“Be bold”: Trade union leaders issue challenge to Labour leadership

Elliot Chappell

Trade union leaders have issued a challenge to Labour by telling the party to “be bold and embrace” its 2017 and 2019 manifesto policies, advocate for a pay rise for key workers and be “much more vocal” on Covid support for workers.

In an online event at Labour’s ‘Connected‘ conference this afternoon, general secretaries Len McCluskey and Dave Ward joined a panel discussion on the future of work with shadow cabinet members Jonathan Reynolds and Andy McDonald.

CWU leader Ward called on Labour to “wade in behind” a pay rise for key workers, saying: “We’ve changed the mindset of the nation about who the key workers really are – now we’ve got to get down to the nitty-gritty… and raise their pay.”

Dave Ward urged Labour to be “much more vocal” on setting out what it would do to support workers when the furlough scheme comes to an end, and described this as a “great campaigning tool” for the party.

Concluding his comments at the meeting this afternoon, the general secretary set out three things for Labour to do. His first was to “get behind the [post-furlough] scheme, set it out clearly, that’s going to prevent mass unemployment when the furlough scheme ends”.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds this morning delivered her keynote address to Labour’s online conference, in which she outlined a ‘job recovery scheme’ that would subsidise wages for part-time work for “key sectors”.

This would be similar to the German ‘Kurzarbeit‘ programme, whereby employers can reduce workers’ hours without laying them off with the state providing income replacement of up to 60%.

Ward’s second demand was for Labour to advocate a “complete revaluation of pay and reward amongst key workers” based on the needs of society rather than on the demands of the labour market.

His third call was for Labour to “set out the vision for a new labour market” and “for a new democratic economy based on our principles, our values of equality, universalism and collectivism”.

Shadow Employment Rights Secretary McDonald said he was happy to take up this challenge, adding: “It’s imperative that we remember who we are and why we exist, which is to speak up for working people. That’s why we came into being.”

Unite’s McCluskey discussed the low uptake of apprenticeships during Covid. He said: “This year, apprenticeships are down 76% despite the fact that there’s a £3bn apprenticeship levy and fund that nobody knows how to get hold of.”

He commented on the role that zero-hours contracts should play in the UK economy, declaring: “Is there a place? No, there isn’t. Zero-hours are the scourge of our economy and we should do away with them.”

He added: “This is effectively a war we’re in. This Prime Minister of ours… sees himself as a bit of a Churchillian figure. I would say this to everybody: Churchill won the war but it was Clement Attlee who won the election.

“Because he had a vision of how to give people a better life. I would say to all our Labour leadership, be bold and embrace all those policies that we’ve shown in 2017 and 2019 were popular… That’s the way to win our ‘Red Wall’ back.

“And the quicker the election comes in three and a half years, if we follow that path, then I’m sure that we will have a Labour government that can deal with all of the exciting prospects that we’ve spoken about today and push all of the evils within our economy into the dustbin of history.”

The panel discussed a transition to a green economy, with McDonald telling attendees that “every job must be a green job” and Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary echoing Dodds’ call yesterday for a broader view on green employment.

Also present at the meeting chaired by The New Statesman‘s Ailbhe Rea were GMB legal director Susan Harris, as well as director of the Women’s Budget Group Mary-Ann Stephenson.

Stephenson highlighted recent research by her organisation that showed investing in the care sector could create 2.7 times as many jobs as construction, as well as being greener and producing 30% less greenhouse gas emissions.

The Shadow Chancellor yesterday called for a “broader perspective on our environment and what needs to be valued”, and said that creating green employment is “not just about high-technology jobs in renewable energy”.

Dodds went on to set out a three-step economic plan for Labour in her speech to conference today, with an alternative to the Tories’ management of the economy that she argued will “recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild business”.

The meeting this afternoon formed part of Labour’s online conference. The usual conference was cancelled this year due to Covid. The virtual replacement is running events for Labour members over the next few days through to September 22nd.

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