If there is hope for Labour, it lies in the collision course being set with unions over workers’ rights

by Rob Marchant

“If there is hope, it lies in the proles”, wrote George Orwell in 1984. If we ignore the negative connotations of the word and interpret the word “prole” to mean simply “workers”, he might have had a point with a direct resonance for Brexit Britain.

It has been apparent for some time that the legitimate arguments of Leavers in favour of a Britain which would “take back control” were not generally made with the intention of increasing protections for workers. Naturally we might expect Tory or UKIP voters to be less interested in such protections (even among Tory Remainers), and even keen to remove them to have a supposedly “more dynamic, less red tape” economy.

And although evidently a significant portion of Labour voters (I calculate it at around 2.9m voters*) still voted Leave, given that this segment was less than 10% of the voting population, it still seems believable that the inhabitants of this modest demographic were either (a) further-to-the-left middle-class voters, who did not require such protections and further, felt it more important that the EU was preventing Britain becoming the standalone socialist paradise envisaged by Corbyn; or (b) people on more modest incomes who were simply unaware of the impact on protections that the EU afforded them and how they personally might miss them once they were gone.

And that is because in a party of “the many”, any other explanation would imply a significant number of turkeys deliberately voting for Xmas. The reality is unarguable that there are a number of basic workers’ protections which would suddenly vanish in the event of a poor deal (just ten are listed here); an outcome more Bermuda than Switzerland, certainly.

And so the fudging of the whole Brexit issue by Labour’s leadership – whose aides last week admitted to the Guardian that Corbyn has deliberately attempted to ride both horses in the Leave-Remain debate – has now left Labour, post Article 50, in the bizarre position of trying to pretend to defend workers’ rights from the weakest of positions, and one which the leadership itself has fatally undermined.

The result? The head of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, is essentially campaigning for basic rights in the face of at best apathy and at worst opposition from the Labour Leader’s Office, which does not really want to be in either the Single Market or the Customs Union. Corbyn’s silence on the Working Time Directive, meanwhile, was palpable, as PoliticsHome’s Emilio Casalicchio pointed out:

At some point that fudging clearly becomes unsustainable. This week, the GMB echoed O’Grady’s concerns over the EU Working Time Directive. At some point, they will realise they need to stop politely criticising the Tories, who largely do not care, and turn their fire on the Labour leadership to urge its strong support for those parts of EU legislation that are important to their members.

Even Corbyn’s great ally on the hard left, Len McCluskey of Unite, is being weakened by the legal challenge to his election as General Secretary, this week announced as being a little more serious than many had expected, now his case will be heard by a former High Court judge. If he were to be replaced as leader, not only would the balance of opinion on this issue shift considerably, the combination with pressure from other unions might be enough to cause a serious realignment within a party already deeply frustrated by its leader’s dithering on the country’s most important issue of the day.

If this burgeoning realisation of the incompatibility of Labour’s position and their own in the major unions at least pushed the leadership into a clear Labour commitment to Customs Union and Single Market retention, to be underwritten by a final Commons vote or even a second referendum, all might not be lost in the Brexit negotiations.

Who knows? It could even trigger a fightback amongst the more feisty members of the PLP. Now that really would be “taking back control”.

Whatever happens, a failure by unions to use their leverage now would mean an enormous change to their officials’ jobs, and their members’ livelihoods, post-Brexit.

*Based on YouGov’s split in Brexit vote by 2015 general election allegiance, as reported by Politico.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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25 Responses to “If there is hope for Labour, it lies in the collision course being set with unions over workers’ rights”

  1. paul barker says:

    Labour Remainers have a quarter of The PLP, most of The TU Leaderships & probably three quarters of the Membership on their side. You ought to be able to win this.

  2. John Wall says:

    Thus is a bit of a non-story. There are some Conservatives who would dump vast quantities of rules and regulations – but I doubt they’re anything more than a small minority. Similarly there are some in Labour with oddball ideas – I recall one suggesting that some coal mines should be reopened and that Article 50 should be triggered immediately after the referendum.

  3. Tafia says:

    I have never seen utter bollocks on so many levels – simply staggering. Surpasses even the drivel Atul comes out with.

    Don’t even know where to start. Lets see – Working Time Directive (WTD). Huge chunks of the UK workforce are not in the Working Time Directive due to opt-out. Hotel and catering staff, agricultural workers, care workers, airport and port workers, ships crews, security staff, NHS staff, Police, Fire, Coastguard, HMRC, Border Force, rail support staff, agency staff, Armed Forces, anything classed as ‘strategic’ such as logistics staff in transport, etc etc.

