Speech to Unite Manufacturing Delegates, Unite Sector Conferences, November 15th, 2017.

Speech to Unite Manufacturing Sector Conference – 15th November 2017

The Challenge of Brexit

Conference we meet at a time when manufacturing is being damaged by the Brexit chaos created by a Government who have no idea of how to handle the most complex negotiations that any country has ever taken since the end of the second world war.

We all remember days after the referendum pro Brexiteers saying that negotiating Brexit would be “easy”.

They told us other countries in the EU would want trade deals with us – they told the country “nothing would change” and “all would be well”

But for members in manufacturing the complexities of trade and exporting manufactured goods – back and forth across the Channel, across complex supply chains we knew differently.

That is why our manufacturing combine of shop stewards put together our own arguments to get a ‘Brexit On Our Terms’.

Unite warned that companies would hold back investment.

Unite said we needed a trade deal with the European Union and a Customs Union agreement

We needed to protect employment rights

We needed access to skills and a fair immigration system

The Government had not worked out impact of Brexit on manufacturing – and following last weeks publication of the Trade Bill it is clear they are still clueless.

The group Hard Brexit MPs – Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, Ian Duncan Smith, John Redwood are happy to see manufacturing jobs destroyed – just to get out of the EU – that is their end game.

They are not concerned that we will face a low skilled, low wage, low employment rights economy – it would be the completion of the Thatcherite project that was started in the 1970’s.

They are not bothered that 44% of manufactured goods are exported – and that manufacturing accounts for 70% of research and development.

They never mention that average earnings in manufacturing are £5000 more than the whole economy.

They just want out of the EU at any price.

And make no mistake Unite members will take no lessons from the likes of James Dyson who has advocated a “hire and fire regime’ to supposedly “kick start manufacturing” – this from a man who took his manufacturing to low cost Malaysia.

They Government has no plan for our members working in steel, in making tyres, in ceramics, papermaking and in glass and chemicals who will face the dumping of cheap products, notably from China, on our market without any trade protections – and we can be proud that it was Unite who have been at forefront of campaigning for protections to stop the dumping of steel and other goods to protect our members.


  • We can be also proud of our campaign to for a free trade agreement with the EU
  • For a frictionless supply chain, to stop tariffs of up to 10% adding £1500 to the price of an exported car and that a tariff of 4% on imports from the supply chain which would also add a further massive on-costs.

Delegates: We accept the decision of the country – members may voted to leave the European Union – but they didn’t vote to destroy jobs, their companies and their communities.

So you can be assured we will continue to campaign for the best possible outcome that defends decent jobs for the future and ensures that we maintain a strong manufacturing base in the UK.


Conference in manufacturing we will be on the frontline facing the challenges from automation and the digital economy which will be set out by Sharon Graham this morning.Our manufacturing sectors stepped up to the plate and began the discussions on how we handle automation and a digital economy to protect our members jobs.

One thing is clear, trying to stop the “digital revolution” is like trying to “un-invent electricity” – it won’t happen.

Unite has set out a clear structure and policy and one which I would certainly commend to our Union Reps here today and deserves your full support.

Industrial Strategy

The lack of an industrial strategy from the Government has meant that there has been no consistent Government response to technological change and to the economic problems that our industries and our members face.

The Government – or so we are told – intends to publish its industrial strategy soon – Unite’s proposals for an industrial strategy has been with them since April! They need to get a move on!

So why do we need an industrial strategy?

Take for instance the steel industry. We were warning three years ago that SSI at Redcar was on the verge of collapse and when it did the Government panicked – it was Unite and the other Unions who moved to try to defend our members jobs, pay and conditions and pensions.

We mounted a campaign to Save Our Steel that took our members to Brussels and Strasbourg to fight for our steel industry.

Those members are a credit to our Union.

A proper industrial strategy with ‘steel at its heart’ as Len McCluskey has described it could have saved steel jobs but the Government were caught out – trying to cobble together a plan at the last minute.

And look at great companies such as Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Luton taken over by PSA – now facing job losses because there is no overall plan to ensure we defend our “jewel in the crown” automotive industry and the auto supply chain.

The lack of an industrial strategy mean you get massive job losses announced at BAE Systems because of the “short termism” on spending our defence budget – tax payers money – on “off the shelf” kit from the USA and not ensuring that our helicopter and surveillance planes are manufactured here.

  • It is Unite that is stepping up to the plate again to press the Government to urgently bring forward a plan to manufacture a 6th Generation of manned fighter planes here in the UK.
  • It is Unite that is also arguing for the UK Government to commit to the production of electric vehicles and the necessary infrastructure – here in the UK.
  • Our science industries – in chemicals and pharmaceuticals have faced a difficult time because of a lack of industrial strategy – as has our engineering and graphical industries.

It is gratifying that not only have we defended jobs when faced with problems we have also put forward workable alternatives such as our “Wells to Wheels” strategy for the oil industry.


Our Union have been involved in some hard fought campaigns. I can’t cover them all – but it is worth mentioning…

  • In the offshore oil sector on the North Sea the “Back Home Safe” campaign run by our Scotland Region to protect our members working in some of the most dangerous conditions on earth and to keep Super Puma helicopters grounded until we have found out why some have crashed in the UK and Norway and killed workers.
  • Our campaign to defend decent pensions at BMW and in other companies across manufacturing
  • Unite’s “Defend Our Spend” campaign to procure UK defence equipment – and our campaign to build the Successor submarines in the UK.
  • We are working to organise workers in the IT industry at Fujitsu and DXC
  • and we are fnow acing job losses in Northern Ireland at Bombardier where 4500 jobs are at stake from an attack on the company by Boeing – and also now Schlumberger, and at Cummins Transmissions in Stamford and Delphi in Sudbury who are once again off-shoring work and jobs.

But let’s also look at some successes:

  • At Rolls Royce in Derby a great campaign by our Reps ensured that a new jet engine test bed is being located at the Derby site.
  • At Airbus over 1000 agency workers are now permanent employees, thanks to great work by our Unite Reps.
  • At Penguin Random House where Unite and the NUJ were stripped of union recognition, and after a great campaign by our members have won back full union rights at the company.
  • Unite secured union recognition at the new Aston Martin plant in Wales after the local management refused to talk to us.
  • Unite renegotiated with Toyota a new union agreement at the comapny and we about to sign a new collective agreement at Nissan in Sunderland which trebles the number of Shop Stewards and Union Reps on site at the biggest car plant in the UK.
  • And another important first – our members at Bentley in Crewe – winning a 35-hour week by 2019 – a great achievement.

It is Unite who have been at the forefront, of campaigning for skilled apprenticeships for young people, for women and for BAEM workers, with a real job at the end of training not low grade short term apprenticeships.


I am pleased to say that Unites’ industrial strategy was adopted by the Labour Party in their manifesto and that Labour Front Benchers now regularly seek our help, advice and support on manufacturing and industrial issues.

We can be confident that when we go into the General Election we will be able to beat the Tories hands down on manufacturing and jobs

  • You can all be proud that Unite is playing its part
  • that Unite’s voice is heard
  • and that Unite is leading the way
  • defending decent jobs,
  • defending decent pay and decent working conditions.
  • fighting for the future and fighting for manufacturing and our great Union.
  • thanks to all of our Reps and delegates for your support and dedication over the past two years.


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