Blair speaks to TUC on immigration, language, and related topics
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Sep 13 12:42:53 UTC 2006
Full text of Tony Blair's speech to the TUC
Tuesday September 12, 2006
The prime minister spoke today to the TUC conference in Brighton.
Five years ago at this time, I had to cancel my address to you because of
the terrorist attack in the USA which killed thousands, and the
anniversary of which was yesterday, September 11. Before speaking to you
today, I want to remember all those who died, including the many British
people, repeat our sympathy and condolences for the loss of their loved
ones and rededicate ourselves to complete and total opposition to
terrorism anywhere, for whatever reason. I also wish to pay my respects to
the British armed forces who since that time have fought, and in some
cases sadly lost their lives, and express our thanks for their bravery,
professionalism and commitment to duty.
Go back even further and you may recall, some of you, the first time I
made a keynote speech at the Labour conference in 1990, when I was
employment spokesman. I listed the policy agenda for a Labour government.
I re-read it the other day. We've done most of it: the big, headline items
like the minimum wage but also things like restoring union rights at GCHQ,
things small in themselves, but massively symbolic of a changed
government. And now we have had three terms of Labour government for the
first time ever in 100 years of trying. And every year I've come to the
TUC as prime minister. But remember the 18 years before, when you never
had sight nor sound of a prime minister. For 18 years, you were addressed
by the leader of the opposition. The problem with that title is that it's
true to what it says on the tin: the leader opposes.
The leader doesn't do, because he has no power to do anything. However
difficult it is, however fraught our relations from time to time, make no
mistake: I want the TUC to carry on being addressed by a Labour PM, not go
back to being addressed by the leader of the opposition. The key to
ensuring this doesn't lie in today's headlines, but in the answers to
tomorrow's challenges. I will have time to answer some questions after the
speech and I know you want to talk about the NHS and other issues, but in
my speech I want to talk about the real question which should dominate
politics today: who has the answers to the challenge of global change?
Globalisation is so often debated today that it can just elicit a yawn.
"The world is interdependent" has become a clich.
What isn't clichd, however, is the response to it. For the first time, I
can sense building up, here and round the world, a division, not of
ideology but of attitude, as to how we deal with the consequences of
globalisation. Ten years ago, the response was reasonably clear and
adopted by consensus. Yes, globalisation was at one level frightening, in
its pace and reach; but the only rational response was to manage it,
prepare for it and roll with it. I don't think there is that consensus
today. There is a mindset of fear that is different and deep. People see
the burgeoning economic power of China, India and the emerging economies
threatening jobs and stability. But, in a sense they are fairly
comfortable with it; it's been coming a long time.
What has changed is the interplay between globalisation, immigration and
terrorism. Suddenly we feel under threat: physically from this new
terrorism that is coming onto our streets, culturally as new waves of
migrants change our society, and economically because an open world
economy is hastening the sharpness of competition. People feel they are
working longer, but are less secure. They feel the rules are changing and
they never voted to change them. They feel, in a word, powerless. This is
producing a pessimism that is pervasive and fearful because there seems no
way through, or at least a way under our control. So here we are: recently
praised by the OECD for economic success, unemployment at record lows,
employment at record highs. For all the problems there is no serious doubt
the NHS and the schools are improving.
No Western European country in the past few years has made more progress
than Britain in tackling child poverty. And we produced the growth in
business and prosperity at a time when introducing the minimum wage,
statutory rights to union recognition, an end to blacklisting, full-time
rights for part-time workers, and a host of other employment protection,
most recently the gangmasters' legislation. In virtually any objective
comparisons of 1997 with 2006, the present wins out over the past. But it
is the future which rightly concerns the country. And, incidentally,
similar concerns would be felt in virtually any European nation or the
USA. So people are fearful. Myself and other world leaders are trying hard
to get a WTO deal by the end of the year. The benefits for global
prosperity would be much greater than the last trade round, lifting
millions out of poverty.
