"Let’s place this aim firmly at the top of our agenda. In an increasingly precarious labour market, it’s our moral duty to do so. And, with local elections approaching on 4 May, putting this goal front and centre might just save us from further embarrassment in Labour heartlands"
Last week, new restrictions were placed on our democratic right to strike.
The Trade Union Act, which came into force on Wednesday, requires fresh ballots to achieve a 50 per cent turnout of eligible union members, with a majority voting in favour of strike action. In the health, education and transport sectors, a 40 per cent support threshold must be met for action to be considered legal.
Ostensibly, the demands don’t sound unreasonable. No one welcomes the missed hospital appointments, lost school hours and shocks to the economy that strike days can bring.
But consider that this government came to power with the support of less than 25 per cent of the electorate. What’s more, they did so with David Cameron at the helm, not Theresa May. The hypocrisy of a leader with no public mandate enforcing turnout thresholds should not go unrecognised.
So how was this situation allowed to arise? Trade union membership has roughly halved in the UK since hitting a peak of 12 million in 1980. Once a powerful force for change in British politics, the collective trade union voice is being reduced to a whisper.
The results are obvious. The UK ranks 103rd internationally for wage growth since the financial crisis, with salaries falling by 1 per cent since 2008. Leading the charge among affluent nations are Sweden (+1.8%), Norway (+1.6%) and Germany (+0.9%). Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation confirmed on Friday that a record-high 910,000 people in the UK are on zero hours contracts.
Added to these issues are a stubborn gender pay gap, derisory BAME representation at senior management level and a national ‘living’ wage that can only be claimed by those over the age of 25.
If Copeland has taught us anything, it’s that employment security matters to the electorate. People are not going to vote for a party which is seen as a threat to the local labour market. Equally, they flock to candidates who promise job security, wage increases and rights at work.
Beset by in-fighting and plummeting approval ratings, those of us within the Labour party must put our differences aside and recover our shared commitment to protecting workers’ rights. The NHS is undoubtedly the party’s single proudest achievement, but as Rachel Megan Barker highlighted last week, we have to be more than a single issue party.
Clause IV of the Labour constitution outlines our commitment to achieve“a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.”
Let’s place this aim firmly at the top of our agenda. In an increasingly precarious labour market, it’s our moral duty to do so. And, with local elections approaching on 4 May, putting this goal front and centre might just save us from further embarrassment in Labour heartlands.
Matt Dickinson is a Young Fabians member and Secretary for the Communications Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MMDickinson13
Photo by Tehmoor Khalid, Young Fabian member.