Welcome to the Eleventh Annual Conference of Solidarity. Since our last conference we have seen a successful vote in the people’s referendum to free the United Kingdom from the shackles of the supranational entity that is currently crucifying the workers of Greece, Portugal, Italy and the Republic of Ireland. Over seventeen million voters decided to ignore the advice, the threats, the doom-mongering and the obnoxious shroud-waving of their supposed betters and chose to vote to leave the European Union.
It’s a matter of personal regret to me that so many of our brothers and sisters in the TUC-affiliated unions chose to back remaining in this body despite its vicious anti-worker sentiment, its neo-liberalism; its rules that would prevent us from re-nationalising the British railway network and that would preclude any future government from taking steps to protect vital industries. Well done to those unions who saw this and fought for a Brexit in the interest of British workers; the RMT, the Fire Brigades Union, the Bakers’ union and - of course – Solidarity.
Our task now is to ensure that the Tory government does not use our exit from the EU to strip away our hard-won rights from British workers under the guise of cutting red tape. That’s what Tory grandees like the smug Jacob Rees-Mogg would just love to do.
Our rights as workers were never handed to us on a plate by beneficent bosses or bountiful bureaucrats from Brussels. They were won by hard struggle. That’s how they will be kept, if we keep faith with the legacy handed to us by the Rochdale Pioneers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and those unsung patriotic trade unionists who struggled for the rights many of us take for granted.
I want to congratulate Gary Smith today. Gary is a plumber; an ordinary worker. Yesterday he won a fantastic legal battle for employment rights in the Court of Appeal. Gary, who worked exclusively for Pimlico Plumbers for six years until 2011, was dismissed following a heart attack when he asked to work fewer hours. He was technically ‘self-employed’ but the court found that Pimlico’s business model sought to control people as if they were employees but to pay them as if they were not. Lots of employers use this scam to cheat their workers of holiday and sick pay and other benefits. I hope that this will be the beginning of the end for that particular scam.
On a personal note, I want to say that I will be sixty later this year and I intend to stand down from the presidency of Solidarity in September in order to pursue another role in life. Naturally, I will retain union membership and place on the National Executive. I will give my full support to our Union. I wish my successor, all the best for the future. I’m sure the union will be in good hands to face the challenges ahead. Solidarity forever!
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