Community conference told: ‘You are the stewards of the New Deal’

Angela Rayner spoke to delegates at community conference 2024 to tell them “our movement is bigger than the sum of its parts and we will achieve together”

Angela Rayner speaks from the podium at UNISON national community conference 2024

UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards opened the union’s national community conference in Chester on Saturday before introducing shadow deputy prime minister, Angela Rayner, who gave a speech to delegates before taking questions.

Mr Richards took aim at the recent Conservative government budget calling it “fantasy policy making, and a low piece of political theatre”.

“What did it offer to support the work that you or our members do? What about housing – an issue seen as the number one priority by younger workers?

“Where were the provisions to support people struggling with rapidly rising rents? Where were the big plans to address the shortage of new homes?

“In one of the richest countries in the world, how can this government ignore the fact that so many people have nowhere to live and no money to spend?”

And he continued: “Looking ahead, this year will be dominated by the continuing collapse of the government in the lead up to the general election.

“As a union, we aren’t starry eyed – we are a worker’s organisation and our aims and objectives are to improve work and pay and conditions. This won’t change no matter which political part is in power in whichever UK country.”

Hope for a different future

Mr Richards also spoke of being introduced to the shadow deputy prime minister while she was an activist in the union. He continued: “Angela’s heart and soul are in the trade union movement – she’s UNISON through and through and we’re very lucky to have her in that role.

“Importantly, she represents working class interests in parliament, and the Tories know this. They can’t stand a successful working-class woman – and there are far too few people with working-class backgrounds in parliament nowadays.”

He continued: “Conference, we need people Like Angela in government, and we need a government that listens to working people and trade unions.

“After more than a decade of mismanagement, austerity and public services cuts – this country deserves better – Angela and a new Labour government in Westminster offer hope for a different future.

Jon Richards speaks from the podium at UNISON's national community conference 2024

Jon Richards

Angela Rayner – raised in UNISON

Ms Rayner then spoke to delegates, saying how she was “born in Stockport, but raised in UNISON” and telling delegates of her journey from starting as a young member in the union.

Moving on to the upcoming general election, which must be held by January 2025, she took aim at the Conservative Party’s record in power: “The truth is they’ve had 14 years and the one question we have to ask ourselves is: do you feel better off?

“After 14 years, do you think your children have better opportunities? Do you think the services you provide are better and well-resourced compared to 14 years ago? No.

“The absolute chaos we’ve had under the Conservatives – especially during the last five to six years. They’d like you to think it’s the war in Ukraine or it’s the pandemic, but the truth is – globally, we’ve become a laughing stock.”

She noted the current prime minister’s commitment to ‘max out’ the UK’s oil and gas reserves as he announced more North Sea drilling last year, saying: “Rishi Sunak is looking backwards to fossil fuels instead of looking forward like Labour are with the Green New Deal – jobs for the future, technology for the future, aspirations for our children.”

She continued: “I think we’re at a crossroads now. We can choose to invest in the people of this country, to invest in our public services, to grow the economy – or we can choose looking backwards and more managed decline. That’s not what I want for my children or my grandchildren. That’s not what I want for you.”

Stewards of the New Deal

Speaking about the role unions play in informing Labour policy and holding the party to account, she said: “During this election, you are the stewards of the New Deal for working people. For the 1.5m homes that I’m going to make sure Labour builds, including council and social homes. Because we need social housing in this country.

“We need better terms and conditions. We need strong collective bargaining and we need to repeal anti trade union legislation that the Tories brought in.

“So, while we’re in these rooms, we should keep pushing. We should set our bar really, really high and we should keep pushing to make sure we do better. But to our members, to our friends and family, to our neighbours, we have to tell them what our movement’s success are.

“The last Labour government gave me Sure Start, the Labour government before gave me the opportunity to have a council house. The Open University, free education, the welfare state, the NHS – it was Labour governments that brought the changes.

“We have to explain to people that our movement isn’t perfect, but five more years of the Tories will decimate our communities.”

Concluding her speech, she noted that, regardless of polling, Labour won’t be taking anything for granted in the election run-in, but said: “If I’m lucky enough to become your deputy prime minister, you will see your fingerprints all over the next Labour government because I know some things are bigger than individual aspiration.

“Our movement is bigger than the sum of its parts and what we will achieve together will set us on course to give our children and grandchildren the future that they deserve.”