But I tell you frankly: the leaders do not have swathes of public opinion
with them in this endeavour and in some countries have swathes of it
against. In respect of terrorism, there is a large part of the western
world inclined to believe the true threat is George Bush not Islamist
extremism. And go to most countries and do a focus group and immigration
will come out top of the list of anxieties. There is a debate going on
which, confusingly for the politicians, often crosses traditional
left/right lines and the debate is: open v closed. Do we embrace the
challenge of more open societies or build defences against it? In my
judgement, we need an approach that is strong and not scared, that
addresses people's anxieties but does not indulge them, and above all has
the right values underpinning it.
The challenge won't be overcome by policy alone, but by a powerful case
made on the basis of values, most especially those that combine liberty
with justice, security with tolerance and respect for others. We have to
escape the tyranny of the "or" and develop the inclusive nature of the
"and". The answer to economic globalisation is open markets and strong
welfare and public service systems, particularly those like education,
which equip people for change. The answer to terrorism is measures on
security and tackling its underlying causes. The answer to concern over
migration is to welcome its contribution and put a system of rules in
place to control it. Over the past few months we have witnessed both the
dire conflict in Lebanon and the attempted terrorist conspiracies in the
At the same time there has been a raging debate about immigration from
Eastern Europe and about sentiment within our Muslim communities. In one
form or another, such debates have been convulsing politics in many
disparate nations. It is no surprise that people are worried: shocked by
the fact that terrorists can be home-grown, shocked at death and
destruction on our television screens whether from Lebanon, Palestine,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan or Turkey, confused as to what is the right
answer. These past three days I have been in the Middle East. I've talked
to many different people there. In media terms, there is a natural desire
always to concentrate on the surface eruptions of conflict: the tragic
death of so many innocent people. In an age where the picture dominates,
the graphic human suffering has most impact. But go even a little beneath
the surface and the suffering is not less, but an understanding of what is
really happening is so much clearer.
You might have thought from the news coverage that everyone I met in
Lebanon was hostile. Some were. Most, including members of the cabinet
still bearing the scars of previous assassination attempts by outside
interests, were desperate for our help. Why? Because they know perfectly
well that the conflict in Lebanon was just a proxy for another, deeper,
conflict. They know their suffering wasn't the product of a chance event,
but part of a strategy of outside powers in a bigger game. The Palestinian
leadership are passionate in their condemnation of their treatment by
Israel. But don't believe that they don't know why the crisis in Gaza was
started and who was responsible. In Iraq and Afghanistan, likewise, there
is no doubt what is happening.
>>From the beginning, America, the UK and the troops of 25 other nations
have been there with a full UN mandate; in Iraq with such a UN mandate for
over three years. People focus again on the terrible suffering of the
innocent and the loss of so many brave soldiers. But again, there is a
deeper reason for the suffering; and it's nothing to do with so-called
failures of planning. There is a war being fought there, by proxy. Afghans
and Iraqis have voted for their governments. Those attacking them are
doing so to destroy those slender democratic roots. We are defending them.
We should be absolutely proud of doing so. The world should be grasping
the full impact of the fight and devoting its energy and resources to it.
But let us again be frank: a large part of it is hesitant and even
lukewarm in its support. Meanwhile, the global Muslim community feels
humiliated and angry. They feel pinned between the policy of the US, the
UK and its allies on the one hand, and the extremists within on the other.
The result is that in the Lebanese conflict, many people, Muslim and
non-Muslim, will rail against Israel but often with barely a mention of
the deaths of innocent Israelis, admittedly fewer, but each life is a
life, or the 4,000 Iranian-supplied rockets fired into the north of
Israel. So: what is the way through? It is to stand strong and fight where
we need to: for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, against terrorists,
home-grown or otherwise.
There is no justification for this terrorism, never was and never will be.
Fight it wherever it is. But also to stand strong for the values of
justice as well as democracy. Investing against global poverty in Africa
is investing in our own future security. Peace in Palestine is not only
just and right, it is the indispensable pre-condition for rolling back the
momentum of this global terrorist movement which threatens us. The peace
must be on the right terms. I have shown my support for Israel's right to
be secure and I will continue to do so. Peace which threatens its security
is no peace. But on the right terms it must be done.
