IT seems a long time since a Labour frontbencher with the business portfolio thought it acceptable or advisable to quote a trade union leader in support of her position.
But Rebecca Long-Bailey differs from most Labour MPs in being born into a working class family with a trade union shop steward father and retaining a class loyalty that helps cut through the Westminster blizzard of babble.
Her observation that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s hope “that work would once again pay and there would be no profit in exploitation” is giving way to “a depressing sense that insecurity is the inevitable new norm” will resonate with many workers forced into the gig economy.
Matthew Taylor’s report oozes the “on the one hand, on the other hand” balancing act beloved by New Labour prior to opting unerringly for a pro-corporate position.
Although the courts have ruled in the Pimlico Plumbers and Uber drivers cases that workers are indeed workers and not self-employed, Taylor muddies the waters by dreaming up the concept of “dependent contractor.”
What workers in the gig economy need is not fancy descriptions but a new sense of purpose and commitment to justice.
Instead they are witnessing a classic ruling-class ploy to play for time and obfuscate a point of principle.
This means setting up an inquiry under an Establishment figure unlikely to rock the applecart, wait several months for its report, welcome it warmly but with reservations and then work out how to change as little as possible.
Most workers — not just plumbers and drivers — imagine that government has a duty to respond to clear court rulings by telling the gig-economy exploiters of zero-hours, insecure and bogus self-employed workers that they are out of order and must change.
They should tell them that they must, as a consequence, do what other bosses have to do — employ workers directly, pay the minimum wage, deduct national insurance and income tax, introduce pension, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave schemes and so on.
But that’s not how it goes. We’ve had the warm welcome and joint launch with the Prime Minister. Now it’s up to Business Minister Margot James to dampen down expectations. She’s already said that she might not accept all the Taylor report proposals.
The government also refuses to end zero-hours contracts because “many people” want them and, as Theresa May says, it wants to avoid “overbearing regulation,” preferring to retain “the flexibility that people value.”
The “many people” and “people” she cites but opts not to identify are basically employers and their hangers-on.
Employers make great play of wanting all workers to have good-quality, well-paying jobs, but their basic motivation is making profits and they see driving down workplace rights in the name of flexibility as the best environment in which to enrich themselves.
Taylor has nothing of substance to say about the Tory government’s ramping up of employment tribunal fees to a minimum of £1,200 for workers, suggesting only a free service to establish whether someone is an employer, worker or dependent contractor.
He shares his basic assumptions on workplace rights with Tories and employers — namely that profits are paramount.
Neither Labour nor the trade union movement should or will have anything to do with this con-trick.
Workers’ rights will only be guaranteed by a government that prioritises them and that means doing everything to bring forward a Jeremy Corbyn premiership.