By Pat McFadden
It’s more than 15 years since I started to work with trade unions at the political level, first as a staffer with John Smith and Tony Blair and more recently as a Minister with Gordon Brown.
During this time we’ve seen a lot of advances in terms of rights at work. There’s the minimum wage, paid leave and an improved balance betwen work and family life. Maternity pay has been increased dramatically and we now have enshrined rights to flexible working hours. All of these changes have come under this Labour government.
Speaking to Unions21 at the TUC this morning, I urged that these victories must not go ignored by the unions, indeed that they must be amplified and campaigned on by our union movement – because defending these new rights is going to be a large part of any battle ahead.
Too often, issues are fought for by unions with great passion and determination – but then rarely discussed once they are in place. But it’s in unions’ own interests to show there’s been huge progress on the issues on which they’ve campaigned.
Of course, I don’t expect trade unions to be cheerleaders for the Government or the Labour record. But they mustn’t ignore our victories or the progress we have made.
By all means unions must hold us to account, but we mustn’t allow the natural hunger for progress on the centre-left to ignore what has been built, for it is upon those foundations that further gains for the future will be built.
The work done by our independent and robust trade union movement in standing up to intolerance and in pushing forward the debate about the new industrial future is critical to the direction of our national discourse and our progressive society.
But it is a record that needs to be heard loud and clear.