IAN LAVERY MP explains why Workplace 2020 is vital in ensuring union and workers’ rights in the coming years
AS THE saying goes: “The past we inherit, the future we build,” and that certainly applies to workers’ rights, at the core of the Labour Party since its very creation.
As a party born out of the trade unions, equality, fairness and natural justice were always going to be at the heart of our movement.
Yet though the world may have moved on since the party was formed, the key issues facing working people have not.
They are still discriminated against in the workplace, wages, terms and conditions are still under attack and people are still injured and die doing their jobs.
The rights trade unionists have won over many years should be recognised not as a luxurious bonus but as the hard-fought victories that each and every one represents.
As a trade unionist first and foremost, I am proud to represent the party that together with the wider movement has achieved more social progress than any other in the world.
Our ties with the trade unions bridge the gap between the Westminster bubble and the real world. They ensure workers’ ideas and concerns are fed into the heart of Parliament.
To create a fairer and more equal society we need to ensure this partnership is more than just asking for money when elections come around. We need to ensure that trade unionists play an active role in the development of policy and law.
Workplace 2020 aims to do just that and has been welcomed not only across our membership but also by leading union representatives describing it as proof of the Labour Party’s determination to improve the lives of working men and women across the country.
However, where there are triumphs there will undoubtedly be challenges.
The constant threat that the Conservative Party poses to the unions is well known throughout our history.
From the determination to break strikes and suppress workers voices from the late 1800s to the 1984 miners’ strike and up until the present day, we have witnessed the determination to subdue equality and snuff out effective unions altogether.
The record of the “modern” Tories shows that they still seek to reverse the progress previous Labour governments and trade unions have made together.
Their deeply troubling attacks on democracy through the gagging Bill during the previous Parliament, and the Trade Union Bill in this, show their intentions clearly.
The Trade Union Act 2016 received royal assent in May last year. The hard work and commitment of Labour Party colleagues, trade union members and organisations including Liberty saw the most aggressive proposals dropped.
Among those abandoned following consultation were a requirement for trade unions to provide picket plans to the police and employers two weeks in advance of strike action, restrictions on unions’ use of social media and the creation of a new criminal offence of intimidation at pickets.
This, as Liberty reported, means that “picket supervisors [are] no longer required to wear that icon of discrimination — the armband — to identify themselves.”
While the Trade Union Act has been considerably watered down, it will still make it harder for unions to operate and for their members to take strike action.
The imposition of a ballot threshold in particular, that few politicians would meet electorally, leaves a particularly bad taste.
Worryingly, the government has also left space for secondary legislation to be introduced at a later stage. The door is open for laws which will allow employers to take on temporary staff to cover for staff on strike and limit facility time in public services.
Through passing the Trade Union Act the Tories have further shrunk working people’s rights in a country already described as the most restrictive in the Western world.
We didn’t win entirely with the Trade Union bill and the Tories will be back to try to implement those concessions they gave into at that time.
We need to be aware at all times that they will be looking to implement some of the worst parts of the Bill.
While we will always oppose Conservative attacks on the unions, at last year’s Labour Party conference I outlined our response.
It’s no good looking back to simply repeal old laws and leave us with something that was fit for past workplaces. We need to look forward and develop a new settlement for the modern workplace.
Workplace 2020 has been set up to do just that. It provides an opportunity like no other to strengthen unions and workers’ rights, to discuss ideas and share visions of how modern workplaces should operate.
We want people to plan their own Workplace 2020 meeting and bring their colleagues together to share in the biggest ever discussion on the workplace.
We believe in encouraging workers to be involved in discussions on how they envision their places of employment in the future.
And, as a party, we want to hear from working people and employers about how we can promote good practice and raise standards across the workplace and to work with the unions to create an environment that’s fair for all.
We want you to tell the Labour Party exactly how you think workplaces should operate in the 21st century. The idea is inclusive and we want people hold meetings anywhere.
You can visit workplace2020.org.uk and follow the link to send us your ideas and get more information to start helping us create a fair and equal workplace of the future.
The Labour Party and unions stand side by side in sharing our proud heritage and also our combined vision for a better tomorrow.
As I reminded my colleagues and fellow members at conference, the old adages proudly displayed on our union banners remain just as relevant today: agitate, educate, organise.
Ian Lavery is Labour MP for Wansbeck and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office