Maria Exall on repealing Tory anti-union legislation and boosting membership promised in Labour’s New Deal for Working People
Labour’s New Deal for Working People is the central demand of the trade unions for political change under the next Labour Government. The commitment from the current Labour Party leadership to introduce legislation to strengthen working people’s individual and collective rights within the first 100 days of a Labour Government was confirmed at this year’s National Policy Forum and at the Annual Conference.
The commitments in the New Deal for Working people are the collective aspirations of the Labour affiliated Unions for reform of the labour market – and more. The values of a market based society justify individual greed and the profit maximisation in the world of work. They are not Labour values. We need to recognise it is the collective endeavour of working people that is the driver of proper economic growth not shareholder value.
We desperately need to move on from the philosophy of market fundamentalism that has been practised by successive Conservative Governments and to create a lasting progressive Labour legacy of more equal and fair working lives for people in the UK.
The current cost of living crisis has motivated hundreds of thousands of trade union members across the private and public sector to take industrial action for fair pay over the last year. In many areas Unions were able to gain decent pay rises and stop the most egregious of attacks on terms and conditions. There was unprecedented public support for these strikes.
This Government responded to this show of workers’ power by introducing Minimum Service Level (MSL) legislation, the latest in the long line of Tory anti-Union legislation. Up to one in four workers will have their right to strike taken away. Last week the TUC held a Special Congress which committed the whole of the movement to resist this new law and stand by any worker whose job is threatened by it.
The current Labour leadership has committed to repeal of the MSL legislation and the 2016 Employment Act, which brought in ballot thresholds to take industrial action. But the commitments in the New Deal go further than this and have the potential to transform the workplace and our society.
Labour’s New Deal for working people contains commitments on workers’ rights which deal with injustices in the workplace such as fire and rehire, zero hour contracts and casualisation. We need to stop the race to the bottom on workers’ rights through privatisation, liberalisation, and deregulation for the sake of all workers and all citizens. This race to the bottom has created poverty pay and worst standards and quality of service for the public. It also stops the long term planning for investment in the services and the utilities we all depend on.
The public sector unions are asking for public investment in public services at a national and local level and reversing outsourcing, and for an end to the austerity that has devalued the public realm and unleashed in-work poverty.
The Labour strategy on public ownership cannot be limited to the renationalisation of the railways welcome though this is. It is also necessary if we are to have a just transition to green jobs in the energy sector and elsewhere. A progressive Labour Government must take action on climate change and environmental degradation. We need public control of key sectors such as the water industry to improve our collective quality of life. Change is about ownership but it is also about public control and regulation.
Union density and coverage of recognition and collective agreements are perilously low in the UK. Rights of access to workplaces to recruit and organise are another important area of the New Deal. Not only do we need to do this to improve the pay and conditions for those in ‘precarious’ work and the gig economy, we also need rights so we can organise in growing areas of the economy including data and new tech areas.
The sea change in workers’ rights and empowerment of collective organisation and action promised in Labour’s New Deal will lead to greater workplace justice. The current anti trade union laws are a denial of our rights to organise effectively at the workplace and they are also a denial of civil rights and democracy. Political representatives have failed to repealing the anti-union laws which are the most pernicious aspect of the Thatcherite legacy, practically and ideologically.
The UK needs strong and free trade unions to create a fairer and more equal society. The historic achievements of the labour movement come from giving people power and a voice at work through collective representation and collective action. We must not miss the opportunity of our generation to do this. As the Labour Women’s League stated over a century ago “Labour is nothing without strong trade unions”.