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TUC 2018 Labour 'ready to hit the ground running,' says John McDonnell at IER fringe

Packed meeting hears plans to revolutionise the world of work

LABOUR is ready to hit the ground running with a programme to irreversibly shift power and wealth to working people, John McDonnell said last night.

The "depth of insecurity" for millions of working people means people are crying out for radical change, the shadow chancellor told a packed Institute of Employment Rights (IER) fringe at TUC Congress in Manchester.

The party will bring water, transport, postal services and energy into public ownership because "we don't want people being ripped off the way they are at the moment."

Mr McDonnell said Labour had plans to double the size of the co-operative sector and legislate to make companies distribute shares to their workforce, "not individually but on a collective basis," so that over time workers would come to own companies and the economy would be democratised.

While not wishing to rule out a second referendum on Brexit, he said the preferred option was a general election. "I don't want to let the Tories off the hook," he said.

Since a Jeremy Corbyn government would face "significant opposition from various parts of the Establishment," it was vital the party was in a position to take radical action quickly, he argued, calling himself the "secretary of the [Keith] Ewing, [John] Hendy and [Carolyn] Jones fan club" because of the effort the IER has put into shaping a legislative programme for workers' rights.

John Hendy QC outlined the legislation by which Labour could get rid of zero-hours contracts, establish a universal definition of "worker" to ensure all workers enjoy equal rights and explained how sectoral collective bargaining could be restored over several years via national joint councils for each sector, with equal employer and employee representation.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said people were crying out for a new deal.

"Four million people are currently in insecure work. I've had families come to me with both parents in full-time work asking where the nearest foodbank is.

"We can't go on with Amazon workers feeling they have to urinate in bottles because they can't afford a toilet break."

Trade unions were "under siege" in a country where even existing employment law was not enforced, she pointed out.

And she saluted fellow speaker Lauren Townsend, a TGI Friday's worker from Milton Keynes, for showing the way for a new generation of trade unionists.

Ms Townsend, addressing the rolling strike action by Unite members at the restaurant chain over the company's decision to redistribute their tips to kitchen staff, said the difficulties faced by workers in the sector trying to organise were formidable.

"Most colleagues had no idea what a trade union was, what a trade union does," she said.

"If things are going to change, unions need to become the norm."

The union had to notify bosses two weeks before holding a strike ballot, she said, meaning management were able to go into stores and use various methods to talk people out of it.

"There are stories of union members being screamed at, being pulled into freezers or boiler rooms and told by managers 'do you know how hard this is making my life'?"

Ms Townsend was herself suspended for three weeks earlier in the year for a speech she made to Unite policy conference.

"If I hadn't had a supportive family and the support of Unite, I would have quit the job," she said.

"It's scary being young in the hospitality industry."

The meeting also heard from RMT general secretary Mick Cash.

"To thrive as a movement we've got to make some fundamental changes," he warned.

While most people thought of the railway industry as highly organised, alongside the 39,000 people directly employed by Network Rail there were 50-60,000 employed indirectly through contractors, and here zero-hours contracts and minimum wages were rife.

When it came to seafaring, just 40 per cent of mariners in EU waters were EU nationals, he pointed out, as shipping employs a race to the bottom by hiring workers from other parts of the world on worse wages and conditions. The result was super-exploitation and the severe decline of seafaring in countries like Britain.

CWU leader Dave Ward said it was time for the trade union movement to "stand up with Labour.

"We face one of two futures – one where Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft grow in wealth and power beyond any country in the world, and own work, so they can impose whatever they want.

"Or one where trade unions come together."

Mr Ward paid tribute to Mr McDonnell and Ms Long Bailey for "standing firm behind Jeremy Corbyn."

Hitting back at right-wing MPs out to demonise their leader, he said: "These people are all about themselves.

"They look down their noses at people like me and those I represent."

And he said he was "sick and tired" of figures trying to "make Brexit the biggest issue.

"We sound brave standing up for rights in Europe but we need first to come together in Britain and fight here."

He called for a day of action organised by the movement next year where all unions worked together to promote the idea of a new deal.

"The IER are doing it. Labour are doing it. What are we doing as a movement?" he demanded.

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