In a landmark speech to the Trade Union Congress conference, Ed Miliband called on Unions to accept the radical changes the Labour party is proposing to make to the way their membership is formed.
Miliband was expected to receive some hostility as he addressed trade unionists in Bournemouth as he set out his vision for a system where union member must opt in to the Labour party, rather than become automatically affiliated. Prior to the conference, the proposal was widely criticised by unions for its expected effects on how well-funded and supported the Labour party is.
The Labour Party leader began by paying tribute to Lesley Mercer, the first female President of the TUC, and Edward Stanley, a Conservative Prime Minister of the late Nineteenth Century, proclaiming him ‘Ed Red’, a nickname commonly attributed to Miliband. He continued with his speech by praising the membership of trade unions, condemning the Prime Minister for ‘ooz[ing] contempt for trade unionists.’
As he breached the most controversial and tensional topic of trade union membership, the Congress was, in contrary to the attitude expected of them, fairly supportive of his reforms. Ed Miliband called for ‘a real voice in our party based on an active choice to be part of our party’ and asked for unions to get the ‘courage to change’. No delegates took advantage of the question and answer session to criticise the reforms that Miliband proposed, demonstrating a positive response from trade unionists.
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The remainder of Miliband’s speech seemed to set out a wide range of policies that had not yet been heard from the Labour party. ‘I won’t pretend to you that life will be easy under the next Labour government,’ he told the Conference as he apologised for not being able to promise an immediate reprieve from the austerity measures put in place by the coalition. He put particular emphasis on the ‘epidemic’ of zero-hours contracts, declaring war on their use by legislating against ‘the exploitation’ of workers, a policy that was well-received by a loudly applauding conference.
Young people were also high on Miliband’s agenda as he set out his vision for reducing youth unemployment, stating that on ‘day one’ with him as Prime Minister, a Labour government would begin attacking the issue. He also addressed the ‘snobbery in this country that university is best and apprenticeships are second-best,’ responding to a delegate with his commitment to improve Careers Advice and Guidance and put pressure on employers to introduce more apprenticeships.
With his eyes on the ‘high-stakes’ General Election in 2015, Miliband laid on his belief of the Labour party as a ‘One-Nation’ party, ending his speech by telling the conference that the Labour party and unions can ‘build that [One-Nation] country together’.