The legacy and inspiration of Nelson Mandela
I was honoured to be invited to speak on behalf of the trade union movement at the Parliamentary commemoration of Nelson Mandela organised by the Speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords in Westminster Hall this afternoon. This is what I said about the legacy of former President Mandela, and the inspiration he represented.
Mr Speaker, Lord Speaker, and – in the spirit of the African National Congress of which Nelson Mandela was a loyal member all his life … comrades, brothers and sisters!
Nelson Mandela was a personal and political hero for so many people in the British, Irish and international trade union movement.
We shared his commitment to social justice and national liberation; and his opposition to inequality and poverty, at home and globally.
We respected his willingness to negotiate on everything – except for the principles that he would not give up.
And we loved the way he treated all people, regardless of race or class.
Above all, he personified the idea that people working together can change things for the better.
He was one of the few people outside our own ranks to be awarded a TUC Gold Badge, in 1988.
He was the inspiration for the TUC declaring our support for sanctions, including through an advert launched in cinemas across Britain that won us our first ever film award.
And he inspired a generation of trade unionists to campaign against racism and apartheid.
The Dunne’s shopworkers in Dublin who refused to handle South African fruit; the dockworkers in Southampton and Swansea; the car makers at Fords Dagenham.
Proof of the continuing courage of ordinary working people who take industrial action for a just cause.
And inspiring union leaders too like Rodney Bickerstaffe and Brenda Dean; Ron Todd and Norman Willis who were once surrounded by armed South African soldiers in Soweto; Ken Gill, Terry Marsland, and Bill Morris. And, yes, even young union research officers like Peter Hain.
When the Anti Apartheid Movement wanted to stage the first Wembley concert in 1988, unions made sure the money was there to make it happen.
When the third member of the Triple Alliance, our sister union centre COSATU, was formed, trade unionists gave practical support to help it launch.
And union to union, teachers, miners and metal workers here in Britain linked arms in solidarity with their fellow workers in South Africa.
Our solidarity with South African workers continues to this day, and just last week I was in touch with my opposite number in COSATU to express our condolences.
To quote Bertolt Brecht:
“There are men and women who struggle for a day, and they are good. There are others who struggle for a year, and they are better.
“There are some who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives, and these are the indispensable ones.”
Solidarity is what Nelson Mandela means to trade unionists. And we will stay loyal to his legacy.