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Labour must hold Starmer's feet to the fire over workers' rights, IER fringe hears

THE labour movement must hold Sir Keir Starmer’s feet to the fire over his promises to improve workers’ rights, Barry Gardiner urged today.

The Labour MP for Brent North noted the party leadership’s commitment during the party’s conference in Liverpool to introduce a range of pro-worker measures, including a ban on fire-and-rehire tactics and strengthened trade union rights, within 100 days of taking office. 

But the step to the left has only come about amid growing pressure from unions and campaigners, leading Mr Gardiner to say: “Let’s hold them to it.”

The ex-shadow international trade secretary was addressing a conference fringe meeting on Tuesday evening organised by left-wing think tank the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF). 

The event marked 50 years since overwhelming labour movement pressure led to the release of the so-called Pentonville Five — Bernie Steer, Vic Turner, Derek Watkins, Cornelius Clancy and Anthony Merrick — who were imprisoned after falling foul of the Tories’ draconian National Industrial Relations Court during a 1972 dock strike. 

Referring to new Prime Minister Liz Truss’s commitment to clamp down on union rights once again, Mr Gardiner said: “We have to fight — that’s what the Pentonville Five did.

“Progressive and positive change has always come because people have been prepared to fight and suffer for it.”

The meeting was also addressed by Labour’s Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, who slammed the government for seeing this spring’s P&O scandal as a “blueprint for breaking unions.”

Ministers condemned the disgraced ferry operator in March for suddenly sacking nearly 800 British-based seafarers and replacing them with overseas agency staff. 

But they took no punitive action and went on to enact legislation in July allowing bosses to hire temporary workers to break strikes amid a wave of industrial action. 

Mr McDonald, was resigned as shadow employment rights and protections secretary during last year’s Labour conference, worked with the IER to develop the party’s “new deal for workers” pledges.

The institute’s chairman John Hendy KC praised the package’s commitment to restore sectoral collective bargaining and called for trade unionism to be extended “deeper and wider into the working class.

“We need to link up with all campaigns fighting the class war that the elite have declared against us.”

The Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign’s Chris Peace and Janet Newsham from the Hazards campaign also addressed the meeting.

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