Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Trades Union Congress 13th September 2010

On Monday 13th September I delivered a speech to the Trades Union Congress.

Check Against Delivery


Thanks for that introduction Dougie - It is a great pleasure to be here at this important conference - the first since the General Election.

It is an honour to address Congress and I want to start by saying that I strongly believe that the trade union movement is vital for the future of this country.

The fact is that in workplaces with trade unions, people at work earn more, have better pensions and are less likely to be discriminated against or treated unfairly.

The trade union movement is outstanding men and women, in workplaces up and down the country, day in day out, working together, standing up for people at work.

The trade union movement is, and has always been, a champion for social justice.  What you do makes a difference and changes people's lives for the better.

This is the first TUC since the general election.

With Labour out of government for the first time in 13 years and faced with the prospect of a government determined to use the deficit in the public finances an excuse for a thoroughly right-wing agenda,

  • People might expect us to be demoralised. 
  • People predicted that we would turn in on ourselves. 
  • Some feared we would descend into an orgy of recrimination.


But that has not happened. 

There is a remarkable spirit of unity. We are outward facing, determined to be an effective opposition and in good heart.

It's due to a number of things.

  • We deprived the Tories of an overall majority and the landslide they expected.  And I want to thank everyone from the trade union movement for the part you played in stopping that happen.
  • There is no unity of purpose or shared principle lying behind  the Tory/ Libdems partnership. Their incoherence and lack of shared values, contrasted with us, only makes us stronger.
  • We have a dynamic new team in the PLP. A quarter of our MPs are new - and far from being nervous apprentices waiting in the wings they have thrown themselves into parliament with vigour.   This is not an intake which is keeping its head down and learning the ropes.  From all around the country, these are confident men and women, many from the trade unions,  who expect to blaze a trail straight away - and they are.
  • And one of the most important things that has occurred since the election is that we have an unprecedented increase in people joining the Labour party. Clearly, the sight of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the Rose Garden of No 10 had a stunning effect. It triggered a surge of new members into the Labour party. More than 32,000 have joined since polling day and it's still going strong.


Half of our new members are people who voted Labour but who now feel strongly that voting is not enough and want to play their part in getting Labour back into Government.

But a third of them are people who voted Lib/Dem because they believed the Lib/Dems to be a progressive, anti-Tory party and are dismayed that their vote has helped put the Tories in.  They are joining us to put that right.

Labour's fighting back and all around the country in council by-elections making progress, winning back public support.  Since May 6th  we have pulled ahead of the tories reversing the 7% lead in votes they had at the General Election. After our great results  last Thursday in Norwich and Exeter, the votes cast in all by-elections since the General Election are

Libdems 25,000

Tories 34,000

Labour 41,000, 

So Labour is already responding to people's concerns about  jobs and public services and mobilising against Tory Lib/Dem decisions which will harm this country.

How does axing 700 school building projects help the construction industry get back on its feet?

How does scrapping the future jobs fund help young people get into work?

Yes, the deficit must be reduced - and we had a robust plan to do that. But their budget threatens the fragile, economic recovery.  It is a budget based on rewritten history and false excuses.

They say there is no alternative,  but the truth is - this is exactly what the Tories want.

Their plans are not driven by economics. They are driven by ideology - the Tory hostility to the role of government.

The reality is that

  • You do not get borrowing down by pulling the plug on government support for business.
  • You do not get borrowing down by throwing people out of work and onto the dole.
  • You do not get borrowing down by stifling economic growth. 
  • And you should not get borrowing down by hitting the most vulnerable.



The Tories have a twin track approach to justify their public spending cuts - blaming labour's management of the economy and arguing that the vulnerable can be supported by the "big society". 

The reality is that investment in public services and grants to community and voluntary groups support the fabric of the good society.  Spending on public services does not "crowd out" neighbourliness and community spirit any more than public investment,  backing up business, "crowds out" private investment. 

The reverse is true.  Communities need the support of the public services and industry thrives when government is on its side.

And now they are going to cut the support to the most vulnerable - the disabled who cannot work. So much for the new politics - this is the same old nasty party.  

