Ben Bradshaw writes for Unions21 on Fair Work

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In the 115 years since the Trade Union Movement brought the Labour Party to life in collaboration with the Co-Operatives and the Fabian Society, Britain’s economy has changed beyond recognition.


That pace of change is only increasing today. From the increase in self-employment, and “self-employment” while tied to specific companies, to the stagnation of take-home pay and new business models that take advantage of globalisation, the challenges we face to protect workers’ rights and fight inequality are immense.

If we’re to meet these economic challenges that face workers across the UK then the Labour Party and Trade Unions must work hand in glove to defend what we have spent our history fighting for – a fair deal for workers.


Trade unions are facing unprecedented attacks from this Government, who see unions as a barrier to productive business and state run services. We know this isn’t true. In an age where the state – taxpayers – are subsidising low paid workers across our economy, the role of trade unions is vital to ensuring that the interests of employees is balanced with those of the employer.

Where Trade Unions work well with business leaders, the business works well. The strong relationship between Unite the Union and BAE Systems is one such case – working together, BAE Systems and workers operate some of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world, with high levels of productivity. Usdaw the Union has bucked the general trend of unions by growing their membership through nationals agreements with large supermarket chains.

But there are sectors of the economy that desperately need union representation. Where can call-centre workers go for help? Who can Uber drivers look to for protection in the workplace? As the economy changes, so must the response of the Labour Movement. Without unions, we cannot hope to protect the social fabric of our society that we’ve fought for.

I’m proud of the work we undertook together on union learning under the last labour Government and I want to see us re-establish that and grow it bigger and stronger than before. We need more, better quality apprenticeships to help us create the high skilled jobs of the future. It’s a measure of our ideas that this Government has stolen our clothes on apprenticeships. It’s also a measure of our failure that we’ve allowed them to.

While I welcome the Government’s move on apprenticeships, I abhor their twisted use of the language of the Living Wage. Let’s be clear – what Osborne announced was no Living Wage, but an increased Minimum Wage – which would be fine, if it weren’t accompanied with cuts to working tax credits, leaving working people worse off overall.

We need pay that isn’t eroded over time, but rises with the cost of living. We need to fully implement the Equal Pay Act and the Equality Act, so equal pay is a reality and not an aspiration, and so we make sure opportunities are based on our talent and skills, not where we’ve come from.


I also believe it’s absolutely time for workers’ representation on the boards of businesses so workers have a say in the running of the business, and a voice in decisions that impact on their pay and conditions from the very start. This will require training for reps and serious thought as to the roll-out, but it works in Germany, and it will work here too.


But we can’t do any of this, and more, while we’re in opposition.

I’m standing to be Labour’s Deputy Leader to be an ambassador for the party in the country, and a voice for our movement within the Party. Part of the role as I see it will be to go out and defend the Labour-Union Link.

Where we embrace the diversity of the trade union movement, it will strengthen our party and our movement. I am a long-standing member of the NUJ, GMB and Usdaw. In my local party in Exeter, we have active members from across the union movement – including our fantastic Exeter Council Leader who is an RMT member.

I absolutely don’t believe that we should break the link. We need to mend the link. I want union membership and party membership to go hand in hand. I want Union members to feel they can stand for selection as candidates locally and nationally because their activism at work is valued. Union members need a party that will work with unions to develop political leaders based on talent, not based on who you know, or time served.

I’ve been an MP in Government, and now in Opposition. I know that everyone throughout our Party and Movement agrees with me that the very worst day of a Labour Government is far better than any day of a Tory Government. We owe it to people in this Country to do our very best to make sure we have a Labour Government in 2020. We only do that by working together.