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Trade Unions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Glasman Lord Glasman Labour 1:31 pm, 18th July 2019

My Lords, I am really honoured to be part of this debate and am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Jordan, not only for his work throughout his life for the trade unions, but particularly for his work with the international trade union movement, and initiating this wonderful debate, which has been excellent and very moving.

It is worth the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, remembering—if he would like to go into the history lessons—that the ILO was negotiated while the First World War was in progress. While the biggest bloodbath in our history was happening, the trade union movements in Germany —and Britain in particular—negotiated this. It is important to say to the Benches opposite that it was not just David Lloyd George who supported it; Winston Churchill also supported this as a pillar of the international order. Noble Lords need only look at Harold Macmillan’s third way, which was very far to the left of my noble friend Lord Giddens’ third way, to see that the ILO was a central feature of this global order that, as my noble friend Lord Jordan said, would create a floor—but not only a floor. William Appleton, head of the General Federation of Trade Unions in 1919, said that the ILO and the Treaty of Versailles was the first time in history that working people had a place at the table, where the peace treaty was not only about the protection of private property, national borders and the rights of capital but workers had a place in it; it was a very noble thing.

It is wonderful that my noble friend initiated this debate. It has unleashed many ghosts that we should remember who have been Members of this House, such as Ernest Bevin. It was the British occupation force in North Rhine-Westphalia that initiated the tripartite system in German industry. We did not do it here—that is our tragedy—but we did it there. It was all those people in the trade unions who initiated the representation of workforce on boards, the vocational economy and the regional banks. All of this was the work of the British occupation force.

The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, has reminded us of Paul Kenny. I have an anecdote about Paul Kenny—