A future Labour party in government will work with trade unions to revitalise Britain’s manufacturing base, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said.
Speaking to Unite manufacturing reps at a discussion of the union’s manufacturing political industrial strategy on Thursday (June 6), McDonnell noted that Labour’s strategy for manufacturing is taken straight from Unite’s own.
He outlined Labour’s programme for restructuring a stagnating UK economy with £250bn in public investment. Following the German model, Labour will set up a national investment bank alongside regional development banks which will also have an additional £250bn to invest in communities across the UK.
Addressing Tory criticism of Labour that the party plans to spend too much money in government, McDonnell explained how the party came up with £500bn.
“Those figures came from the CBI [the Confederation of British Industry]. The argument that employers are putting forward is that this is the very minimum you need to actually bring our infrastructure up to a standard in which we can globally compete,” he said.
Turning to infrastructure, McDonnell said that it must encompass more than simply physical infrastructure like roads and railways – a Labour government will invest in these put also technology, alternative energy sources, skills, research and development and more.
The party will work with the private sector to “prise open additional investment” for infrastructure, he explained, as is done, for example, with pension funds in Canada.
“None of this is rocket science,” he said. “But it’s completely contrary to everything the government is doing at the moment. They don’t believe in the role of the state, and they don’t believe in the role of trade unions.”
The shadow chancellor argued that only through support of UK manufacturing will a green revolution to tackle climate change be possible.
“The green industrial revolution is about making sure we tackle climate change but we do that by building a manufacturing base to provide us with the resources to do that,” he said. “This will give us the jobs which we need for long-term stability both economically and environmentally.”
Sharing the wealth
Turning the UK’s economy into a success story through investment, McDonnell went on to say, will be worthless if workers who create this wealth don’t have a share in it.
That’s why corporate governance plays a central party in Labour’s economic policies. This, McDonnell said, includes making workers on company boards mandatory; promoting co-operatives; but also going further through employee ownership models.
“We’re not talking about individual shares going to individual workers – we’re talking about collective ownership,” he said, adding that Labour is investigating a mandatory scheme where workers would collectively own and manage one percent each year of their company’s shares.
Above all, McDonnell said that Labour’s plans to create wealth and ensure it’s shared fairly “won’t work unless there’s a restoration of trade union rights”.
“We’ve got to make sure that literally in the first Queen’s Speech, we fundamentally change the way in which trade unions are treated in our society,” he said, to resounding applause from Unite’s reps.
The shadow chancellor pledged “trade union rights from day one, full stop” and “access to workplaces immediately so that we can organise”.
He called for the “restoration of sectoral collective bargaining” as he highlighted that 25 years ago, 80 per cent of workers had their wages determined by collective bargaining, down to 20 per cent now.
“The decline of collective bargaining has created the decline in wages in many of the sectors we’ve got,” he noted.
To ensure the restoration of collective bargaining, Labour would set up a separate department of employment whose duties would include overseeing sectoral bargaining, enforcing trade union rights and enforcing a real living wage of at least £10 an hour.
“None of this is revolutionary,” McDonnell said. “What we’re doing is simply putting right what the Tories have done over the last generation, and that which is actually operational in most modern societies that we work with in the global competitive market.”
Unite reps pressed McDonnell on a number of issues from public procurement of steel to Brexit and more in a question and answer session following his speech.
Concluding the event, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed the discussion between McDonnell and Unite’s manufacturing reps.
“John McDonnell’s dialogue with our manufacturing reps on Thursday was absolutely fantastic – he outlined how a Labour government will work together with trade unions to create a new economy, one that works for all,” he said.
“Our manufacturing reps were thrilled to see a politician like John who is so eager to form a genuine partnership with unions and workers who truly understand what our industries need to thrive in the long-term. We look forward to continuing dialogue with McDonnell and the Labour Party to further develop our union’s manufacturing political industrial strategy.”