This Labour Government has good relations with the trade unions. But there is a key difference with 20 years ago. Those relations are now not too close for comfort.
Today we have dialogue good dialogue but not under any duress. We should be able to agree and disagree without being either in hock to one another or at risk of falling out. A mature, practical relationship based on shared values and a shared agenda.
For example, we both believe that a workplace based on mutual respect and minimum standards of protection, safety and consultation is one which works better and more productively.
That is why we have signed the Social Chapter. Why we are introducing the National Minimum Wage. Why we are implementing the Working Time Directive without delay. The Fairness at Work legislation will be the central building block of this legislative package.
This legislation will not turn back the clock to the days of strikes without ballots, flying pickets and mass action. None of us want that; nobody is calling for it. What it will do is demonstrate that it is possible to have flexibility in the work place and to treat people well.
Be under no illusion. These are controversial changes for which we still have to argue the case, particularly in light of the growing pressures on British business. And argue for it I will: for legislation that’s seen by all to be fair and balanced if it is to win enduring support.
This Bill will strengthen partnership at work. And in today’s economy, partnership is key to competitive strength. Britain is in a non-stop race to boost that strength. To create comparative advantage. To add value. All against a background of our current economic difficulties.
I understand the concerns that are being expressed about the level of the pound. We are well aware of how tough life is out there, particularly for manufacturing industry and exporters.
Nonetheless, John Prescott was right on Monday to say that we should not talk ourselves into recession. Employment is not going down. The economy has generated 400,000 new jobs since Labour came to office.
I fervently believe that we will reap the benefits of the tough but wise decisions Gordon Brown and the Government have taken. No-one is saying it will be easy.
Asia, Japan, Russia, Latin America; jitters on Wall Street; collapse of the real economy in Indonesia. We face constant reminders that we live in a global economy. What affects one country affects us all.
There is no magic fix of Government intervention or extra money that can solve these problems. That’s why economic co-operation between countries has never been more important and why we must strengthen Britain’s position in Europe, now our natural home market.
On this issue, Government, business and unions are at one and working in partnership in Europe.
Now, at the DTI, I know John Monks believes that my new role is the first real job I have had since leaving Congress House. I wouldn’t go that far, but the job is certainly a real challenge.
Some have scoffed that under the Tories, the DTI was the Department of Timidity and Inaction. Under my leadership, no more. My mission at the DTI is to use all the tools at our disposal to strengthen industry, enhance business performance and to create an environment in which enterprise flourishes.
Britain can do better, much better.
As a nation we have a world class science base. We have talent and creativity galore. What we lack are the entrepreneurs to turn those natural strengths into products and services that customers want. We must overcome these weaknesses. For unless we do, Britain will never succeed in exploiting the potential of the knowledge based economy of the future.
In that knowledge-based economy, scientific discovery and technical progress will reach more directly, and much more swiftly, into every aspect of our daily lives.
The key to competitive success will lie in the exploitation of knowledge for commercially profitable ends, as much in manufacturing as in services. In the knowledge-based economy, the increasing reality of liberalised markets and open trade will destroy the traditional sources of competitive advantage.
Once that stemmed solely from the skills and techniques of production. Now it depends much more on the creativity that surrounds it: the knowhow that dreams up new ideas; the innovation that brings forward new products; the marketing that builds new brands.
In this new world, Britain has a simple choice. To move with the times or be swept away by them. My clear view is that we must make change our friend, not our enemy. That is how in simple terms I define the mission of my department.
It is a task in which I want your full support: because together we can put the future on Britain’s side.
Peter Mandelson is Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. This is an extract from his speech to the TUC last week