Barber delivers damning verdict on Tory economic policy in last speech as TUC general secretary


Trade unions should show the way to building a better Britain, Brendan Barber told delegates at TUC in Brighton.

Addressing the conference in what was his final speech as general secretary, Barber said: “Britain is at a historically important crossroads. The choice we face is clear. In one direction is decline, depression and despair. In the other is recovery, regeneration and renewal.

“So, at this defining moment, let it be our movement that shows the way. Let it be us who give working people a sense of hope about their prospects. Let it be us who show a better future can be within our grasp. And together let’s build a new Britain we can all be proud of.”

He started the speech by praising the Olympian and Paralympian stars who are today being saluted in London, as well as applauding the construction unions for building the stadia on time.

He said: “We must not forget the practical work done by the staff of the community and trade union learning centre in Stratford. Nor the immense contribution of the Games volunteers, among them many trade unionists.

“Many of them were teachers. And how often did you hear medal winners praise the teachers who had recognised early potential and encouraged them to go on and do great things?

“We don’t say it often enough in this country, but day in, day out, it’s the teaching profession who inspire each generation and it’s high time we celebrated the success of our teachers, schools and young people.”

Praising the Games’s opening ceremony, he went on to attack Aidan Burley, the MP who infamously attended a Nazi-themed stag party.He said: “Our diversity is something that has always been part of our national heritage and character. It’s a Britishness that isn’t against others in a crude jingoism, but one that recognises how many people and traditions have fused to give us the identity we were proud to support during the rest of the Games.

“It’s no wonder that some commentators on the right looked so isolated. To Tory MP Aidan Burley, who criticised the ceremony as “leftie, multicultural crap” and who also happens to chair the sinister Trade Union Reform Campaign, let us say: you are wrong about modern Britain, just as you are wrong about the trade union movement.”

Moving on to talk about the need to build social housing and condemning the government’s decision to close Remploy factories, the main thrust of Barber’s speech was about the economy.

He said: “It’s clear that austerity simply isn’t working. There has been no growth since the government came to power over two years ago. In effect the economy has become a gigantic laboratory.

“The Chancellor says fiscal contraction will boost the private sector. Instead it has brought about a double-dip recession.

“He says cutting public spending in the middle of a recession will reduce the deficit. Instead borrowing is set to go up by £150 billion.

“The target for closing the deficit has already had to be extended two years. Most expect that target to go even further into the future. His response to these failures? Even more of the same.

“When it comes to economic policy, the lesson is clear: don’t believe a word this Chancellor says. He tells us that scrapping employment rights will boost jobs, but with no evidence to back his claim up. At least he has not got all his own way on this.

“It’s right to acknowledge Vince Cable and his Liberal Democrat colleagues for resisting the full Beecroft bundle, including no-fault dismissals.

“But we have still seen reduced protection against unfair dismissal and fees for employment tribunals. Many threats remain. Yet I see no investment boom. I still see big companies on an investment strike and workers afraid to spend.

“Frankly, if the Prime Minister really believed in sacking underperforming workers, then why is George Osborne still in a job?”

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