Work is where Labour needs to help people “take back control”

by Tom Clements

As pleasing as the increase in the Labour vote was in 2017, the continuing decline in support from the working classes is a pattern that the Party has to address. If we are to govern again, earning the trust and support of working people in places like Mansfield and Pudsey will be crucial.

To do that, we must show that we are the Party that will allow them to truly “take back control” of their own lives and communities.

If the success of the Leave campaign in 2016 should teach us one thing, it’s that people will no longer meekly accept being at the mercy of global forces. It is no good focusing on the growth of the economy if it’s not being felt in people’s pockets. Moreover, if we are ever to compete with the dangers of populism, it is vital that we offer a credible and optimistic vision that will allow people to control their own destiny.

And this is not a new problem.

In 1987, Neil Kinnock described young people unable to get work, married couples who could not get on the housing ladder and elderly people living in poverty.

And today, more than thirty years later, James Bloodworth’s Hired paints a similar picture. From the misery of temporary workers through zero hours contracts to the gig economy he speaks of working people who, echoing Kinnock, “live in a free country but don’t feel free”.

So if we are to regain the trust of the working class, this must be our mission: to restore dignity and security to the forgotten corners of Britain. To give working people the opportunity to be free.

For the Tories, freedom is a simple proposition. For them, it means an absence of barriers. It means deregulation, insecurity of contract and a relentless focus on the margin. The Right have encouraged a society where global companies have been able to drive down standards due to the replaceable nature of the surplus workforce.

But we cannot accept that this is the way things have to be. Without security, it is impossible to be free.

Because a system built on deregulation will only ever oppress the people at the bottom. It will leave good people defenceless against the changing demands of economic growth.

Therefore, we must be bold. We must articulate a vision that will give working people the security they need to allow them to be truly free.

We must focus on improving the rights and conditions of people at work in order to provide security and the dignity it brings. Not just because it is electorally necessary but because it is the right thing to do.

Having regular work is no longer a guarantee of a comfortable lifestyle as, according to recent studies, 60% of people living in poverty are currently in work. Millions of working families are forced into making choices about heating or eating, have no savings and are sinking.

And, for many, this in-work poverty is compounded by the perilous conditions that they face in the workplace. Stuck on a cycle of temporary contracts with the false promise of permanence dangled in front of them. Powerless to resist dehumanising working conditions in the knowledge that they can be replaced at any time. In thrall to an app that decides where and who they should work with.

For too many people today, their experience of work leaves them feeling devalued, dehumanised and cast adrift. It has to be our mission to develop a progressive alternative that gives workers the rights they deserve whilst also supporting businesses and consumers.

Our first challenge should be to make work pay. Whilst a move to a living wage could be counterproductive as we move into the uncertainties of post-Brexit Britain, we could offer to increase the personal tax-free allowance to £14,757 ensuring that no person will pay tax whilst living below the poverty line. This will not only reward people for going out to work but will do so in a way that doesn’t pass all the costs back onto the businesses.

We must also consider how to improve rights in the workplace. In a world of zero hours and temporary contracts, it is up to the state to re-establish the safety net for people working within this system. Enshrining a right to a free meal for a shift longer than eight hours, establishing a principle for sickness and holiday pay based on hours worked and removing charges for employment tribunals would be small changes that would make a real difference to lives of working people.

To confront the challenges of the so-called gig economy, we should look to the excellent work being done by Rachel Reeves’ Business Select Committee. It is not anti-business to want to provide security for people working for companies like Uber and Deliveroo.

We should look to work with them to create a system where people are able to claim sick and holiday pay in line with the rights of full time workers. Perhaps creating collective funds that paid into by employees and employers from which sick pay can be reclaimed or making sick and holiday pay tax deductible at the end of the year.

Then we must invest in further education. For many, the drudgery of work is made worse by the realisation that there is no alternative. No chance of career progression; just a succession of temporary low-skilled positions until they can take no more.

Improvement can only come from giving working people opportunities to better themselves. The role of the Job Centre should be developed to provide real and meaningful training for working people. To give people the opportunity to gain real qualifications that will allow them to move forward within and beyond the companies they work for.

Without taking these problems and concerns seriously, another generation will grow up feeling maligned and forgotten and we will surrender the chance to change society in a radical and responsible way.

And that has to be our challenge. To build an economy that will give working people the security and dignity they deserve without losing sight of the need to provide a prosperous economy to create the wealth that makes redistribution possible. It will not be easy but by developing policy that will make practical improvements in the lives of working people we can win back votes from the clutches of populism and transform Britain for the better.

Tom Clements is a history and politics teacher in Leeds

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6 Responses to “Work is where Labour needs to help people “take back control””

  1. anosrep says:

    I agree with just about all of this article, but I should point out that charges for employment tribunals have already been removed by the Supreme Court in its decision on Unison’s challenge to them.

  2. Anon says:

    What complete nonsense.

    Why doesn’t the author of the above piece mention the real reason for working class insecurity – that of being displaced by the mass inflow of cheap labour from outside the UK.

    What good are working rights when when our people are edged onto the dole heap by these seemingly brighter and more assiduous cheap units of labour.

    And what are the white working class supposed to do – support a political party that is hell bent on replacing them?

    The Labour Party, with their Tory buddies, now have a complete contempt for the working class of this country, and they are now creating laws that are in direct contradiction to our rights under habeas corpus to cover up the industrial scale rape and murder of white, working class women.

    That the author can write such superficial drivel whilst our people are fighting for their very survival is beyond parody.

    The chasm is growing.

  3. Rallan says:

    No mention of work automation or changing technology. No mention of mass immigration or over population.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Anon, serious point, I wonder how many of those people who dislike the working class, grew up working class.

    Or how many pretend to be. Scotland at least has the white WC now, voting SNP

  5. Tafia says:

    Do you know whatreally pisses workers off? Being old how many hours they can and cannot work by sanctimonious middle class poliicians.

    Do you know what else pisses workers off? The same sanctimonious middle class politicians allowing cheap unskilled labour to flood in and forcing our own workers to compete for jobs, housing, school and doctors places.

    Do you know what else pisses workers off? People being allowed to decide whether they want to work or not and what jobs they will and will not do. If you ae unemployed it is your DUTY to do any job that is availabke that you are pohysically capable of doing, whether you like it or not.

    next you’ll be saying you don’t understand why blue collar workers are more likely to vote tory than labour.

    Labour has become the party of the metropolitan middle/professional class, immigrants and the oublic sector. What it definately is not is the pary of the workers – the tories are more that than Labour and have been for decades.

    We know what we want. Deliver it, the way we want it or we’ll vote for someone who will,

  6. Anne says:

    Agree with this article, but automation, robots and changing technology will also have an influence in the work place.

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