I’m delighted to be here, and honoured you’ve invited me to join you – not just for this session but for the workshops later on today.
I want to start by thanking John, Jeff and Paddy for all their work to make Britain fairer.
Day in, day out, you show how a great, constructive trade union can flourish in this country.
It’s usually said that retail is the hardest sector to unionise, that you can’t ‘organise the un-organisable’ – and yet USDAW does precisely this, every single year.
You are Britain’s fastest growing union, you keep winning and you never give up, and I’m proud to stand alongside you.
I first worked with USDAW 10 years ago when I was director of the Maternity Alliance charity. Together, we campaigned to end pregnancy discrimination at work and to improve flexible working.
There was a time when some people thought these were fringe issues. But not USDAW.
You knew your members were suffering at work just for starting a family and caring for their kids.
You knew, too, that losing out on the talents, skills and experience of your members was bad for employers and bad for the economy as a whole.
Today, by championing better education through Learn4U centres like the McVities centre here in Manchester, and by campaigning to stop attacks and abuse at work, USDAW shows how a skilled, valued and respected workforce helps build strong businesses and a stronger economy.
You know business succeeds most when workers share in their success.
That’s one of the things this general election should be about.
The election is getting closer and I can tell you, I’m getting more and more frustrated at how politics is discussed.
Politics gets talked about like it’s a sport.
Who’s up, who’s down. Who played well and whose had a bad day.
But this isn’t a game. It’s people’s lives.
And this election isn’t about politicians. It’s about you.
Your jobs and careers. Your rights and dignity at work.
Your homes, communities and local services.
Your kids and your hopes for a better future.
Without progress on all these issues, families will continue to struggle and we’ll struggle as a country too.
To make that progress, we’ve got to back enterprise and wealth creation in every part of Britain.
We need thriving businesses that can create good jobs, pay a decent wage and compete with the best in the world.
Your members don’t want Tesco to struggle, they want it to grow and succeed, even when the management has a bad year.
We passionately want businesses to expand, thrive and invest in our future.
And we want them to pay their taxes, too.
Not just because it is deeply unfair that when most people work all the hours and pay every penny they owe, some companies get away with daylight robbery.
But because businesses depend on the things our taxes pay for.
They need great schools, colleges and universities that teach people the right skills. They need good infrastructure – roads and railways and world-class science research.
And they don’t need to pay over the odds for healthcare like companies do in so many other countries – but not with our NHS.
A fair tax system that pays for good public services isn’t a drain on British business, its essential to their success – as all good companies know.
We’ve also got do more to value the most crucial part of any business.
You. The women and men who work day in, day out, who are the heart of every business, the backbone of our economy and Britain’s best asset.
We rightly hear a lot about how infrastructure, technology and investment are crucial to helping our businesses grow.
But work and workers must be equally valued in building our economic success.
Creating an economy that works for everyone has been Ed’s driving mission since he became Labour leader.
And its what he’ll deliver as Britain’s next Prime Minister.
That’s why we’ll establish new regional business banks to back companies and create new jobs in every part of the country.
We’ll create thousands of new technical degrees and gold standard apprenticeships so people can get the skills they need to earn a decent wage, and businesses can compete across the globe.
We’ll help make work pay by raising the minimum wage and incentivising businesses to pay the living wage.
And we’ll give workers a voice on executive remuneration committees, to help make sure managers listen to employees when top salaries are negotiated and bonuses are awarded.
We will also value work and workers by respecting people’s family lives.
I campaigned alongside USDAW for better maternity rights and flexible hours, because helping people at work isn’t just about what happens in their job.
People want the security of knowing they can work enough hours that fit around their family life, so they can pay the bills and care for the people they love.
That’s good for your members, who don’t want to have to rely on benefits or turn to pay day lenders just to make it to the end of the week.
It’s good for business, because when more people can work and care for their families, companies can hire the best person for the job not just the one with the fewest responsibilities.
And it’s good for the country, because making sure people earn a decent wage reduces the welfare bill, increases the tax take and helps pay down the deficit.
I am very proud that the last Labour government put childcare at the top of our agenda, because we know it’s as important to helping people work as good skills, roads and railways.
We made great progress, and we’ll go further with our new plan for 25 hours free childcare for working parents with three and four year olds.
Alongside better childcare the next Labour government will make caring for elderly relatives a priority too.
We live in an aging society and family life is changing.
More and more of us are working and caring for our elderly mums and dads, or disabled partners, and often minding the grandchildren too.
Yet it’s still far too hard for people to provide for their families and care for those they love.
It is a scandal that 1 in 3 unpaid family carers have to give up work or reduce their hours because they cant get the support they need, or arrange flexible working hours.
This must change.
Last month, when I launched Labour’s pledge to help family carers, I went to see Lesley Jarvis – an USDAW member who has been caring for her husband since he had a stroke ten years ago.
Lesley is 63 and works for Tesco in Croydon. She’s a tough lady, but her life can be a real struggle.
If her shift changes, her husband’s care needs to change. If a care worker turns up late, her job gets more difficult.
And if all the different NHS and council services don’t talk to one another, it’s left to her to try and fix the problem when she should be at work.
Lesley wants to work. She wants to care.
But to do this, she needs an employer and care services that listen to her and back her efforts.
USDAW is already making a difference for Lesley. And a Labour Government will support family carers like her right across the country.
We will give families more say and greater control over their care services, because people need more power at home as well as at work.
We’ll make sure care fits around families, with a single point of contact, so they don’t have to battle all the different services and tell their story time and time again.
We’ll give family carers the right to ask for an annual health check and properly ring-fence funding for breaks, so people like Lesley don’t end up seeing their own health suffer too.
And we’ll champion more flexible working, in partnership with employers, trades unions and carers’ organisations.
We need a Britain where businesses and workers are valued, and where both contribute to and share fairly in our country’s success.
That’s Ed’s agenda. And it’s my passion too.
But we all know there’s another way on offer.
Unfortunately I have to spend a lot of time listening to Tory MPs.
I love my work, but every job has its downside.
The Tories think the way the country succeeds is when we cut taxes for the rich while squeezing the least well off.
They say we have to reduce workers’ rights so business can increase their profits.
It’s a view of society where for some to succeed, others must suffer.
Where for the economy to grow, we can’t invest in our people.
But that just isn’t true. It leads to division and resentment, and it doesn’t even work.
Because as you’ve shown time and time again, as the last Labour government proved, and as we’ve learned ever since the founding of the welfare state:
Britain does best when every Briton can do well.
When we work together to get a better deal for all.
That’s what’s at stake on May 7th.
So don’t let anyone, ever tell you we don’t have the guts or determination to take on the Tories and fight for our future.
My constituents and your members desperately need a Labour government that will back the efforts of all those who make this country great.
I know politics isn’t perfect – far from it.
But it matters, and it makes a difference.
We won’t always get it right. And we wont always agree.
But I promise you this: with Ed in Number Ten we’ll never stop listening.
We’ll never stop working or being by your side.
We can and we will change this country if we campaign together, fight together and work together.
We can’t do it without you.
So lets get out there on the doorstep, on the shop floor, in all our communities.
Lets go out and fight for what we believe in – and together, transform Britain for all of us.