IAN LAVERY describes how the Workplace 2020 initiative can reverse the awful working conditions created by the Tories
IT WAS a privilege to address conference in Liverpool, a city with a proud history of trade unionism and a proud record of returning Labour MPs.
The devastation that Conservative governments bring down on their own citizens is well known in Liverpool. The Tories claim to be the party of working people, they claim to represent communities like Liverpool, my native North East and working villages, towns and cities across Britain. In the Labour Party, we know different.
We remember the damage they did last time around and we see what they are doing to whole swathes of society now. My own history is scarred by the impact of a Conservative government. I came from a town in the heart of the north-east coalfield, Ashlington, a community built around the colliery.
During the miners’ strike, as a young man, I saw the power of government being wielded against its citizens.
That year changed my life. It left an indelible mark on me.
It showed me the best qualities of men and women in our communities, banding together for a cause.
It taught me never to trust a Conservative government with the lives of working people. Thirty years later and the Conservatives are back in power again.
They talk tough on society’s ills, but under their government many people not only don’t have employment rights, they now feel lucky to get any scrap of work offered.
They are expected to accept the crumbs from the table, while the employers and the shareholders feast on vast profits. Six million people earn less than the living wage.
Young people are stuck at home unable to live independently because they don’t know if they will earn enough from week to week to pay their rent. Almost a million people are employed on zero-hours contracts.
As the Tories turn their fire on trade unions, unscrupulous and exploitative business practices, such as those recently revealed at Sports Direct and BHS, are going unchecked. Through recently passing the Trade Union Act, they have further shrunk working people’s rights in a country already described as the most restrictive in the Western world.
Workplace 2020 is Labour’s response. It will be the biggest discussion with working people and employers in a generation.
It underlines how serious we are about creating workplaces fit for the future.
Everyone has a story to tell on the world of work and on what it should look like in the future.
And Workplace 2020 isn’t about focusing on the negatives. Many people have positive experiences of the workplace. Many people benefit from apprenticeships, training opportunities and additional support. We want to hear from working people and employers about how we can promote good practice and raise standards.
I will be travelling around Britain, to our nations, to our regions, and to local communities because I want to hear from as diverse a group of people as possible.
I want to work with employees and employers to create an environment that is fair to all. But alone, I can only do so much. I need your help. I need you to set up meetings in your workplace, your local community centre, place of worship, local cafe, pub or even your front room. You can hold a Workplace 2020 discussion anywhere, even online.
I want you to tell me exactly what you think the future world of work should look like. The Labour and trade union movement is best when we work together and this is your opportunity to embody the spirit of generations of men and women who have gone before, who have transformed society.
The old adages proudly displayed on trade union banners remain relevant today: Agitate, Educate, Organise. Together we can change can the world of work and you can be part of that.
Ian Lavery is Labour MP for Wansbeck and shadow trade union minister.
You can get involved with Workplace 2020 at workplace2020.org.uk