Congress, if the biggest threat the government poses to our economic recovery is cuts, the biggest threat they pose to our democracy is their plans to rig the electoral map to give the Tories more seats.  It is blatant gerrymandering to redraw the boundaries with over 3 and a half million people excluded from the electoral register. 

The people most likely not to be registered are young people, private tenants, black and minority ethnic people and those who live in urban areas. People who the Tories have never represented.  The Tories' redrawing of the constituency boundaries based on the electoral register as it will stand in December this year, will mean that those people will not be counted. 

You cannot have equal constituency boundaries on the basis of unequal registration and before changing any boundaries,  the government must sort that out.  Just because these people are not on the electoral register doesn't mean they don't exist - they do.  We see them in our MP surgeries all the time and we see them being turned away at the polling stations.  What we propose is a new "presumption of registration" which would mean that even if people don't apply they will still be registered to vote. If the Tories have any democratic principles, that is what they should agree to.

And in exactly the same way,  they are taking a nakedly partisan approach to funding of political parties, determined to break the link between Labour and our affiliated unions.

Congress, there is all the difference in the world between one tax exile from Belize paying millions of pounds to the Tories and  millions of hard-working trade union members paying their levy to Labour. We will defend the right of trade unionists to support our Party.

And we will defend the right of trade union members - alongside local communities - to campaign, demonstrate, protest - to voice your concerns.

We cannot be told that vital jobs and services are to be axed, that the most vulnerable will be hit hardest - and it is undemocratic to protest against it.

And far from trade unionists being eager to go on strike - nothing could be further from the truth.  No-one wants to see services disrupted.  Least of all those who need the services and  of course those who work, hard day and night to provide those services.

We will not be silenced by the right wing characterizing protest as undemocratic - trade unionists have the democratic rights to protest

We will not be deterred by suggestions that this is illegitimate - it is perfectly within the law.

We will not be cowed by accusations that this is irresponsible and putting services at risk - the very opposite is true.  The trade unions have always been amongst the strongest defenders of public services.

So, when it comes to protecting people and the services on which they depend,

we are not going to be managerial,

we are not going to be meek.

We will stand alongside local communities and be:

  • Determined - in defence of jobs.
  • Defiant - against the assault on our democracy.
  • Dogged - in protecting the most vulnerable.


The coalition of the Tories and Libdems  should be in no doubt.  

We are about to see a new coalition in Britain.

A coalition of communities and the trade unions fighting back.

Congress, as we look to the future we take great pride in what we all achieved under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Our political opponents will make a determined effort to denigrate everything we did.  We will not let them.

For every child who - instead of being cooped up in a flat - is playing in a brand new children's centre, that is our legacy.

For every patient who instead of waiting in pain is cared for by doctors and nurses in a brand new hospital - that is our legacy.

For every villager in Africa whose life has been transformed by cancelling third world debt - that is our legacy. 

That is Labour's legacy - that is your legacy too and together we will fight to defend it. 

We are looking ahead to our conference later this month.

Labour women will be mobilising - we will be meeting on Sunday to chart our new demands.  Already over 700 Labour women are registered and I warmly welcome our sisters in the trade union movement to come and help us shape the future.

And, of course, after extensive debate and discussion we will be unveiling our new leader.  All 5 leadership candidates have been a credit to the Party. And I will be proud to hand over to our new  leader a party which is on a sound financial footing, which is growing, which is united and is winning votes again.

During my time as leader of the Labour party I have had nothing but friendship and support from the trade unions.  I thank you all for that and  know that you will give the same backing to our new leader.

These last few months have been an extraordinary period for British politics and for the Labour party. We may have been defeated in the election, but we are not defeated in our spirit.

We are witnessing an emerging political movement amongst progressives in Britain - beginning to see that the Tory Lid/Dem government has no mandate. They are seeing the difference between what they thought they voted for and what they ended up with.

The Labour movement is their vehicle for progressive change. 

We will work together - Labour and the Trade Unions -  to fight against poverty, fight for fairness and fight for those who most need our help.

Congress, we are fighting back.

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