    And on top of that many employers in voluntary opt out sectors (as opposed to sectors already opted out) – to make sure you do opt out, include the opt-out form in their application packs – and if you don’t return it signed lo and behold you don’t get an interview. And WTD is applicable per job (as opposed to total hours worked) so if you have two or three jobs then it is a pointless thing anyway. And it doesn’t apply to the self-employed either. So there you have it – millions and millions of workers are not covered by the WTD. Many of them in some of the most hardline unions in the UK. And an awful lot – such as me, don’t want to be covered by it, we’d rather have the hours and the money thank you very much.

    You were quite happy with the WTD when Blair was in power so how come all of a sudden you have a problem? Oh yes – you must have known yet have said little to nothing until you could somehow misleadingly warp it into the continued shoddy and intellectually laughable attempts to undermine Brexit – something the UK voted for.

    I’ll get on to the rest of tit when I can stop laughing.

  4. Tafia says:

    Next ‘workers rights’.

    Workers rights in the UK are enshrined in UK law. The EU guarenteed minimu is far lower than the rights enjoyed here in the UK.

    So Rob, what is it you want – the rights protected in EU law, or the rights protected in UK law. Make you mind up. If the EU ones are so good, why are you not campaigning to have what we currently get in the UK regarding sick, maternity, holidays etc dropped to EU guarenteed levels? Because the EU ones are shite is why and you know it.

    So, that leaves the UK enshrined rights. Oh yeas! That is dealt with here in the UK Parliament. The Acts governing said rights have to be amended by the MPs in normal Parliamentary business. Now you will no doubnt try tho thread the Great Repeal Bill into that, but then deliberately mislead people by not pointing out that where UK law is superior it remains so until dealt with separately.

    You do support the rule of Parliament I take it Rob? Or have you suddenly decided to join Momentum.

  5. Anne says:

    My trust regarding workers rights is entirely with the TUC and Francis O’Grady – she has more sense than many of the politicians put together especially the Tories.
    The Tories just go from bad to worse – the latest revaluations regarding DG are testament to that – no I certainly would not trust them regarding workers rights nor any other matter – lies just come second nature to them – they are more interested in self preservation rather than what is best for workers or the country.

  6. John Wall says:

    @Anne – no one in their right mind would try and make political capital out of Damien Green as there are scandals everywhere. At one time it was said that Conservative scandals were mainly sexual whereas Labour’s were financial. Read about John Stonehouse https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stonehouse

  7. John P reid says:

    Paul barker, win what a policy decision, that Corbyn doesn’t want and those who follow corbyn, ,don’t twig he’s a brexiter, they’ll change their tune if he has to make the party accept brexit

    Francis O’grady may have backed remain, but she’s only partly doing it for workers rights, but the cheap EU immigration is good for those who want too work

    the assumption that the million Labour brexiters aren’t pro Trade union rights is silly

    and as for Rob, your view that its’ only 10% of potential voters who are labour brexiters ,A there’s not going to be a election with more than 72% turnout again, for the foreseeable future, and no party has got more than 43% of the vote in 40 years any way

    Kinnock rode both horses on Maastrict saying abstain in 1992 as Labour were more pro Maastrict than the tories on certain things

    yes why doesn’t Denis Skinner join the Tories !!! LOL

  8. buttley says:

    The interesting thing, to me, about this original Damian Green story, is the fact no legal action was pursued against him.

    He was caught, red handed, in possession of stolen documents from the Home Office. Under Interview: “No Comment”. To all Questions.

    Christopher Galley who stole them, was also captured in the frame & coughed up.

    Sir Keir Starmer’s CPS’s decision not to prosecute is here.


    I would like to know why Sir Keir Starmer & Gavin Millar QC, did not consider the less onerous route, & charge them both under the Theft Act 1968

    Section 22 (1) handling stolen goods, seems to directly relate to Damian Green’s position, exceeding several thresholds, quite easily.


    I also wonder if he ever managed to get himself off the DNA database.


    Just for fun, here is that well known Marxist etc etc, Paul Mason, doing a 3 against 1 on Newsnight, 3 days before the election, compared to the other 3 chimps, & hindsight, Mason owns their patronising arses.

    Mason “NI having significant role in Brexit”, scoffed at by , Iain Dale “Phantasy Politics”


    How does this compare to un-cuts crystal ball efforts………..yawn

  9. Tafia says:

    Anne, the decision not to prosecute Damien Green way back in 2008 was taken by your beloved Keir Starmer.

    Green will ultimately prove to to be the main scandal in this. The main scandal will be who gave the authorisation to illegally destroy the hard drive – the Met, or Starmer. And who gave the retired police officer permission to illegally keep case notes in his possession.

  10. Anne says:

    Really! Kate Maltby (a Tory activist) has said she informed number 10 of DG inappropriate behaviour long before he was promoted- Mrs May must have known. Also, in any organisation, looking at porn in works time is totally unacceptable. DG was second in command but at any level this is unacceptable.

