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‘It can be won’

Unite’s Sharon Graham on why a shorter working week must happen
Joy Johnson, Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

While automation provides opportunities but as Sharon Graham, Unite Executive Officer for organsing and leverage argues we must not let employers seize them for their own benefit taking eye-watering profits for themselves.


Sharon explains that, “This time we have to gain from automation. We have to be vigilant against exploitation.


“Automation is nothing new. Britain gave birth to the first industrial revolution. It brought workers together and factories became the incubators of collectivism.


“Out of this collectivism trade unions were born providing the principal tool to combat exploitation. And solidarity, the fundamental principle of the trade unions and Labour Movement.”


She continues, “Workers are the wealth creators but the third industrial revolution saw huge profits being made by employers.


“Anti-trade union legislation brought in by Margaret Thatcher, determined to destroy trade unions in the 80s, provided the economic climate for the third industrial revolution.


“It saw huge profits being made by employers with workers working longer hours, frequently on call.”


Now, as Sharon explains we have the so called 4th industrial revolution – dubbed industry 4.0. With employers poised to capture an eye watering £550bn of profit. This time she declared we cannot allow this to happen as if it’s the natural order of things.


“There will be opportunities and we will organise and mobilise for good jobs with good pay but, we know from report after report, that a large number of jobs will go which will outstrip new jobs coming in.


“This time we could be fighting for the very essence of work itself. We must ensure that workers get their rightful piece of this pie. We must ensure that work remains a central pillar of Society.”


Graham continued, “We will do it by bringing workers and the movement together and by making sure that unions have the ability for collective bargaining rights.


“We need to drive forward a shorter working week crucially with no loss of pay. And by driving through legislation that workers have a right for a shorter working week.”

Workers are the wealth creators. Despite all those whose initial reaction to a shorter working week is to cry ‘we can’t afford it’. Sharon says a shorter working week is possible. “It can be won. It is totally affordable.”


Graham adds, “The government doesn’t have a plan for dealing with this next tranche of automation. It’s no wonder. They have concentrated on Brexit to the exclusion of vital issues that matter to working people.


Sinister change of language

“In contrast Labour does have a plan for dealing with the consequences of automation one of which is the Universal Basic Income (UBI). This could be a force for good so no surprise that we are hearing a sinister change of language.


“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the language of UBI is being hijacked.  It’s now being bent to mean payment for those who cannot access work. In old money this was called dole.
“Unite has been working for the last three years so as to be prepared. We have planned together with stewards New Technology Agreements that include a shorter working week.”


Just as those early trade unionists fought against exploitative bosses Sharon is determined to put any hostile employer on notice. Invoking the principle of solidarity and collectivism she said that Unite will not stand by and watch workers being put on the scrap heap.

In conclusion Sharon pledged that we will be ready to negotiate good agreements with good employers ready to deploy muscular campaigns to ensure our members are protected.


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