By Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary
Delegates to the TUC are meeting at a time of economic and political uncertainty. It’s the last before the general election and they know that in order to win they have on their hands – the fight of their lives.
But as Taj, President of this year’s Congress said in his opening speech said, “It was a fight they can and must win.
“The Tories are gearing up to finish the job that Thatcher started in the 1980s”, he told Congress. “She sold off our utilities while this lot are hell-bent on selling off the rest."
This election, Taj, argued, was the most important since 1945. And it is the spirit of that 1945 Labour government which faced economic difficulties that we can hardly begin to imagine, that he wanted rekindled:
“In just six years Clem Attlee the Labour prime minister, created the welfare state, launched the National Health Service and built homes for heroes. And as if that wasn’t enough they transferred key national industries into public ownership, including our railways.
“Now seven decades on these same issues, social security, the NHS, housing, industry and transport remain crucial…Labour must be bold to give workers hope for a better future.”
Taj’s speech was passionate as it wove the personal and the political together. Serious when he needed to be but also with humour.
He told the audience that he and his future wife were a bit hippy. Both had long hair but that wasn’t their only rebellion During the seventies when arranged marriages on the Asian sub-continent were common they had chosen each other. And now 41 years later they were still ‘madly in love’.
He said he wanted to thank his wife publicly because without her encouragement and support he would not be where he is now.
After this tribute to his wife Taj went on to the attack, lambasting Tory secretary of state Ian Duncan Smith, who had cynically used the latest employment figures to boast that their policy on the economy was working. In reality he told Congress there was a massive increase in workers on zero hours who had no security, and no rights along with a growing, phony, self-employment. The real story of those unemployment figures Taj said: "Was the calamity of falling wages.”
The only way to redress the balance of massive inequality that has taken us back decades was through strong trade unions, trade union freedoms and collective bargaining.
Taj wound up his speech by speaking movingly about his father. He was a labourer, he said, who worked the land.
“There were times when he was so wretchedly tired that he could hardly eat."
And we found out where Taj’s strong, committed trade unionism came from when he told how his father said he mustn’t forget his roots and above all;
“My father said, being in the union isn’t only about wages and conditions for yourself. It is a noble endeavour."
Taj concluded with this ringing endorsement of his father:
“Congress. He was right. He was damn right!”
And with that he was given a spontaneous standing ovation.
Taj said he was proud to be a trade unionist. And we are proud that he has served Unite so well.