What a fantastic turnout, nearly standing room only, we had to move in there to make sure people could come in. And I know that people are attending during the course of the day so I think this is going to be an event that’s worthy of the effort people have put in to organising.
So, firstly, solidarity from Unite, we’re a trade union at the forefront of a number of struggles, certainly over the past month, but I’m very proud to be here today speaking on behalf of Unite. Also as a member of our party of course, in Lewisham, in south London and as chair – co-chair – of the national People’s Assembly. A coalition developed from the political necessity really for a united movement fighting back and organising mass mobilisation against this austerity and the most ideologically driven, most damaging government we’ve seen in over a generation.
And of course this is a fightback that Labour needs to be at the forefront and the heart of. And of course this has been an interesting month in terms of what Ed and others within the party have been saying. Banning zero hours contracts, abolishing the bedroom tax, ensuring tax justice, supporting the living wage, scrapping ATOS – only a government that couldn’t give a toss would be supporting the concept of ATOS of course, building a million homes, introducing rent controls – we’ve spoken about rent controls already, reclaiming land banks, capping energy prices, creating decent jobs and apprenticeships for young people.
And all of this is being said of course and it’s a lot of good words, but it’s going to take more than a statement of intent if we’re going to re-engage people with Labour, if we’re going to re-engage the five million voters lost in 2010.
To do that we’re going to have to inspire a generation and to do that we need to do a number of things. And to do that we need to stand up, for the vulnerable, for the sick, for the disabled, for those in work and for those out of work, for our families and for our communities. For the 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. 1.6 million in severe poverty, in families in work, earning less than £15,000 a year. We’re going to have to stand up for the 5 million people on waiting lists for a home, for the hundreds of thousands forced each week into the hands of food banks – the only banks with a constructive purpose in society right now, or of course the hands of the legal loan sharks, those who claim responsibility right now because they have shop fronts on high streets. For the millions who have suffered a decline in living standards, the like we haven’t seen for 140 years, since – as Owen quite rightly said earlier – since Queen Victoria was on the throne.
And if we’re going to do that, if we’re really going to stand up, firstly we’re going to have to reject the self-defeating economics of austerity. We need to reject the spending caps and spending priorities of the Tories, and we need to rebuild this nation based on Labour’s priorities, not profits.
And we can do it, we’ve done it before. We are the 7th richest economy on the planet, and while CEO’s pay now averages £4.3 million a year we have 5 million at work in this country earning less than the living wage. And for the first time in its history Save the Children are raising money to protect children here at home, in Britain.
Well we’re very clear on this, and i’m very clear on this, if we can even consider war on Syria, then we can afford to wage war on a number of things…
I’ll wage war on poverty, on homelessness, on unemployment, on food banks and loan sharks, on tax avoidance and a whole host of other things because if we want Labour to win, a bold and radical agenda to win in 2015. We can put our people back to work. We can afford to invest in infrastructure and build the millions the social homes, the social homes not affordable homes, the social homes we so desperately need in this country. We can, colleagues, end the abuse of housing benefits being taken by rich landlords through introducing rent controls, and put that cap on energy. We can end the use of taxpayers money subsidising low pay through tax credits by profitable private companies. We can and must provide the living wage to provide dignity to those who work and of course to those who can’t. We can and we must support collective bargaining and introduce new collective right for trade unions to be able to organise and strike effectively to redistribute the wealth across society that we create. And we can and we must bring under public control our railways, our energy companies, our housing stock, our postal and our water services, and we can end the privatisation of our health service and the education of our children.
And we can and we must do all of that and of course the enemy to this is Eton’s finest. But not just Eton’s finest, but some of those neo-liberals within our own ranks, within the party itself. Ideologically driven to destroy everything that we hold so dear within our society, the very fabric of our society.
But you know, we have no god-given right to anything. This Assembly, our movement, walks in the footsteps of those who struck, who protested, who fought, and sometimes died for that we see in peril right now. The Chartists and the Suffragettes, millions of campaigners and protesters, the trades unionists, the millions of men and women who fought to defeat the evils of fascism and to build a fairer society when they returned from the trenches in the 1940s. A proud movement of fighters, from civil rights to Stop the War.
And this is our challenge colleagues, to organise and fight, reject the language of division and offer hope to a generation.
So the fight’s on. It’s our fight and it’s Labour’s fight. And whatever our opponents might say, I know this is coming up in the discussion later this afternoon, but I’m going to say it right here now. We’ll proudly hold to account, whoever it is might strive to attack and sack decent men and women, wherever that might be across our nation.
And our collective relations with the party – our party – is not for sale. It’s not for sale today, tomorrow, next week, not ever. Colleagues be proud. Be proud of our values, of solidarity, of community, dignity, fairness and justice, because they are the values that make Britain great. They are the values that built the society that we hold at our peril right now. Get involved, get involved, organise, take control of our party, take control of our society, but most importantly, stand up.
Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Stand up with those, that can.