 2016 Trade Union Act.

I made clear in my election for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party that my job, our task, is to build on this radical platform to re-awaken hope out of despair.

So I have promised real change - and with that message we are starting to face the future with renewed confidence.

Renewed confidence that we, the Labour Party and labour movement, will be the force to transform our society for the many not the few.

But more than that, it is a renewed confidence, not just in our own abilities, but a renewed confidence in the capacity of working people, to run their own affairs, to control their own lives and to build a more prosperous and just Scotland.

So our job in this movement is, as it has always been, to give people renewed confidence in themselves that real change can happen.

And that we can have an economy run of the people, by the people, for the people.

And that we can move away from a society where in Scotland today the richest one per cent own more personal wealth than the whole of the poorest fifty per cent out together.

Which is why we’ve argued for more progressive taxation than a penny on the top rate and for consideration to be given to a wealth tax to tackle growing poverty and widening inequality.

I have been fortunate enough to spend all of my working life serving the working women and men in the Scottish trades union movement.

This is where my education has been: working at the STUC with Campbell Christie and Bill Speirs in the 1990’s was a great privilege.

Then working for twenty years at the GMB as an industrial organiser and you know what it’s like sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always striving for the advancement of working people.

And that’s what drove me on to stand for Parliament and to stand for this leadership. Not for a career but to bring about real change.

I mentioned the very first Congress I ever attended.

The first Congress I attended when I came to work for the STUC was in Dundee in 1991.

The President that year was Clive Lewis of the ISTC and we were charged by Clive and the General Council with producing a document which set out the ideas of this movement.

The vision of a better Scotland which a devolved Scottish Parliament could realise.

It was called “Power For Change”.

Because in this Movement it was never about establishing a new Parliament for its own sake, it was about establishing a new Parliament for a purpose.

Next year is the twentieth anniversary of the election of the first Scottish Parliament.

I believed that the Parliament would tackle our deep seated long standing economic and social problems.

But in my view, these past two decades have seen too little change, too many of those hopes set out in “Power for Change” remain unrealised and too many aspirations unfulfilled.

And the ten years since the SNP came to office has been a decade of mediocrity and timidity.

Rather than advancing as a country, in housing we are moving back towards a landlord-tenant society.

We see the re-emergence of rough sleeping, spiralling waiting lists and exploitative private landlordism: a real problem for young people especially.

We continue to live by a master-servant relationship at work: with young people, again, more likely to be employed in insecure work, on zero hours contracts, or short term contracts, or stuck in agency work.

The SNP claim we have record low unemployment.

But, as a recent Sheffield Hallam University Report shows, the real rate of unemployment in many of Scotland’s industrial communities is over twice the official rate.

We do not have full employment.

Which is why we have made real full employment part of our agenda for real change - and a clear goal of public policy again.

That is even more important with automation.

Automation is the latest test facing working people, but make no mistake it is the same test that was set in the first industrial revolution which spurred on the growth of trade unions.

It is about ensuring that working people benefit from, rather than become the casualties of, technological advance for that reason being pro-active rather than reactive is crucial to the ownership of that change.

So Scottish Labour is prepared to intervene, to plan and not simply rely on voluntary business pledges and Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market.

Over the last few weeks working closely with trades unions gathered here today I have given new exposure to the practice of workers being employed by umbrella companies and agencies who force them to pay for the privilege of collecting their own wages, and who also make them pay their employers national insurance contributions.

And the real scandal is that these workers are employed on publicly funded contracts and that the Scottish Government believes it is a matter of choice – the workers choice not the bosses!

The SNP government has eleven billion pounds of public procurement muscle at its disposal it should be flexing that to ensure that workers are not exploited that they are being paid a living wage and that their employment and trade union rights are protected and that all those companies caught up in the construction industry blacklisting scandal should be barred from getting any public contracts until they own up clean up and pay up in full.

No justice no peace.

And those that avoid and evade paying their taxes should join them on that blacklist as well.

So values-led procurement should be at the heart of government decisions, but it is also about public ownership of public services.

That means not a public-sector bid, but public ownership of our railways.

Not a public sector bid, but public ownership of our ferry services.

It is about municipal ownership of local bus services and energy provision and making more publicly accountable Scottish Water and the Forestry Commission.

And at a UK level it is about taking the Royal Mail back into public ownership as well.

These are the policies we will advance – that start to shift power from the market to working people.

And as part of that we need a Scottish industrial strategy too.

Today’s announcement on Bifab’s future is great news, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the determination and solidarity of the workers, backed by the GMB and Unite.

They didn’t walk away, they worked in.

So we welcome the efforts of the Scottish Government, but it is not enough to lurch from one defensive rescue to the next.

We need forward planning, economic planning and also environmental planning to tackle humanity’s greatest challenge - climate change.

We need democracy in our economy, not just when things go wrong, but to help things go right in the first place.

