The government’s laissez-faire easing of lockdown restrictions has truly shown whose side it is on – profit over people, big business over ordinary workers, the few over the many. We are Labour councillors and our first duty is to keep our residents safe. In Islington, we take that seriously. We are supporting people to continue staying at home as much as possible. We’re asking everyone to wear masks when they are in public, and encouraging everyone to keep sticking to the rules – to keep themselves and our communities safe.
Our crisis service, We Are Islington, recently took its 10,000th call. We have an excellent relationship with 12 volunteer-led mutual aid groups, which have disproven the old Tory line that there is ‘no such thing as society’, and will work with them to strengthen our communities into the future. But as the government insists on a rapid lifting of restrictions, many local people – especially the least well-off, black people and people of colour – now face a hugely increased risk of infection. They are returning to work, sometimes forced by precarious jobs, inadequate sick pay and employers who are more concerned with profits than public health.
When the government is so out of touch with ordinary people, our job as Labour councillors is to do all we can to keep them safe and informed. Unions are our natural allies for this; they are the original mutual aid organisations, which is why they set up the Labour Party to represent them. When employers cut corners, workers run the risk of catching the virus, and if they do, so do their families, those they live with, and anyone else they contact. How can we keep them safe? Workplaces with trade union representation have fewer cases of work-related illness, injury and fatalities. More than 6.5 million workers in the UK are members of trade unions, but all workers should enjoy the protection of trade union membership.
Islington Council has a proud track record of leading the way on standing up for workers’ rights and decent pay – because without fair pay and decent jobs, we cannot achieve our ambition to make our borough a fairer place. In 2012, we became the first local authority in the country to become a Living Wage employer. In 2013, we joined Southwark Council in becoming the first councils to sign the Ethical Care Charter. And in 2018, we became the first in the country to sign the Modern Slavery charter.
As more people return to work this weekend, our top priority is keeping people safe and supported. All workers have a right to be safe at work – wherever they work and whatever they do – and as more people return to work from lockdown, this is more important than ever. We’re proud to be the first local authority in the country to join forces with the TUC to promote a safe return to work, by encouraging and promoting union membership as an additional layer of protection for workers in the borough as the UK emerges from lockdown. Together we have launched Stay Safe at Work – Join a Union.
The campaign signposts local people to the TUC’s resources, to encourage union membership and safe working conditions. It features on more than 500 electronic and traditional noticeboards across Islington and is also promoted through council-run helplines and resources.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Re-opening the economy must go hand-in-hand with keeping people safe at work. It is great that Islington Council is working with unions to ensure that workers in the borough are protected. This is in everyone’s interest. One employer playing fast and loose with the rules puts the whole community at risk of a second spike in infections.”
The unions have been consistent, clear and pragmatic throughout this crisis – providing support and lobbying in the best interests of their members and our communities. The government’s handling has been the opposite: self-interested, confused and dangerous. We must stand with the unions to keep our residents safe.
We hope that other councils follow this lead. It is an extraordinarily cost-effective way to protect the health and lives of our residents, especially those who have carried on doing essential work to get us through the pandemic. How can we stay safe at work during these unsettling times? By joining a union, of course.