Richard Leonard Pays Tribute On Workers' Memorial Day

Richard Leonard has paid tribute to those who have lost their lives at work in a speech on International Workers' Memorial Day at Summerlee Heritage Park in Coatbridge. 

The Scottish Labour leader, who is a local MSP, delivered a sombre reflection in a speech to mark an important day in the labour movement's calendar. He said:

"I want to begin by thanking this Trades Union Council for inviting me, as a local MSP and as the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and for once again organising this event.

I addressed the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Aviemore last week and listening to your delegate Tommy Brennan speak it reminded me of the active role played by trades union councils inside the trades union movement in Scotland.

This is not a weakness. It is a sign of great strength.

We should be proud of it. Not apologise for it.

And few Trades Councils play a more active role than North Lanarkshire Trades Union Council.

We meet on Workers’ Memorial Day. Which is an international Workers’ Memorial Day.

And we should make a virtue out of that fact too.  We are part of a movement which organises right across the world.

Our horizons not, narrowed by geography.

But widened by common principles of solidarity, equality, and justice.

We meet today to commemorate the memory of those who have been killed at work.

Remembering this year. In this place especially - the centenary of the Stanrigg mining disaster when on a July morning nineteen miners went to work and never returned home: entombed in the earth.

We meet to commemorate their memory and the memory of all of those others since who have lost their lives at work.

We remember the dead and fight for the living. 

So we also meet to renew our determination and our faith that there is another, better way.

We need better laws, stronger trade union rights and political as well as industrial organisation.

Because we must always remember, that this great movement of ours was not founded simply to fight for the weekly wage.

It was founded to secure a better quality of life.

The pioneers fought for the eight-hour day because they understood that long hours and miserable conditions brought about early death.

Which is why with Brexit we should consider ending the UK opt-out of the Working Time Directive  which sees over a quarter of a million workers (15 per cent of the workforce) in Scotland alone working over 48 hours a week.

And many of them employed in agriculture, where over 40 per cent of fulltime workers work excessive hours: that’s over 12,000 workers and the construction industry where almost a quarter (24.4%) over 40,000 workers work excessive hours.

It is no coincidence that these are the two sectors which have the worst health and safety records and the highest number of workplace fatalities in Scotland.

We need an end to the long hours, low productivity, low wage economy starting with an end to the UK opt-out as part of a managed reduction in working time with no loss of earnings.

Which brings me to my final point.  As we gather on this memorial day. At this magnificent Museum of Scottish industrial life in Coatbridge.

It is time to reclaim our history.

Not the history of the mine & foundry owners like the Bairds of Gartsherrie.  Nor the history of the slave traders like the Buchanans of Drumpellier.

But the history of the working men and women of this burgh and beyond. Go and look at their old trade union banners.

Look at the rallying cries on them:

“Out of darkness into light”

“Shorter hours and longer life”

“The cause of labour is the hope of the world”

It is that pioneering spirit and that vision we are recapturing in the labour movement today.

To bring about a better life for working people. To build a better world and a better planet.

It is a campaign and a cause that we not only can win. It is a campaign and a cause that we must win.  It is a campaign and a cause that we will win."

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