IN THE run-up to the conference season, every year I think to myself that the labour movement is coming together at a crucial moment. Perhaps this is a sign of the times.
We’re a decade on from the financial crash and living with the legacy of 40 years of neoliberalism. Insecure employment and in-work poverty are foundations of the economy, union membership and coverage are close to a record low and increasingly your life chances are determined not by how hard you work, but what you start off with.
But these things are not just a sign of the times — they’re a sign of how much we have to do and what our priorities need to be at TUC Congress and then Labour Conference in the coming weeks.
Much of the media will of course focus on the intricacies of different positions being taken on Brexit and any sign of disagreement within the Labour Party.
But for me the central question facing unions at TUC Congress is what we are doing about the world of work and how we make in-work poverty the number one political issue.
The only way to unify people in this country is to make clear that the fight for workers’ rights does not start and end in Brussels, it starts here in Britain.
As we have been doing at the TUC in recent years, the CWU will be pushing for the movement to come together around a serious strategy to deliver a new deal for workers and to build on the demonstration that took place on May 12, when thousands of us took to the streets.
Our four-point plan for this is set out in our motion on a New Deal for Workers. First, we are calling for unions to agree a common bargaining agenda to tackle insecure employment, which all trade unions agree to push in collective bargaining.
This sort of co-ordination around an agreed set of demands would send a powerful message to employers, and to the public, that the trade union movement is stepping up our efforts in the industrial arena.
A consensus on decent employment standards that we are all united in pushing could also set a benchmark on decent work in the same way that the living wage has become an established standard on pay.
Second, we want to see a new charter being agreed by unions to bring about greater co-operation on how we organise the millions of people who aren’t already members.
We have to move beyond having rules that just resolve disputes between unions and start thinking about how we can actively work together to reverse the decline in membership.
Third, we need to publish our own manifesto setting out our political demands on a new deal for workers and making the case for collective bargaining.
The Labour manifesto and the proposals from the Institute of Employment Rights give us a bold agenda we should rally behind on sectoral collective bargaining and the trade union voice — the trade union movement now needs to make our set of workplace demands the number one political issue in the country.
Finally, the CWU is pushing for unions to come together and agree a plan for a day of action in early 2019. The true success of any campaign, industrial or political, lies in engaging and ultimately showing that we can mobilise our membership.
So we want unions to choose from a range of options on action they can get their members to engage in to build solidarity and show we are serious about fighting back. Surely now must be the time for us to step up and go further than we ever have before.
For me this campaign is about reconnecting unions with our core purpose of fighting for change in the workplace and showing that we are serious about tackling insecure employment and in-work poverty in this country.
At the same time, I think these issues must be front and centre when we think about Brexit, which the CWU will again be involved in debating with our second motion at the TUC.
For the past two years I have been clear that our responsibility must be to bring our members together, whether they voted Leave or Remain. I don’t believe we do that by elevating the debate about a second referendum, or a “people’s vote,” or on the details of our relationship with the EU, above all other issues.
During the referendum campaign the truth is that the country had a choice between two Tory alternatives: the status quo or a Conservative-led Brexit.
Neither option will deliver the change in the country our members need and I believe it is a mistake to continue to allow the terms of the debate to be dictated to us in this way.
We have to set the agenda — and this means putting forward a broader positive vision for the future with a new deal for workers at its heart.
This is one reason why we are calling for unions to make campaigning for a general election and a Labour government the priority. The vote we need is between a Labour and a Tory agenda for the country — not between two right-wing alternatives — and in advance of Labour Conference we will be asking our members to support this view.
One thing we can all agree on: whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the continuation of a Tory government is an awful deal for workers in this country.
So coming out of TUC Congress and Labour Conference, we have to unite around a new deal for workers and in the fight for a transformative Labour government that will end insecure employment and in-work poverty for good.
Dave Ward is general secretary of CWU.
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