AMICUS - Policy Conference
To be checked against delivery
President, delegates, fellow guests.
I’ve been away for 2 years and it’s been all change in Amicus. Amicus is now almost a confederation of some of my favourite unions - of course I say that at every union conference - but the shape and reach of the new Union is changing rapidly and will change more in the near future.
Union mergers are not easy. Different cultures, different rulebooks, different democracies all have to be reconciled. Staff structures have to be changed and duties rationalised. Responsibilities at all levels have to be clear. This can be a bruising process and can divert attention and energy away from the wider union role. It’s to Amicus’ great credit that I have not noticed a falling away of the Union’s influence and impact during this period of change.
Whether it has been on manufacturing or finance, politics or the state of the economy, the profile of Amicus has been very evident and long may you thrive and grow.
All the constituent parts of the Union have long been pro-European like me - and long may that continue.
The fact is that despite problems of low growth and unemployment, the European Union remains the heart of trade unionism in the world.
The European Union is characterised by commitments to welfare states, to public services, to collective bargaining and strong unions. It differs markedly from the Americanised Anglo-Saxon models around the world.
Those models which are based on Labour market flexibility (code for easy hire and fire), business friendly policies (code for not promoting collective bargaining) and minimal Government intervention (code for leaving manufacturing even more exposed with everything for sale).
Now I know that you are not all Manchester United supporters!
But even you supporters of other clubs must wonder at a society where our most successful British club of recent years can be bought by an American who has never seen them play, and worse, by paying with debt which the club will have to repay or go the way of Leeds and some others. So wait to see the effects on prices, on TV rights, and on merchandising. Our national game could take some very heavy blows.
And where are the Government, the football authorities, the local authorities - mere spectating.
I can’t imagine an American spiv getting his hands on Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid or Ajax.
I use this current, high profile, example to contrast our relatively ‘laissez faire’ approaches to a wide range of questions with stricter standards elsewhere in advanced Europe.
The fact is that we have got a lot to learn about and from Europe. Did you know that despite its problems, Germany has increased its share of world exports and is now the world’s no. 1 exporter? Did you know that we are running a 50 billion euro trade deficit with the eurozone? Did you know that despite recent improvements, we still have a big gap to close to get our health service up to the levels operating elsewhere in Western Europe?
So when you read the usual knocking copy about Europe in much of the British media, remember these facts - and remember too some of the marvellous success stories of the European Union - guaranteering democracy in countries which until recently were fascist or communist states; easing tensions between ancient rivals and enemies; closing the gaps between rich and poor countries so that countries like Spain and Ireland have had spectacular success. It is only 20 years ago that one in two Irishmen had to emigrate to find work and now Ireland is the third richest country per capita in the EU.
And social Europe - the idea that Europe is not just a single market but a region with strong social values - social Europe is alive and well.
We are winning battles against the neo-liberals like last week getting the Parliament to vote down the British opt-out from the 48 hour normal upper limit on work; like defeating the Services, so called Bolkestein directive which would have allowed companies to register under flags of convenience and flout many national laws and collective agreements; and getting a draft constitution which aims at full employment, social dialogue, the right to organise and the right to strike.
Many in France, who will vote on this constitution on May 28, don’t think it is social enough.
Yet the ETUC regards it as progress for Social Europe, well worth our support.
Now we need the new Labour Government’s support for the best of social Europe, rather than always appearing to be blocking progress. This has been to date an especially disappointing area for the Government and I hope that the TUC with Amicus support can secure a change - a change which I could not do in my time as TUC General Secretary.
So keep fighting for a Social Europe in which workers rights will not be steamrollered by the Murdocks, the Glazers, and their ilk.
The case for Europe is the case for trade unionism - we stand together.
Best wishes to you all - and above all to Amicus - for a great and resounding future.
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