Caroline Flint

Standing up for Don Valley.

Speech to Community Union Conference 25 June 2019

CF_Community_2506219_rostrum.jpgIt is a pleasure to join Community at your Conference, and to bring good wishes from the Community Parliamentary Group of MPs, to delegates from all corners of the United Kingdom and from more sectors than ever before.

Let me say at the outset that your MPs are proud of the union you have built today.

A union founded in the early years of the twentieth century as steel became the UK’s foundation industry.

The representation of carpet weavers; clothes and footwear workers – the noisy mills that powered Britain’s textile industry in so many towns.

This union has spread its expertise to represent logistics and finance; leather and manufacturing; and now with a significant voice in the justice; custodial and immigration services.

This is a union that has become home to charity workers, the National League of the Blind and Disabled and the voice of staff involved in politics at the Labour Party and at Westminster.

And this is a union facing the future and the evolving world of work. 

“Labour exchange” is a pioneering way to promote short term or flexible employment on decent terms. A new way of working that is a win-win for employers and workers alike.

So, through challenging times; and the tough battles for our steel communities, Roy, may I thank you for your service to this union;

and congratulate you on your well-earned re-election as General Secretary…

Congratulations, also, on your CBE, conferred by her Majesty the Queen for your services to the steel industry.

Conference, can we show our appreciation to Roy Rickhuss CBE.

Conference, Roy’s experience is a credit to the union and to industry.


Today, the UK needs an industrial strategy rooted in the experience of working people,

So, Roy we are proud that you will be representing exactly that experience on the Government’s Industrial Strategy Council.

The Parliamentary Group of MPs wish you every success.


Central to the UK’s strategy for industry is manufacturing.

And the foundation that underpins our manufacturing industries is steel.

Our defence industries depend on steel – imagine relying on other countries to equip our armed forces?

Our automotive industry relies on steel – 35% of the steel in UK cars is British processed steel – it should be more

Our infrastructure is founded on steel.

In 2016, Government promised that HS2 would use 95% British steel – tracks made of stainless steel – and every tunnel reinforced with steel wire.

Network rail’s current contract requires 216 miles of British steel.

The last phase of Crossrail is using 35 miles of Scunthorpe steel.

With a background of US-China trade wars and ongoing Brexit uncertainty, this is the worst time to let a foundation industry on which our security, manufacturing and infrastructure industries depend, go to the wall.


Rod Pickford, Community Union and Don Valley Labour Party member spoke for all of us when he tweeted recently:

“Without a thriving manufacturing sector, the economy will not do well.

“Without thriving steel producers, manufacturing will not do well.

“We need Scunthorpe steelworkers working for the good of all and the UK.”


And if the Scunthorpe steel workers can break production records, the Government can go the extra mile too.

The Government must provide the necessary reassurances, guarantees or loans necessary to ensure a responsible buyer for UK Steel;

And if all else fails, take a necessary stake in the industry to guarantee its future.

If Theresa May claims one achievement from her time in Ten Downing Street, let it be that she can look back and say:

“I guaranteed the survival of the UK steel industry.”


Tomorrow, at Prime Minister’s Questions, I will be pressing her on this very question.


We wait to see what lasts from Theresa May’s time in Number Ten.

The last four years have certainly not been the strong and stable government we were promised. 

Today’s Tory Party is riddled with anger and hatred – and that’s just for each other.

But their record is one of insecurity and austerity for the rest of us.

It started with David Cameron – the Prime Minister who loved referendums.  First, electoral reform, followed by one on Scottish Independence; and finally Europe.

Then he promptly walked away. 

In case anyone feels sorry for him… No I thought not…

He went on to earn £800,000 in his first year out of politics.


His key ally, George Osborne, also walked out of Government to secure not one new job, but nine.

Among them:

A £650,000 a year post with US investment fund Blackrock.

A place on the advisory board of Exor- who own Juventus Football Club.

And the job editing the Evening Standard.


For now, we have Theresa May, appointed Prime Minister in 2016, around the same time the FA appointed Sam Allerdyce as England Manager. 