Yesterday's announcement of a government of national unity in Palestine is
precisely what I hoped for. On the basis it is faithful to the conditions
spelled out by the quartet - the UN, EU, US and Russia - we should lift
the economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and be prepared to
deal with the government, the whole government. Then, piece by piece, step
by step, we must put a process of peace back together again. This must go
alongside a more intensive and more frank engagement with the Muslim
community here. Some days ago, I met some of the younger mainstream
activists within the British community. I was excited by their
intelligence and determination. They don't want to pander to this
extremism but confront it. We should support them. For example, it isn't
acceptable that some imams, who cannot even speak our language, come here
to preach hatred, or that women are not allowed into certain mosques.
Where the mainstream challenges such behaviour, we will be on their side.
There is no reason, therefore, to despair of this tide of extremism. It
can be turned back. By strength in fighting it, and wisdom in how the
fight is conducted. The same is true of the issue of migration. I applaud
your TUC statement on this issue. It is so close to my own view that I
thought of simply reading it out and letting it stand as my speech. That
may be both the first and the last time I can say that of a motion to the
TUC. As you say: "If migrant workers are treated fairly and paid a decent
wage, they represent no threat to the livelihoods of people who are
already living and working in the UK, and... it is good for the people of
Eastern Europe because it provides them with growth, better jobs and
wages, and spreads and deepens European democratic values.
"Creating a common market means that workers must have rights as well as
businesses, and there must be freedom of movement for workers as well as
for capital, goods and services." I couldn't agree more. We have recently
had historically high levels of economic growth at historically low levels
of inflation. This is in no small part due to migrant labour. The DWP has
found no evidence of a link between immigration and unemployment. And it
is not true that the earnings of most UK-born workers are lower than they
would have been. Migrant workers have a positive impact on the economy:
increasing growth rates over the last few years by between 0.5% and 1%,
and making a net contribution to the exchequer.
You point out, again in your statement to congress, that migrant workers
have filled many stubborn vacancies, in education, health, social
services, transport in the public sector and in agriculture, construction
and hospitality in the private sector. They have filled labour gaps in key
regions like East Anglia. But there are real challenges. This is
particularly the case in those areas, where immigration has not been a
feature of life in the past. This can create short-term funding problems
and unexpected pressure on local authorities. There are problems of
overcrowding in private housing, homelessness and some anti-social
A small number of schools are struggling to cope with a sudden influx.
There can be additional costs associated with language teaching. Primary
care trusts in Southampton and Slough are ensuring that new migrants
working come to hospital services through their GP rather than through
A&E. We need therefore a thorough overhaul of how we help local
authorities and public services cope with such unprecedented demands.
There is a lot we can learn from other countries about how to support
integration. Canada has introduced state-funded host programmes, intense
language training, orientation lessons and short-term health cover. New
Zealand sits migrants down through a highly interactive course of CDs and
videos. Australia offers immigrants a comprehensive workbook system on
Australian life and values, and is adapting the UK's citizenship test
And we do also, of course, need to be vigilant about the rights of the
migrants themselves. Migrant workers will typically be less adept with the
language and less aware of their rights. Pay levels below the minimum
wage, unlawful deductions, low wages, long hours, poor accommodation -
often contrary to the law - are completely unacceptable and must be
stopped. The Polish and Lithuanian workers engaged for the daffodil season
in Cornwall who did a 70-hour week and who, after all the deductions, were
left with just 21p. The three Polish workers living in the back of a
trailer lorry on an abattoir loading bay. This is utterly barbaric and
wrong. The Gangmasters' Licensing Act must not simply be in effect, but
must be enforced and vigorously. These rules and their enforcement are not
just important for migrant workers; they prevent organised gangs bringing
more people in to Britain than we need or can cope with.
And this is at the heart of public concerns. People want migration
controlled. Now, they may also argue about more or less migration, but
there is no argument that we should, by right, be able to decide that
ourselves, not have it decided by forces, often global in nature, outside
our control. That is why we must have secure means, in so far as that is
possible, of identifying who comes in, who goes out, and who stays in
Britain. In today's world, the old methods won't do. Thirty million people
came to the UK last year. Two hundred and twenty-seven million passed
through our airports. The vast bulk of course do so, not just
legitimately, but vitally for our economy. Overseas students are part of
the lifeblood of our universities; tourists and visitors, an essential
part of our earnings; companies come and locate here as part of global
business. Put this at risk and we're sunk.
