18 Days Remaining

Saturday 3rd
posted by Morning Star in Features

TIM ROACHE knows who stands on the side of the workers

WHAT a time for the GMB to hold its congress. In the last 12 months we have seen Britain vote for Brexit, Donald Trump elected as US President, a new Tory Prime Minister and now a general election. We live in turbulent times to say the least.

It’s for these very reasons that the only thing we can say with confidence right now is that no-one can predict anything in politics any more — and that’s why it’s all to play for in the coming week.

But whatever happens on June 8 — and I’ll be on the knocker campaigning for a Labour victory as soon as congress finishes — it’s clear the trade union movement is more vital than ever.

When we look at the picture of working Britain, which GMB delegates will be debating in the days ahead, we see rapid technological change, an increasing proliferation of insecure work and the age-old problem of bosses trying every trick in the book to make a few extra quid on the bottom line.

This past year, GMB has taken high-profile cases against gig economy employers, a new breed of employer who refuses to accept what their title means: they employ people. They want the profit, but not the responsibility to the people who make them their money.

Our victory against Uber led to a damning judgement from the central London employment tribunal, which ruled that Uber does employ drivers (who would have thought?) and that those drivers are entitled to the rights of all “workers” — a minimum wage, paid rest breaks and holiday pay.

Of course Uber has refused to accept its responsibilities and is appealing the judgement, but we’ll continue to fight for our members and to hold gig economy bosses to account, because this is no different to exploitation in other areas of the economy — it’s just using a shiny new facade to exploit low-paid workers.

Fake self-employment isn’t the only area we’re concerned about — too many businesses have been allowed to get away with using agency contracts to replace the permanent workforce, driving down job security, terms and conditions. Employers like Asos and Sports Direct can afford to treat their workers and the communities they operate in properly, but sheer corporate greed overrules that moral virtue.

No-one can tell me that such large businesses are so poor at workforce planning that they need 50, 80 or even 90 per cent of the workers on their books to be agency. They’re quite simply having a laugh while their workers worry about the hours they’ll get next week.

GMB is making huge inroads, recruiting thousands of members in the gig economy and successfully fighting for companies to make agency workers permanent, and we’ll keep doing that, workplace by workplace.

But the reality is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Tories have shown they are not interested in 21st-century rights for 21st-century workers. Theresa May announced that she would roll out the biggest expansion of workers’ rights than under any Tory government — that wouldn’t be hard would it! But they have no interest in working people and their families. If they do, they’ve a funny way of showing it given they’ve been in No 10 for the past seven years.

Not for a generation has there been as stark a choice between the two main political parties. Not for a generation has a Tory Party so grossly and arrogantly misunderstood and taken for granted the public. And not for a generation has Labour had a manifesto that some may call radical — but that I would call common sense — that is rooted in the lives and communities of ordinary people.

Investment in early years, from Sure Start to free school meals; scrapping tuition fees; billions for health and social care; workers’ rights from day one that are fit for the modern era; dignity for pensioners; ending the public-sector pay pinch; housing for all; an industrial strategy that creates jobs and training opportunities — and all of it paid for by making the richest in society pay their way, making sure 95 per cent of us would have no tax increase at all.

This, in complete contrast to a Tory Prime Minister who won’t even turn up to debate her policies, and who doesn’t even plan to tell us how much they’d cost.

On the eve of GMB congress I urge everyone across the labour movement to get firmly behind Jeremy and Labour in the coming days.

  • Tim Roache is GMB general secretary.