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Labour needs to be bold right now

From health and safety, to job security, to forthcoming local and mayoral elections, there’s lots of areas where Labour, and Scottish Labour, must put forward positive action proposals, says ANN HENDERSON

AS THE impending economic crisis occupies the minds of the trade union and labour movement, alongside the continuing public health emergency, organising to recruit, represent and give voice to those most affected has to be given priority.  

Speakers at TUC Congress last week, and the Labour Party’s virtual Labour Connected events, have left us all in no doubt that this is urgent.

In Scotland, following calls from Scottish Labour, the Scottish Parliament did meet throughout the summer, albeit on fewer days and often in a virtual setting. 

This gave the MSPs the chance to question the First Minister and her government over the handling of the response to the pandemic, and to raise in public and in Parliament, the case studies that are filling MSP mailbags. 

It is only right that announcements of public interest and significance during this crisis should be made direct to Parliament(s) and not fed out through Twitter or press conferences without accountability. 

Richard Leonard as leader of the Scottish Labour Party has been questioning and challenging the First Minister at Question Time on the crisis in care homes, on PPE provisions and on health and safety in many different workplace settings. 

Scottish Labour’s campaign for a national care service has the support of the trade union movement, and has resonated with communities and families across Scotland, all in agreement that private profit has no place in the services we provide for those in need of care, be that in the community or in care homes. 

Labour has forced the First Minister to also agree on this principle.

The Scottish Labour campaign on jobs and the economy, #JobsForGood, has been running since early July, with calls for Scottish government to use all its powers to invest in sectors which need specific help, and to deliver on a jobs guarantee scheme which can tackle some of the growing inequalities that have been exacerbated under Covid-19.  

A “green economic recovery” will need a shift in investment and a follow-through on promises made to Scottish workers. 

As an example of this, Unite the Union, along with the STUC and Scottish Labour, has been campaigning to save jobs in manufacturing, investing now for the future. 

As the Alexander Dennis workforce in Falkirk and Larbert face redundancy and job insecurity, surely now is the time for protecting the skilled workforce and planning ahead for new vehicles to deliver that cleaner, greener, increased capacity in public transport, which will have to come if we are to meet climate change targets.

The interaction between reserved powers held at the UK Parliament and Westminster, and the devolved powers held by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament, has also been coming under scrutiny. 

Health and safety concerns affect every single workplace, every public service and every community.  

Health and safety legislation falls primarily within the UK Parliament’s remit, but this does not absolve the Scottish government of responsibilities and the partnership approach to which it is committed, through Partnership on Health And Safety in Scotland (PHASS). 

Rhoda Grant MSP highlighted this summer the significant number of vacancies for health and safety inspectors across Scotland. 

These are jobs that should be filled now, in Scotland, as a matter of urgency.     

The work of the STUC-affiliated trade unions to organise, represent and educate workers in every setting has been consistent throughout the summer months, and the STUC’s expectations of stronger interventions into the Scottish labour market by the Scottish government must be supported.  

Organising without being able to meet up, without the networks that inspire and develop the policies we need, as we go into the unknown, is incredibly difficult. 

TUC Congress and the Labour Connected events reach only those who log on to a computer — and many people do not have that facility or knowledge. 

Going onto the winter, with the prospect of continued or greater isolation for many, gives us a huge responsibility to think about how we build that confident movement we will need. 

The first electoral test will not be the general election in 2024, but the English local elections and mayoral contests in May 2021, and the Welsh and Scottish Parliament elections.  

In Scotland, in preparing for those elections, the labour movement must make much stronger demands on the incumbent SNP-led Scottish government. 

The impact of the pandemic is being felt just as severely in our care homes and communities in Scotland as elsewhere, and in some cases even worse. 

The Women Connected Labour event on Saturday replaced a Labour Women’s Conference this year. 

Without a policy-making function, it could be hard to see how the priorities of which women spoke will be carried through — but there really is no choice.

Labour, and Scottish Labour, must put forward positive action proposals that shape any jobs guarantee schemes, prioritise local government and public services on which on many women depend, and dramatically increase the household incomes of women. 

We need quotas for jobs for disabled people with the appropriate supports in place, the expansion not reduction of childcare provision so that women do not continue to drop out of the labour market, and it means recognising that families continue to pay the price for racism in our society, so positive measures must be taken to tackle this. 

Funding priority, for example, for violence against women projects supporting black and ethnic minority women and children, and for a public housing policy which actually increases housing supply.

Bold decisions about society’s resources need to be made now, and we all need to work out how to bring together the loudest possible voices to deliver the future we need. 

Ann Henderson is a Labour NEC and SEC member. She is running again for NEC membership as part of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance slate (along with Yasmine Dar, Laura Pidcock, Mish Rahman, Nadia Jarma, Gemma Bolton).

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