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Editorial Labour would do well to return to the heart of class politics

KEIR STARMER’S launch of Labour’s new campaign — to make Britain the best place to work — will strike a welcome note for many working people who, by anecdote and opinion poll, remain unsure what he stands for and have lost sight of the policies that won Labour its biggest increase in votes in years.

It is pitch perfect to argue that “after a decade under the Conservatives, modern Britain is not working for working people. Family incomes have stagnated, millions of people are stuck in insecure work, and in-work poverty is at a record high — with one in six working families in poverty. The pandemic has brutally exposed these injustices, but they have been growing for years.”

Labour’s argument — that jobs should be worthwhile and everyone deserves pay you can bring up a family on, with decent work-life balance and opportunities to learn and develop new skills — could be the foundation on which Labour rebuilds its trust with working people and begins to project a sense that a different way of living is possible.

The emphasis on security at work — if buttressed by solid proposals to change the framework of employment and trade union law — could be the foundation of a systematic assault on the the wealth and power of the exploiting class in British society. 

Immediately outlawing “fire and hire” would deal with the latest instrument of naked class power in the hands of employers while extending to working people the right to work more flexibly could, if the balance of power in the workplace was changed, be a real benefit.

But Labour needs to go beyond this. It already has, in its recent election manifestos, solid proposals to recast the frame work of employment law, strengthen collective and sectoral bargaining and restore the trade union and employment rights that the Tories removed.

The call for quality jobs and a strong industrial strategy is something that has an appeal across British society and — if given real heft with incentives for direct capital investment and a strategy to take advantage of the increased possibilities for state intervention in the economy offered by Britain’s partial escape from the EU’s neoliberal regime — could be a wedge issue which separates off sections of British capital from the Tories.

A bold and innovative industrial strategy that was integrated into a regional development plan that aimed to create productive green jobs and rebalance the economy to reduce class, national and regional disparities is another wedge issue that works both ways. 

It would serve to disrupt the Tories “northern strategy” with the added benefit that it would compel the Greens and the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland to get with the programme or slip into irrelevance.

A fairer economy based on a rebalanced tax regime needs to probe beyond the outer limits of corporate wealth and could be another wedge issue that could win over sections of the commercial and professional middle classes.

Labour is on home ground with practical talk about health, education and training and combatting discrimination and harassment. And when it talks seriously about raising pay levels it gets to the heart of class politics.

If this campaign is to mean anything it needs to be taken seriously by the Labour Party with a decisive pivot away from the dispiriting repressive internal machine politics of the last year towards an organising strategy which mobilises the party’s full range of talents and restore trade unionist confidence in the party.

Labour is in a parliamentary minority. This can only be changed in the workplaces and streets, in the communities and with the campaigns against war and austerity.

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