Corbyn: a breath of fresh air at TUC

by Daphne Liddle

LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn took centre stage at the TUC annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday to make his first speech there as Labour leader — and was welcomed “as a breath of fresh air” by the hundreds of trade union delegates present.

He made a broad-ranging speech covering many topics but uppermost in his thoughts — and those of the delegates — was the Tory Government’s Trade Union Bill.

“Yesterday the Tories put the Second Reading of the Trade Union Bill to Parliament,” Corbyn said, “and sadly it achieved its Second Reading and it has now gone into Committee. Basically, they are declaring war on organised labour in this country ever since they won the general election, albeit with the support of 24 per cent of the electorate.”

And he promised that if elected to government in 2020, Labour would repeal this Bill and replace it with a workers’ rights agenda.

Corbyn told the conference that he had appointed shadow ministers with responsibility for mental health and for housing.

“Mental illness is an illness just like any other,” he said, “it can be recovered from, but we have to be prepared to spend the time and the resources and end the stigma surrounding mental illness which often comes with stress, workplace stress, poverty, and many other things.....

“To show how determined we are on a number of specific areas of policy, there is a specific Shadow Minister, Luciana Berger, who is dealing with mental health issues. She will be at the table along with everyone else, and there is a specific Minister dealing with housing, and that is because I believe that John Healey will put the case very well.

“The issue is that we have to address the housing crisis that faces so many people all over this country. The free market is not solving the problem of homelessness. The free market is not allowing people to lead reasonable lives when they are paying excessive rents in the private-rented sector.

“We have to change our housing policies fundamentally by rapidly increasing a council house building programme to give real security to people’s lives.”

Corbyn also spoke about democratising the Labour Party by allowing members an opportunity to take part shaping the party’s policies through the use of the internet.

“We live in a digital age, we live in an age where communications are much easier and we live in an age where we can put our views to each other in a much quicker and in a much more understandable form.

“So we don’t need to have policymaking that is top down from an all-seeing, all-knowing leader who decides things. I want everybody to bring their views forward, every union branch, every party branch and every union, so we develop organically the strengths we all have, the ideas we all have and the imagination we all have.

“When we have all had a say in how we develop, say, the housing policy, or, say, the health policy, say any other particular area of environmental protection or anything else, if everyone has been involved in that policymaking, they own the policy that is there at the end.”

But Corbyn was not the only speaker to bring the conference to its feet in applause. Len McCluskey, general secretary of the giant union Unite, won a standing ovation for his speech against the Trade Union Bill.

“I hereby give this Government due notice of my union’s intent to oppose, defy and using any means necessary defend the democratic rights and freedoms of all trade unionists and the working people of our nation.”

He said, “It beggars belief that in 2015 we should have to stand here today in order to defend our movement. Instead of recognising the role trade unions have played in the nation’s history, this prime minister seeks to paint the millions of trade unionists and their families as the enemy within.

“Tories now drunk on class prejudice, intend to destroy this movement as a force in British life.

“We were now at a crossroad. We can resist with perhaps the possibility of defeat; or we can capitulate with the certainty of oblivion.”

Needless to say the RMT transport union motion on fighting anti-union laws carried overwhelmingly.