It might not be business as usual for the Labour Party conference this year – but at lunch-time (September 21) Labour Connected treated online viewers to a full debate about the future of employment in this country, entitled ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ The panel comprised trade union leaders and MPs and included Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
Many issues job-related were discussed including unstable working conditions, women’s unpaid work, bolder ideas for the future of work. Len McCluskey was asked to respond to, “What more can be done by the Labour Party to encourage trade union membership?”
McCluskey replied that there was, “an urgency to the current crisis facing us with jobs – and that is the extension of the Jobs Retention Scheme (JRS).” He reported, “4.5m workers are currently on that scheme and they must be having sleepless nights over what will happen to them when the scheme ends.
“I can assure you – and it angers me – that German workers, French workers, Spanish workers are all sleeping easy – because their governments are protecting them. German workers will have a retention scheme for two years and I believe it’s an indefinite time in Spain.
“We really need a robust UK economy. If the government doesn’t step up to the plate we face becoming a ‘Wasteland UK’. If the floor is pulled from under workers’ feet when the JRS ends then we’re in serious trouble – and it is women and young workers who will suffer the most.
“Keir [Starmer] needs to be with us and on the side of ordinary working people,” he added. McCluskey praised Labour’s policies – especially on the green new deal and the many good ideas Labour has to protect workers.
“So to answer the question what can Labour do to help the unions, they already are. It is good to note that recent leaders of the Labour Party – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and now Keir have embraced trade unions as a key part of the Labour Party.
“I know Keir is keen to open communications with unions. Labour needs to promote trade unions as a force for good. I urge viewers of this debate who are not in a union to join. The pandemic has shown how vital trade unions are. We are the largest voluntary sector body, we speak up for our communities, we are a force for good.”
Following a discussion on the green new deal the question was posed, ‘what if certain jobs key to the economy are not green?’
“I’m excited about the prospects of a green new deal,” replied McCluskey. “From tidal to solar, it’s vital for jobs that we make those things here. But not every job can be a green job, we have to make sure all workers are protected and don’t pay for this pandemic.”
McCluskey referred to the examples of aviation, aerospace and automotive manufacturing.
Aviation: support package needed
“It’s not possible for every job to be a green job. Take aviation as an example. We desperately need a support package from the government – this industry is critical to our economy – and not just to travel abroad, but for all elements of our economy. We’ve been calling on the government to talk to us about protecting these jobs since March.
“But it’s not just jobs in aviation – it is jobs in aerospace and manufacturing, workers in the supply chains – literally hundreds of thousands of workers are affected. It’s our firm belief that all workers should be protected through this crisis.”
McCluskey referred to the state of apprenticeships – the next generation of workers. He reported that, “Compared to last year we are 76 per cent down on apprenticeship take ups – despite there being a £3bn fund for them.”
Answering the question how do you get the best for trade union members now, he replied, “At the end of the last war the American president Franklin D Roosevelt introduced the ‘new deal’ for workers and that is what we need now. I hope Keir will embrace these ideas in his speech tomorrow.”
And on the government, McCluskey poignantly said, “This prime minister seems himself as a latter day Churchill. We’re effectively in a war and I would remind him that yes, Churchill won the war, but Attlee won the election with a vision for a better life for working people.”
“So I would say to Labour Party leaders, be bold, be brave. Embrace the manifesto policies that were popular last year with the public, that’s the way to win the red wall seats back. Be bold, be brave and push the evils of what’s happening to our economy into the dustbin of history.”
Finally, McCluskey was asked what was the most important action a viewer could take for the future of work in the UK?
McCluskey responded, “To Labour members my closing message on jobs is to believe – believe in your values and if you haven’t done so join a trade union. And to those members of the public not in a union, join one. To those not in the Labour Party, join it. Help us to fight for the decent society I know we can deliver.”
By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite