Let me begin by saluting the excellent work done by our Secretary, Nick Kelleher. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that, without his commitment, dedication and sheer hard work, the Trades Council would not be here today.
But the Trades Council is here today and attendance at meetings has been steadily growing. It must be one of our aims to build on our membership and build on active participation.
Now, more than any time in recent years, this country needs a strong trade union movement, a movement that will defend working people, that will speak out against injustice wherever it may occur, that will lead the way to a Britain that puts the welfare of its people at the heart of its structure.
2008 has been another bad year for the hopes of world peace.
Imperialist wars continue to be waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving many in those countries into the arms of extremists. Suicide bombing has continued to take a heavy toll, mainly of civilians but occasionally laying waste to the lives of British troops.
We know how badly the Palestinians have been treated by the Israelis. You’ve heard how the settlers are taking more and more land from the Palestinians. You’ve seen the giant apartheid wall, you heard independent media reports about the suffering in Palestine. And that was before the current onslaught.
Little wonder that the dispossessed and the threatened have attempted to show some defiance by launching largely ineffectual rocket attacks. They should have known that Israel would take wholly disproportionate action.
Since the attacks were launched, there have been in excess of 1000 Palestinian deaths and countless other casualties, largely civilian. The Israelis have suffered 13 deaths – some of those, apparently, as the result of friendly fire.
Today, the Israelis have shelled the UN headquarters in Gaza. They claim that Hamas was firing upon them from that location. The real target was the emergency aid desperately needed by Palestinian men, women and children.
The Israelis have been following a programme of aggression towards the Palestinians which seems to have little purpose other than driving the Palestinians out. We need to ask if the Israeli government is now embarking on a programme of genocide.
Sadly, this month we remember the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people in what has become known as the Holocaust. We must remember those events and work alongside Jewish communities to make sure the like never happens again. We must not, however, allow our feelings about the Holocaust to excuse the Israelis for the way they are currently behaving.
2008 has been another bad year for Britain.
Gordon Brown’s new Labour Government has continued to pander to the rich and offer crumbs from the top table to the workers and the underprivileged. Little wonder that traditional Labour voters are staying away from the ballot box or putting their cross elsewhere. They’ve had enough.
Wolverhampton suffered the effects of the backlash when Labour lost control of the Council. Labour must come to terms with why Wolverhampton now has a Tory administration. The blame is directly attributable to the Government. Year upon year, new Labour failed to deliver a local government settlement that would allow the Council to properly meet the needs of its citizens. Year upon year, the Labour administration struggled to balance the books and maintain its services, being forced to plunder the reserves.
Looking to blame the Tories for making financial cuts will not solve the problem. The answer lies elsewhere.
2008 has been a bad year for the economy.
Or, to be more accurate, it’s been a bad year for capitalism.
A system based on greed was bound to come unstuck eventually. It is the nature of the beast that it devours itself.
Our problem is that we were too tied into the American system. Mega-bucks, fly-by-night, screw the punters.
And you don’t even need qualifications. The head of Northern Rock admitted to a Parliamentary inquiry that he had neither qualifications or experience to run a bank. Just a desire to get rich quick.
One bank after another. Government money, our money, being used to prop up the system. And still the bonuses came.
Businesses going to the wall one after another. Jobs lost in their thousands.
New Labour will help out businesses to the tune of £20 B.
Will it help those who have lost their jobs ? Will it prevent them from losing their homes ?
We have record interest rate cuts. To help out the banks. But are the banks passing on those interest rate cuts ?
And what is Gordon Brown doing to solve the problem ? He’s just brought in a fat cat banker, Mervyn Davies, as Minister for Trade. Wait a minute, the bloke’s a banker ! Aren’t they the ones who got us into this mess in the first place ?
This should be no great shock, as Brown’s already brought back the widely discredited Peter Mandelson to the fold. It makes a mockery of elections when the unelected repeatedly get given such prominent positions.
There is an alternative to this mess. It’s called Socialism. It’s a system that puts people before profit.
As Trade Unionists we should look to Cuba, currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the revolution. Despite the hardships imposed by the United States, Cuba still puts its people first.
And that message is spreading through Latin and South America.
Some question Cuba’s human rights record. I say “Put your own house in order first.”
Human rights in the free world allow you to lose your home and your living, they allow you to be exploited by banks and conned by the advertising industry.
They allow footballers to be paid £0.5M a week while people in the Third World never know where their next meal is coming from.
Don’t talk to me about human rights in Cuba.
Viva Cuba ! Viva la Revolucion !
Brothers and sisters, Forward with the Trade Union Movement.
United We Stand.
President, Wolverhampton, Bilston and District Trades Union Council.