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GMB Conference ’18 Across the board GMB is standing up for workers’ rights

It’s within our union’s power to think big and win big, writes TIM ROACHE

TODAY GMB congress comes to a close. The last week has seen the GMB union family gather in Brighton for our annual congress. 

As democratic movements, led by and for our members, our annual congress is an opportunity to review the year past, look forward to the year ahead and to celebrate the difference our union and our activists make to hundreds of thousands of people’s lives each and every day.

Our congress started on a sad note. Last year, we suffered a huge loss to our union when Mary Turner passed away. Mary had been the beating heart of GMB for a generation, serving as president for longer than some of our young members have been alive. 

I was privileged to give Mary’s eulogy earlier this year in St Paul’s Cathedral, a fitting memorial for a working-class woman from Tipperary, who at the end of her life was being honoured in the same building as Martin Luther King. It was no less than she deserved.

But Mary would not have wanted congress to be about mourning her passing, and it wasn’t.

As a national, campaigning union, we bring together the lives, experiences and voices of 620,000 people, demanding real change and fairness.

This last year alone has seen some fantastic victories, campaigns and activism. Wins, progress and change that show the difference unions make, and that GMB makes.

I’m sure Morning Star readers have seen the now ubiquitous Maybots, which are the hallmark of our campaign to end the public-sector pay pinch.

The result of that campaigning in every sphere of life, from workplaces to Westminster and Whitehall, is more money in our members’ pockets. Where we haven’t broken the pay pinch we will continue to campaign, ballot and take action.

This week too we celebrated GMB’s Making It campaign. Our members make everything from Henry Hoover to Haribo.  

The chances are that if you eating it, drinking it, wearing it, sitting on it, or sailing in it, GMB members are making it. Showing those who say “we don’t make anything any more” that we do, and proudly, but with Brexit looming on the horizon we will continue to continue for the government to invest in and protect industries that could be put at risk.

Many readers will be familiar with the GMB’s campaign to take on Uber. We followed up that gig economy organising this week by announcing legal action against a number of companies who deliver for global giant yet refuse to give their workers the rights we have fought for over generations.

At GMB it has never fazed us whether an employer is a small local business or a multinational — the rules are the same and, if we have anything to do with it, they’ll play by them or face the consequences.

For those who bemoan the movement not organising in the private sector, or in the new world of online retail — we’re doing it. 

We have hundreds of members at Amazon now, but it’s not easy. Restrictive laws mean we don’t have access to workplaces, years of dilution of workers’ rights mean agency and zero-hours contracts all but remove employment rights for some.

As Jeremy Corbyn spoke of when he took to the GMB rostrum, the economic system is broken.

Look at Carillion — one of the major issues our delegates wanted to debate. It is a multinational company, whose bosses are in bed with the Tories and who gave huge pay cheques to themselves as the company failed and thousands of people made redundant.  

As a union we agree with Jeremy’s Labour Party — we don’t accept that’s how the world should work. And it doesn’t stop at Carillion.

Just last month we saw the latest instalment of the East Coast Main Line saga — it’s a familiar theme, privatise the profit and leave the loss at the door of the taxpayer.

The water industry is another natural monopoly that has been plundered, in a nonsensical situation where different companies flog us the same water.

These companies exist to make money off the back of you and me. They dress themselves up as regional water companies yet some of them have run their finances thousands of miles away.

Every day three billion litres of treated water is wasted through leakages while billions are paid out to shareholders. So much for private-sector efficiency. 

There has been a generation of poor investment in infrastructure and our members tell us that they are understaffed, overworked and are operating in increasingly unsafe conditions.

This is why we launched our campaign at GMB congress, called Take Back the Tap, backed by Labour and our members in the water industry.

We’re calling on all politicians to sign our campaign pledges and commit to bringing the water industry back into public control, so that it works for our members who work in water and our members who are customers too.

That’s thinking and aiming big, but I believe in the power of our union and our collective endeavour to achieve big.

From shipbuilding to energy, from Asda to local government and schools, I believe that when our campaigns are rooted in the lives of our members and we are on the side of common sense, we can and will win.

Tim Roache is general secretary of GMB.

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