So we need a means of identification which allows our open economy still
to function. The sophistication of document forgery means we can only be
confident of people's identities if we have their biometrics: their
fingerprints, irises and digital measures of their face. By April 2008,
all visa applicants will have their fingerprints taken. All visa nationals
will need biometrics to get through border control. By April 2009 people
here for work or study will have biometric identity cards, and biometric
travel documents will be issued to refugees by the middle of 2007. The
first ID cards will be issued by 2009. Alongside this, and as fast as we
can, we need the electronic border system, checking in and checking out
all visitors, a system which we and most other similar economies will have
to develop in the years to come.
I know this answer isn't popular, at least in some quarters. But I tell
you, without secure ID, controlled migration just isn't possible. You can
have armies of inspectors, police and bureaucrats trying to track down
illegals but without a proper system of ID - and biometric technology now
allows this - it is a hopeless task. And as identity abuse grows - and it
is a huge problem now across parts of the private as well as public sector
- so the gains for consumers and companies will grow through a secure ID
database. Migration from an enlarged EU is a particular issue. There has
been a big influx of Eastern Europeans and not just here but elsewhere.
The evidence is they have helped and not been a burden. 97% work
full-time. Only 3% of A8 migrants bring their children with them.
Preliminary figures suggest up to 50% are returning home. Forget the
notion that Britain is the only country affected.
It is striking that Spain, Portugal, Finland, and Italy have now followed
our example by opening their labour markets to new members. But the
prospect of Bulgarian and Romanian accession raises its own issues and
means very careful decisions will have to be taken about labour market
access. Although even without it, there will be freedom of movement. The
danger with the public concern is we lose the argument over enlargement.
Remember how fragile is the agreement in Europe that Turkey should be
allowed membership. Yet a denial of membership even if Turkey were to meet
the membership criteria, would be a seismic decision, with consequences
far beyond Europe, for obvious reasons. Be clear: an enlarged Europe has
been good for Europe and for Britain. Yes, we have had to support it
financially. We supported Ireland, too, and Portugal and Spain, but today
our trade with them far outweighs the subsidy and I believe that Irish
progress in the EU has been a crucial dimension of the Northern Ireland
So lose the argument over enlargement and we will rue the long-term
consequences. The true answer is at the same time as enlarging Europe, to
support economic development in the new states as last year's budget deal
does, and to tackle the problems that can accompany enlargement -
organised crime and gangs crossing into Europe through the enlarged member
states - with strong pan-European measures to combat the threat, crack
down on illegal working and exploitation, and insist on full cooperation
from all member states in doing so. My point is this. There are answers.
It's just that they are new answers and ones that combine our values with
hard-headed policy that realistically analyses the dangers and minimises
them. Now is the right time to debate these issues. The stakes are high.
I don't want to live in a closed society. One that hides away in the face
of terrorism or leaves others to do the dirty job of fighting it. One that
sees immigrants as "swamping us". One that concentrates on protecting a
job at the expense of creating others. I want an open society with rules,
one that delights in its tolerance and pursues justice not only within our
borders but outside them. Such a society has in-built confidence. It is
optimistic by nature. It sees opportunities before threats, looks to
potential first and anxiety second. It knows there is a price to pay but
knows also that to refuse to pay it costs us much more in the longer-term.
Protectionism in the economy, isolation in world affairs, nativism within
our society; all, in the end, mean weakness in the face of challenge.
If we believe in ourselves we can be strong. We can overcome the challenge
of global change; better, we can relish its possibilities. Over the coming
months, we will be conducting this debate and refining policy on the basis
of it. Participate in it. Organised labour has a crucial role to play. It
is exactly where modern trade unionism should be. And if we can shape the
debate in the right way, and obtain solutions that are fair and practical,
we will do well by the country but will also show that when the
politicking of the previous two weeks passes, politics, true politics can
deliver the progress we all want to see.
Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
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