  11. Vern says:

    Anne – you are filled with hate for the opposition bodering on football hooligan levels. I’m sure you are not a hateful person but Damien Greens biggest crime here is not coming clean when required to do so and being untruthful. He holds a position within the HoC where we expect standards to be kept high. May has quite rightly got rid as Green has expressed behaviours that demonstrates he cannot be trusted. I’m sure there will be more to follow and Corbyn himself will need to deal with some of the bad apples in the Labour party too. That is, if he himself is able to distinguish between truth and lies…..

  12. Anne says:

    I consider this Tory government to be the most incompetent in living memory. This is on many levels – knowledge of situations such as the Irish boarder and handling of situations such the DG affair.
    I would not use such a strong word as hate – more dislike or disagree with. Strangely, or maybe not, quite a great number of `Tory MP do not come across as particularly nice people – certainly not people I would want to spend any time with. I do, however, respect some of the more sensibly minded Tory MPs – for example I quite like Justin Greening, but struggling to think of many others.

  13. peter carabine says:

    This narrow vision on ‘Workers rights’ is typically Trade Unionist / old Leftist discourse or Brexit focus. Yes of course it’s important but would have more appeal if it was narrated as ‘all employees rights’ as the Europeans see it affecting everyone’s’ holidays, pay, conditions, hours, dismissal, redundancy, rest breaks etc., And of course we know the Goves’ and Priti Patels ‘of this world want more neo-liberal deregulation of labour.

    But in the end Labour and the Trade Unions have failed to popularly communicate (and still are ) the macro Brexit horrors which are Economic in the largest sense and which we all shared as Remainders across all 6 parties which opposed it.

    These economic impacts hit us all with ferocity: sterling being sold off globally, rising import prices, the post Brexit high tariffs, squeezed wages, disinvestment & jobs decanted to Europe, lost manufacturing unprepared to face tariffs with 500 million EU customers, border hold ups, frustrating border bureaucracy, lost ‘high value’ services to EU including ‘passporting’ of financial transactions which are our big tax revenue earner, lost EU talent to our medical, research, pharma, engineering, aerospace, computing, creativity, advertising, fintech etc, all of which reduces our dynamic economy, reduced migrants to help the food supply and maintain our hospitality earner and of course social/health care and the losses incurred therefore with an aging Brit population and on and on ,,, the lies that NZ or Australia or Papa New Guinea could substitute for the largest tariff free economic block 20 miles or so across the channel.

    In the end the shrunken post Brexit economy will hit the bottom half of society the most. The Labour movement stands accused of a pitiful failure to preach that message to the British people. It has cowered behind a disinformation campaign engendered by the far Right of UKIP, Tory hard Brexiteers and the Brexit press of the hate Mail, Express and Sun.

  14. Vern says:

    Peter Carabine – where is your evidence? Or is this just hearsay and biased rhetoric from the lefts equivalent of Mail and Sun?
    I agree that Labour has failed with its own communication over Brexit but it was too caught up with opposing the Tories out of sheer bloody mindedness. Corbyn is vehemently anti EU and if he had made his views clearer then in my opinion many millions more would have voted leave too.
    I notice you have not picked out any positives from Brexit. Surely, there must be some for you. I would genuinely like to understand Please tell me why being in the EU is so important for you personally.

  15. Anne says:

    Thank you Peter. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I agree with every word. I also now believe the majority of the country hold these views.
    My admiration goes to the eleven Toris who stood up to the bullies.

  16. Anne says:

    I agree with the analysis made by Lord Hestletine (a Tory I respect) has recently made in the Limehouse interview in which he says that he believes that public opinion is turning against Brexit as the realities and consequences are becoming more apparent. He believes that this is becoming a problem for Conservatives who voted remain and still hold this view, especially as the right of the Conservative Party is going gung-ho along this destructive path of “hard Brexit.’ The pro EU Conservatives are being put into a difficult position as the Labour Party is moving to the more favourable position of putting the best interest of the country first – the economy first.

  17. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour ought to get together with the Unions & organize a National General Strike against everything the Tories have done, bollocks to Austerity, pay cuts for the Workers, tax cuts for the rich, Universal Credit, foodbanks, benefit sanctions. Bring the country to a halt & the government to its knees.

  18. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant, Lol,as if union members want to go on strike, the nearest I’ve heard is, that some public sector workers ,who after a 7 year pay freeze have been given a 1% ,1 year, pay rise,have told the government to stick it,

  19. Tafia says:


    These economic impacts hit us all with ferocity: sterling being sold off globally, rising import prices, the post Brexit high tariffs, squeezed wages, disinvestment & jobs decanted to Europe, lost manufacturing unprepared to face tariffs with 500 million EU customers, border hold ups, frustrating border bureaucracy, lost ‘high value’ services to EU including ‘passporting’ of financial transactions which are our big tax revenue earner, lost EU talent to our medical, research, pharma, engineering, aerospace, computing, creativity, advertising, fintech etc, all of which reduces our dynamic economy, reduced migrants to help the food supply and maintain our hospitality earner

    Prove, as an indisputable fact. all this will happen after we Brexit. If you can’t you are talking bollox. And perhaps you could explain why the latest IMF forecast was discredited within 72 hours, and why the latest tranche of forecasts in the last 10 days from other respected forecasters flatly contradict you.

