“Trade unions have always been the unsung heroes of our national story” – Starmer’s TUC speech in full

Labour leader Keir Starmer today addressed TUC Congress, calling on the government to outlaw ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. 

You can read his full speech here:

Thank you Ged….

To the TUC for inviting me to speak today.

…And to everyone involved in making it possible to hold Congress this week.

This time last year I spoke to you in Brighton in a packed conference hall…..

This time last week I thought there would be an audience of thirty….

By Wednesday that was down to six…

Yesterday – when I was told to self-isolate – it became just me!


I want to start by thanking the TUC and the trade union movement for everything you’ve done during this pandemic.

As ever, when it came to protecting millions of jobs….

……and keeping people safe at work

It was the union movement that stood up.

Without you there would have been no furlough scheme.

No life-raft for seven million people

And let’s face it, if it had been down to this Government, it would have been sink or swim.

The trade unions have always been the unsung heroes of our national story

And through this crisis you have helped to write another proud chapter.


Our Party was born out of the trade unions.

We are one family

One movement.

And under my leadership, we will always stay that way.

For me, this is personal.

My mum was a nurse

My dad was a toolmaker

I didn’t know what an office looked like until I left for university.

For me, work meant a factory floor, or a hospital ward.

And care wasn’t an abstract concept…. a policy conundrum to be debated.

It was the real-life round the clock support my mum received from the NHS when she became too ill to work

Those values have stayed with me.




And they will define my leadership.


But Congress, the task ahead of us is huge.

The General Election result in December was devastating.

Not just for the Labour Party…..or the trade union movement

But for the millions of working people who desperately need a Labour Government.

I’m incredibly proud of the courage and heroism the British people have shown during this crisis

But time and time again, this Government has let working people down.

Britain shouldn’t have one of the highest death rates in the world.

And one of the deepest recessions.

We shouldn’t leave our workers without protective equipment.

We shouldn’t have failed the most vulnerable in our care homes.

And people shouldn’t have to traipse half-way round the country in search of a Covid test when they’re sick.

Yesterday, my family were able to get a test quickly when we needed one

But only because my wife works for the NHS in a hospital that provides tests for staff and their families…

For thousands of people across the country it’s a very different story.

And after six months of this pandemic, that’s completely unacceptable.

Whatever Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock might say:

It’s not the British people that are to blame for these mistakes…

…It isn’t civil servants

…Care home workers

…Or mutant algorithms

…It’s this Government.

It’s the Government that’s holding Britain back

And we should never let them forget it.


At the very least the Prime Minister should have spent the summer getting the basics right.

· A testing system that works

· An effective track and trace system – we don’t need world beating, we just need effective

· A plan to protect care homes this winter

· An exams system that parents and young people can trust

He’s failed on all counts

And as infection rates rise and our testing system collapses

What’s his priority?

· Reopening old wounds on Brexit

· Trashing Britain’s reputation abroad

· And making it harder for us to get the trade deal we all want.

My message to the Pm is simple:

Get your priorities right.

Get on with defeating this virus

And get the Brexit deal you promised.


This crisis has exposed the total incompetence of this Government

But it also exposed something much deeper

The ingrained injustices and inequalities we see all around us.

Austerity was always a political choice

A bulldozer to the foundations of society

And it left us woefully unprepared for this crisis.

Congress, We’re a great country.

We’re the sixth richest country in the world

But our economy is one where the workers we applaud are overworked, underpaid and undervalued

Where many – especially the self-employed – lack basic rights and security at work.

Where millions of people are one missed pay-packet away from hardship….

And where too few are able to save for their future and their retirement.

We’ve got to change this.

After all the sacrifice and the loss –

We can’t go back to business as usual

Or defend the status quo.

We can’t go back to a society where over half of care workers earn less than the living wage

A society where we pay tribute to the generation that saved us during the second world war…..

…but now we can’t protect them in our care homes

Or a country where we don’t invest in our public services for a decade……but now expect our frontline workers to protect us.

We need to capture the bravery……the sacrifice…..and ingenuity we’ve seen from the British people

In that, we can see a vision of a better future

And I want to work with you every step of the way to build it.


We can start that work today.

By setting out what the Government must do now to protect millions of jobs

Because we’re on the precipice of a return to Thatcher-era unemployment.

We know only too well the scarring effect mass unemployment will have on communities and families across the country

We can’t let it happen again.

And we can’t let the Tories use this crisis as an excuse to weaken workers’ rights….

Hold back planned rises in the living wage

Or embark on a fresh round of austerity.

Of course the furlough scheme can’t go on as it is forever.

We’ve never suggested that.

But the truth is this:

The virus is still with us.

Infections are rising.

Lockdowns are increasing.

And for some sectors of our economy – retail, aviation, hospitality

….For millions of workers

And for towns and cities under restrictions….

It just isn’t possible to get back to work or reopen businesses

That isn’t a choice:

It’s the cold reality of this crisis.

So it makes no sense at all for the Government to pull support away now

And in one fell swoop….

But with a bit of imagination

…..and if we act in the national interest

A better approach is possible.

That’s why today I’m calling for the Government to work with us

To create new, targeted support that can replace the Job Retention Scheme….

To develop this through urgent talks with trade unions, businesses and the Labour Party.

So that we can deliver direct support and training to those who need it…

And prevent mass unemployment.

This would be a life-raft while we’re still in choppy waters.

We will approach this constructively and look at the different options that have been put forward

Whether that’s

· The TUC’s Jobs Protection and Upskilling Plan

· The CBI’s short-time work scheme

· The German Kurzarbeit scheme

Or similar schemes in France or Denmark

But the principles are clear:

· Expand part-time working and reward employers who keep people on rather than cutting jobs

· Provide training and support for those who can’t come back full-time

· Target those sectors most in need – for example retail, hospitality…aviation….and those hit by local lockdowns.

· Provide certainty for workers and businesses

At this moment of national crisis we should take inspiration from our past

Be willing to put party differences aside….

and work together in the interest of the country.

Imagine how powerful it would be

If we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new

ones and invest in skills and training?

So I’m making an open offer to the Prime Minister:

Work with us to keep millions of people in work.

Work with the trade unions

And work with businesses

Do everything possible to protect jobs….and to deliver for working people

My door is open.


And Congress, there’s something more the Government must do.

Outlaw “fire and re-hire” tactics.

We’ve seen this happening already….in the private and public sector

Where thousands of workers have been issued redundancy notices

….and offered new contracts on worse pay and conditions

In disputes such as with BA and British Gas…..we’ve seen the importance of strong trade unions in defending working people.

“Fire and re-hire” tactics are wrong

They’re against British values.

They should also be illegal.

These tactics punish good employers

Hit working people hard

And harm our economy.

After a decade of pay restraint – that’s the last thing working people need

And in the middle of a deep recession – it’s the last thing our economy needs.

So I’m calling on the Government to act now.

Introduce legislation to end fire and re-hire.

And give working people the security they need

If you do that, you will have our full support.


Congress, the months ahead are going to be rocky.

At the helm we’ve got the most incompetent Government I can remember.

And we face the perfect storm of the biggest economic, health and social challenge for a generation.

Labour and the trade union movement need to stand together like never before

To show the British people that we’ve got their back.

….And their future too.

We’ll fight to protect jobs, incomes and working conditions at this time of national crisis

And show that there is a better, fairer society to come

That is our mission

And I will work with you for the next five years to deliver it.

Thank you.

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