The IER’s 30th Anniversary Reception

On a cold wet night, the celebratory mood inside the well-filled Great Hall at NEU, Mabledon Place could not be dampened

Commentary icon15 Feb 2019|Comment

Roger Jeary
Roger Jeary

Former Director of Research, Unite

As always on these occasions, it was the time for relatively short speeches and many thank yous, and the three stalwarts of the Institute did us proud. Our ever-present Director, Carolyn Jones opened the evening by thanking the many who have contributed and supported the Institute throughout its time. Academics, lawyers and trade unionists and, of course, the staff. The ever-present leadership of the Institute – President, Professor Keith Ewing and Chair, John Hendy QC – looked on as Carolyn referred to their progressive leadership and she reminded us all that the Institute was a non-political charity, which did not involve itself directly in politics, but was more than happy to see politicians recognise the merits of the Institute’s arguments.

We were then treated to some great video messages from the leading lights of the labour movement today. General Secretaries from across the spectrum of trade unions joined with leading academics, lawyers and politicians to express their support for the Institute’s work now and in the future, and to wish it a happy birthday.

Keith Ewing then spoke about the historical context of the Institute referring to the first meeting, coincidentally just round the corner in Grays Inn Road, at the then headquarters of ISTC (Iron and Steel Trade Union). He reflected also on the early leading lights of the Institute, people like Bill Wedderburn, Jim Mortimer, Ken Gill, Muriel Turner, Bob Crow and Rodney Bickerstaff – a list of labour movement illuminaries and the context of its birth, after nine years of Thatcherite attacks on trade union and employment rights.

He highlighted two major contributions that he felt the Institute had made during its 30 year history. Firstly, its continuing effective criticism of neo-liberalism and its ability to place labour rights in a political context through a critique of labour laws. Secondly, it has developed an alternative vision of labour law based on progressive economics illustrated by three major campaigns – ‘Working Life’; Charter of Workers’ Rights; and the Manifesto for Labour Law.

Whilst regretting the cautious and timid approach of the labour government between 1997 and 2010, Keith warmly praised the contribution that John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, had made to workers’ rights on, amongst many campaigns, Blacklisting, the TU Freedom Bill and the Manifesto for Labour Law. Finally, Keith provided the audience with his utopian vision of 30 years ahead when a progressive government will have provided every worker with protection by the state’s labour laws.

Following Keith was John Hendy QC. John started with a moving tribute to the staff and, in particular, Carolyn Jones who had steered the Institute throughout the last 30 years as Director. Looking back he talked about himself and Bill Wedderburn meeting to discuss how they could counter the Tory think tanks and their development of Tory anti-union laws. The outcome of that was the birth of the Institute and whilst he felt that 28 years had been spent banging their heads against a brick wall, the last two years had delivered a truly progressive labour leadership through Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. The acceptance of much of the Institute’s Manifesto for Labour Law by the shadow cabinet meant that now he and Keith Ewing were in the process of producing “notes for the civil servants” on how to transpose the Manifesto into UK employment law.

The final speaker was John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor. He paid tribute to the Institute and referenced the assault on employment rights through Thatcherism and monetarism. He linked this to economic measures that have produced low wages, debt, poverty and job insecurity. The Institute had exposed the impact of these measures and provided hope for rational alternatives. John presented a positive vision of the resurgence in trade union activity and the mobilisation of precarious workers and added that through the basis of the Manifesto for Labour Law, a Labour Government could transform the world of work. He made clear that it was not solely a question of employment rights but also about ownership of wealth and re-nationalisation of services. A five-year programme which, he asserted, could be compared to the 19th century when workers, after years of exploitation, built a new trade union movement. John said that such a scale of progression, through the work of the IER and a progressive Labour Government, would deliver modern socialism.

In response to the speakers, Carolyn Jones welcomed the voice which talked about socialism and redistribution of wealth in the 21st century and invited everyone to celebrate this event by sharing in the enormous birthday cake and drinks provided courtesy of Thompsons.

Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research.... Read more »