So we need a Scottish Investment Bank worthy of the name, which under Labour’s plans would form part of a transformative £70 billion of investment over ten years.

And let me be clear about this, as far as the Scottish Labour Party is concerned trade unions have a central role to play in the new economy, not just defending your members, but using your members’ knowledge, skills and capacities to plan for the future.

We need to look afresh at who owns the Scottish economy and why we are so vulnerable to external shocks - and why so how much wealth leaks out from our country.

So we need to build the economy from the root up, which is why I have called for a Marcora Law, which would give workers, the preferential right to buy a business when it is put up for sale or facing closure.

Because why shouldn’t the creators of the wealth own the wealth that they create?

If such an avenue was open it would at least give an option to those workers facing redundancy at 2 Sisters in Cambuslang, and at Pinney’s in Annan.

It would put power in their hands instead of in the hands of absentee directors.

And to build a more democratic economy, we must also build a more democratic politics.

The running of NHS Tayside shows that we need to examine again the lines of accountability in our National Health Service.

Scottish local government should be re-empowered and re-resourced – these are where the battle lines of Scottish politics are being drawn, which is why Scottish Labour produced an anti-austerity alternative Scottish budget this year.

Because it is no good talking about being part of an anti-austerity alliance in opposition if you simply practice austerity when you are in government.

The battle lines are also being drawn on Brexit, which is why we must stop this Tory government using Brexit to hoard powers in Westminster and Whitehall, which it should devolve to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and then on to local communities.

And why we must stop them using Brexit as a power grab for big corporate interests at the expense of the hard won rights of working people at work.

And let me say this we cannot simply defend all the time, we should be on the attack.

To take one example we should be making the case for a rebalancing of working time:

In simple terms it is time we ended the UK opt-out of the Working Time Directive which allows for over a quarter of a million workers in Scotland alone to work excessive hours and so flout health and safety rules.

The 48 hour opt out should be managed out with no loss of earnings.

Because no longer should we build our economy on a low pay, long hours culture.

With an ageing population, it is also time we started thinking radically about social care.

We need to capture the spirit of the 1945 generation, who pioneered public services that are universal, comprehensive and accessible to all, built on the principle of from each according to their means to each according to their need.

And policies cannot be looked at in isolation.

Our children’s educational chances are not just hindered by cuts to spending on education and the decimation of local authority budgets year on year: although they are!

They are hindered also by homelessness and overcrowded housing, by poverty and inequality.

70 per cent of the quarter of a million children in Scotland living in poverty live in households with at least one adult in work.

That is why we urgently need a real living wage of £10 per hour by 2020.

A real living wage would help close the scandalous gender gap in pay, because women working in Scotland are twice as likely to be paid below the Living Wage as men.

I firmly believe that we are at a turning point for the Scottish Labour Party and this Labour Movement in Scotland.

We must re-forge the alliance between the industrial and political wings to start winning support for real change.

To challenge once and for all austerity, which is a political not an economic choice.

To make the case again for public ownership and an end to PFI, PPP and NPDs.

And to secure a lasting redistribution of wealth and power into the hands of the many not the few.

We are winning a new generation of young people, energised by Labour’s new politics of change.

Young people are not simply following this movement for real change, not just participating in this movement for real change, they are leading this movement for real change.

In the months ahead we will be working hard in Parliament, but we will be campaigning outside parliament, across Scotland, championing local communities, working with trade union full timers but working with shop stewards as well to oppose the cuts to local jobs and services – and supporting workers in struggle.

Since my election as Leader I’ve been on a few official picket lines, and for the avoidance of doubt, I will be on them again because that is where Labour should always have been.

To those who say that the Labour Party is not a protest party, I say go and look at our history:

Look at the Chartists and the Suffragettes, look at those who took action against the Combination Acts, look at Mary Barbour and the rent strikers, remember what we did to bring down apartheid and free Nelson Mandela and never forget that without the power of protest exercised by women workers at the Ford Dagenham plant there would have been no Equal Pay Act.

Our movement has a proud and powerful shared history.

The ideas of democratic socialism are as relevant now in today’s Scotland as they were in the days when Keir Hardie and the pioneers set up the STUC, and established a Parliamentary Committee to bring about real change.

And now as then we seek to be not just a movement but a government for real change. We will draw on those radical Scottish Labour principles. That ethical socialism.

To, in the words of John Smith: “Persuade millions of the strength of our vision, the relevance of our policies and the urgency of our demand for change”.

Make no mistake Scottish Labour has a new unity of purpose.

Scottish Labour has changed, now we are determined to change Scotland. And we are only at the beginning.

So my final appeal today to anyone in this hall, to anyone across Scotland who shares this, our vision of new hope, is come and join us.

Let us work together, let us make our own history, write our own chapter, our generation’s chapter in the great history book of the Scottish Labour and Trades Union Movement.

It is the chance of a lifetime.

I hope that you will seize that chance because I tell you that another world is possible and that we can achieve it in our lifetime.

Thank you.