Our vision for the future of work beats low-wage, low-growth conservatism

Kate Dearden
© nrqemi/Shutterstock.com

Recent minor poll leads have Labour supporters dreaming of a return to government. But if we really want to put forward a vision that the public is going to get behind at the next election, we need a positive story to tell relaying what Labour is about and who we are for.

At the heart of this needs to be a compelling vision about Labour and the future of work. If people trust us with their jobs, they will trust us with power. It’s a simple lesson, but one we as a movement seem to take for granted. Labour has taken some positive steps this summer with its new deal for working people, but we need to flesh this out into a compelling story about the new economy.

It is no secret that changes in the world of work have taken place at speed in recent years. People are regularly switching jobs, careers and sectors, sometimes out of necessity but often out of choice. New technology has transformed our interaction with work and our perception of work. It continues to change workplaces and has facilitated the growth of the ‘gig economy’, which demands that we reimagine what we mean when we think about work.

Whether you engage with gig work, are employed or self-employed, or anything in between, the changing world of work presents both opportunities and challenges. But this new world has yet to be met by anything resembling an active overarching political vision for how we as people want it to work for us. These changes demand new ways of thinking about work as a whole and, most importantly, a firm plan for supporting workers in the economy of the future. This is a political question about the future of the country – it needs a political answer.

From the self-employed writer who has a part-time job in retail, to the Uber driver and full-time carer, from the young professional at a fintech start-up to the haulage driver – what does work mean to them? What is Labour’s vision for their job and how would a Labour government make their work better?

Labour’s inability to form a compelling answer to these questions over the years has given the Conservatives space to disingenuously position themselves as the party of workers. These are the same Tories whose low-wage, low-growth, high-tax economy has left one in six working households living in poverty, people in employment queuing up at food banks and two million working people reliant on Universal Credit.

On top of all this, the government seems unable or unwilling to formulate its promised legislation in a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work and address the existing and emerging issues in our labour market. That isn’t the track record of a party for working people. It’s a party that does not care about working people.

Labour must offer an alternative – not just because we were formed to give ordinary people a voice, but because the working people of today’s Britain need us to. In setting out our agenda for the future and emerging world of work, we need to be persistent, ambitious and imaginative. A recently published report by Renaissance shows how Labour must make its core identity the party for work and for good jobs that you can raise a family on.

Labour has taken steps in the right direction, with Keir Starmer setting out his vision to provide security and opportunity to the working people that make up the backbone of our country. But this is just the beginning. We have to go further and continue to listen to voters on the issues that matter to them, and explain every single day how we would improve their working conditions whilst building a strong economy. This vision for the world of work should be one where all working people get a meaningful say at work, where work pays and in-work poverty is eradicated.

Labour’s new deal for working people has set out some of these ideas, but we must do more to take that vision into workplaces. Labour has to talk about how we will introduce new protections to enhance worker’s rights for those outside traditional jobs, improve stronger safety nets for all workers, address the lack of enforcement of employment rights and standards such as paid holiday to the national minimum wage, and tackle discrimination in every workplace. Of course, all this must be done alongside an agenda to tackle climate change with a just transition for all workers impacted as their industries decarbonise and change.

Labour has always been the party of working people, but the world of work has changed – and we have to change with it. It is absolutely central to regaining the trust of voters and getting back into government. The only way to truly live up to our history is to fully reimagine what it means to support workers in the 21st century. This requires bold and imaginative thinking about how we handle the changes in technology and lifestyle reshaping our economy. Only then will we be able to formulate a real vision for what good work looks like in the 21st century.

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