Labour’s next manifesto: Dan Jarvis on boosting trade union rights
We asked five Labour backbenchers to make the case for a policy they would like to see in the party’s next programme for government. Dan Jarvis argues the key to protecting workers lies in promoting the positive influence of trade unions in 21st Century Britain.
At this year’s TUC conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about the great and historic advances that were won by the working men and women of our trade unions; the way in which they were instrumental “in reducing inequality, challenging injustice, and speaking up for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed”. I couldn’t agree more.
But the work of unions is not over. In July, the Resolution Foundation reported that millions of people are no better off today than they were in 2003, with many workers having experienced a drop in wages and as a result are falling into poverty. While in September, the IPPR reported that “the UK economy is not working”; that “it is no longer delivering rising living standards for a majority of the population”; that “too many people are in insecure jobs”; that “young people are set to be poorer than their parents”; and that the wealth of “the nations and regions of the UK are diverging further”.
This is a depressing picture. But as the MP for Barnsley Central, the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, and a proud member of Unison, I am not just concerned about protecting working people today, I am also concerned about the challenges they may face in the future.
In a TUC report last year, Frances O’Grady made clear that a low tax, low regulation Brexit both risks expanding the share of the UK economy “which is composed of insecure, poorly rewarded, low skill, low productivity jobs” and risks further polarising the labour market into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
Yet with trade union membership less than half of what it was when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, fewer workers are protected, more workplaces are left with little or no representation, and the power of trade unions to protect working people has declined. The key to mitigating this vulnerability and protecting the workforce both today and tomorrow lies in promoting the positive influence of trade unions in 21st Century Britain.
When I stood to be Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, as well as promoting mutualism and devolution, I committed to improving union representation in the key institutions that direct and guide South Yorkshire’s economy. That is why this summer, in the first initiative of its kind, the Regional Secretary of the TUC became a member of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership; an important step in increasing the representation of working people in South Yorkshire.
These are the sort of changes you can make when you are in power. And that’s why I’m looking forward to the next Labour government and how that will give us the opportunity to ensure such things as: worker representation on boards; the compulsory recognition of trade unions by firms with 10 or more employees; and piloting auto-enrolment (where every new employee is given automatic union membership until he or she decides to opt out of it). Measures such as these will ensure that our unions will be in a position to shape our economy, protect our labour force, and fight not just the battles of today, but those we may face tomorrow.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “At the heart of the union movement was the vision that for every oppressed worker there should be an organisation which can speak truth to power. There must be a new unionisation, or there will only be a new victimisation”.
Dan Jarvis is MP for Barnsley Central and the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region