He took over the job, announcing:

“We have to make the people and the whole country proud."

He lasted one game.

Perhaps Theresa May’s only legacy will be that she outlasted Sam Allerdyce.


In a month’s time the nation looks destined to see a Johnson in Downing Street.

What of Mr Johnson?

Mr Johnson is proud of his opinions. 

But in defending his use of the f word to tell business where to go, last week Johnson proclaimed his pro-business credentials saying:

“Can you think of anybody who stuck up for the bankers as much as I did?”

What a claim!

The bankers who cost the UK tax payers £23billion in money never recovered.

The bankers who cost 1.3 million people their jobs.

Over 10 years later the wages of working people have still not recovered to pre-crash levels.

What Boris Johnson revealed is that his every instinct is to side with the rich and powerful, at the expense of the many, no matter what the cost.

And soon, he might lead Britain.


Never has it been more important to have the 18 MPs of the Community Group in Parliament championing causes and standing up to injustice.

Whether it is making the case for safe working practices in the justice sector; the need to embed Mental Health Awareness in every workplace; or the Save our Steel campaign – Community union has a clear voice in Parliament.

And I would single out Nic Dakin who has championed the interests of the UK’s steel industry and held the Government to account over its handling of British Steel.

For support on all these campaigns and many more, I thank Community Union’s staff and activists.


You would think with a hung parliament, it would be easier to secure change. But it has been harder than I expected.

Normally, Parliament begins each autumn and wraps up the following September, followed by a new Queens Speech.

This Parliament has been in continuous session since 13 June 2017. 

330 sitting days and counting… the longest session in living memory.

The Brexit parliament without end.

Log jammed, a Groundhog Day parliament.

Apart from Brexit – almost no other government business.

And now paralysed while the Tory leadership contest is played out.


No one in the media wants to discuss anything else except Brexit.

That means industrial policy, the NHS, policing and justice, the state of education, child poverty or jobs do not get the attention they deserve.

We have to close this Brexit chapter.

Roy [Rickhuss - General Secretary] told Conference this morning:

“Parliament must come together and work together in the interests of the country to secure a deal that protects jobs and workers rights.”

Roy – you are absolutely right.


We are living in a new era of populism.

You could be forgiven for thinking politics has gone haywire when the most influential people appear to be Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage...

When anger and division replace discussion and consensus – the political system is in trouble.

When populists dominate, they force parties to the extremes, compromise is a dirty word,

And little gets done.


How do we take away the fear that the spiralling cost of social care will impoverish families?

How do we ensure that our towns, and not just our cities, share in any national recovery?

And how do we ensure that as we tackle climate change we protect our vital foundation industries?

These and other huge questions facing the nation do not get answered by the populists.


I want Labour to be the party that takes on the big challenges facing Britain.

The party that listens to, and speaks for working people, and doesn’t duck or side line the big issues.


Labour has been my party for 40 years

We are at our strongest when we embody the hopes of people and when we protect them from their worst fears.

When we help people to face change without leaving them behind.

We succeed when we stay close to the British people.


After nine years of Tory Government, we could be facing a fourth general election as soon as this autumn.

We need to show there is an alternative to the Tories’ recipe of

Weakened public services;

Core industries in crisis;

Policing and justice undermined. 


We have to restore trust.

Show our political system isn’t broken.

And show that MPs and Government can deliver improvements in our society and heal divisions.

That is a big a challenge to all of us, including Labour.

To Jeremy Corbyn. To the Shadow Cabinet.


Labour cannot be seen to listen to Hampstead, but not Hartlepool;

To embrace the concerns of Putney, but not Port Talbot.

Cambridge cannot be more important than Coatbridge. 


We don’t stand up for Remain, but not Leave;

Or for the North against the South.

Labour must be the voice of all decent people.

From all parts of this great nation. 

The largest cities and the smallest towns.

Championing equality,

Celebrating diversity.

For the many, not the few.


A party with British values and hopes at its heart.

Values - shared by this great union.

Values - embodied by the next Labour government.

Conference, thank you.

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