    Incidentally, sterling is doing very well against the dollar and is forecast to continue to do so, has stabilised against the euro and is forecast to continue to increase.

    And perhaps you could explain:-

    1. London has not only increased it’s lead this year as the world’s leading financial centre, but it’s growth is actually expanding faster than it’s main competitors (New York, Frankfurt etc) and the gap is growing.

    2. The predicted sharp slowdown of the UK economy was wrong. Not only that, but the IMF forecast of lesst than a fortnight ago was wrong as well and within 3 days of publication was discredited.

    3. The just published 9th World Economic League Table states that the post-EU forecasts for the UK were far too pessimistic, the UK economy has grown higher and faster than predicted and that will increase.

    4. YouGov are the only pollster to have a regular tracker that asks how the government should proceed with Brexit, which this month (last week in fact) found 52% thought the government should go ahead with Brexit, 16% that they should call a second referendum, 15% that they should stop Brexit and remain in the EU. And “..a substantial minority of people who voted Remain in 2016 consistently say that the government should go ahead and implement Brexit (presumably because they see them as having a democratic duty to implement the referendum result).” Seems to completely escape your notice.

    5. The fact that just before Xmas the Labour hierarchy virtually too a man jumped back on the Brexit bus saying it will happen, we will leave the SM & CU, Labour support this and there will be no second referendum. And what did Corbyn say today? (28th).

    6. Why international investors now believe the stock market and sterling are the p[laces to be. Are they in the busines of losing money or making money? Do you have the courage of your convictions to cash in your life, borrow against your house and bet against the professional investors? If not, why not? Don’t you believe what you say? (Incidentally, you can get a Hargreaves Landsdown app for your phone that allows you to make investments on the LSE. I earn less than 25k, I’ve made quite a bit of money this last 18 months investing/betting against the remainers. How much have you made investing/betting against leave – I bet you haven’t even tried)

    You are yesterday’s man Peter, spouting yesterdays nonsense.

  20. Tafia says:

    Anne, you don’t think Heseltine’s EU opinions are largely formed by the fact he receives over £900,000 in EU farm subsidies a year, a lot of which is for not growing anything at all (set aside scheme)

  21. Anne says:

    There are people making quite a lot of money from the stock market, but the markets which are doing well are Asian, American and European markets. It is about the value of sterling and confidence in the market.

  22. Harry says:

    Anne – you are correct, confidence is the word

    Which is why the UK stock market ended the year so high and the pound has more than stabilised against most currencies.

    You can’t be selective about facts, it is there in black and white – or pink if you count the FT

  23. Tafia says:

    stock market, but the markets which are doing well are Asian, American and European markets. It is about the value of sterling and confidence in the market.

    You quite obviously have little understanding of what you are on about. For starters the FTSE 100 has finished the year on a record high following a record year – but you seem to have missed that. Sterling has in increased against the dollar by around 15% in 12 months – remember, we buy our oil in dollars and even though oil has risen, it hasn’t risen by as much as strrling against the dollar so in effect it has got cheaper. It has now risen slightly against the euro and analysts expect it to rise further in the coming months. Inflation in the UK will start to fall back again in the coming months

    You also dont seem able to grasp that the top 5 economic forecasters got their forecast for how the UK would fare in 2017 totally wrong. Thats not one of the top five, thats all of the top 5 to a man (or woman). For example all of them forecast a rise in unemployment when in fact it fell. All of them forecast a fall in job vacancies as the economy contracted. The economy in fact expanded and not only that but advertised vacancies in December stand at a record 798,000. All forecast a fall in the number of employed – in fact it rose and is now at 78%, one of the highest employment rates in the western world. Growth was forecast to be 1.4%, in fact it was 1.8%. (and when you consider remain stated GDP would immediately fall 6% but in fact it has risen every quarter) Even the OBR got it wrong for 2017 as did the BoE and the IMF.

  24. Anne says:

    Thank you Harry, I can assure you I was not being selective on facts and I am very much a follower of the FT. You know, much to your surprise I am sure, even Labour supporters can have shares in the stock market – as far as I am aware it is not just reserved for Tories and UKIP people.

  25. Harry says:

    Anne – not in the least bit surprised, and I hope your investments prove successful. I have to say that this additional information makes your earlier comments even more bizarre

    Methinks your regular contributions to this blog are somewhat contrived.

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