Our rights aren’t given, they are fought for and won – Nabeela Mowlana


“This cost of living crisis is a product of privatised systems which puts our ability to live at the mercy of global markets. Prices are not set by workers or by consumers. They are set by firms owned by millionaires and billionaires.”

This article is a published version of the speech given by Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour Students rep. at the “Johnson is gone – Now let’s win a a new deal for workers!” event held on Monday, July 11th. Read her contribution or watch the meeting in full below:

WATCH: “Johnson is gone – Now let’s win a a new deal for workers!”

When I started working at 17, I knew nothing about workers rights, and didn’t know what ‘good’ working conditions were.  If you had asked me to speak about trade unions I wouldn’t have known where to start. It wasn’t until years later that I became a member of Unite. It was years after that that I actually started organising in my union. For years my colleagues and I would work 50 hour weeks with no overtime, grievances would go undealt with, and when we asked for a union we were offered a staff forum. I’m sure this is a story familiar to many.

Like many other people in this country, I’m also a private renter. When our first landlord was hostile, we didn’t know who to turn to. When we said we were leaving and he wouldn’t return our deposit, we didn’t know we could do something about it. 7 years later, our second landlord sent us an eviction notice under section 21 of the Housing Act. This came at one of the worst possible times. We had no savings to put down a huge deposit, and we couldn’t find another house within our budget. We genuinely thought we were going to end up homeless. At the time, I didn’t know community unions like ACORN existed.

This isn’t just my story or my experience, this is the experience of thousands of young people across the country. We know that young people today are the largest generation of private renters in this country, are most likely to be in precarious work, and those of us who are students are loaded with thousands of pounds of debt before we even enter the full-time job market. Most of us are one paycheck away from homelessness.

We also know that none of this was inevitable. It was all a political choice.

This cost of living crisis is a product of privatised systems which puts our ability to live at the mercy of global markets. Prices are not set by workers or by consumers. They are set by firms owned by millionaires and billionaires. The same firms that would rather spend time and money union busting than give their workers a pay rise. Because they know that being part of a union doesn’t stop at getting the pay rise we deserve – it’s about improving our material conditions and by extension our lives. Organising as a collective allows us to question the power structures in this country. This terrifies the establishment.

After an incredible show of solidarity at the TUC demo in London last month and at the Durham Miners Gala this weekend, its clear that millions of us are no longer willing to settle for crumbs. We can’t wait for a Westminster handout from this government. We know our rights, but we also know that rights aren’t given, they are fought for and won.

My first experience of organising with a union was with the community union ACORN. I saw incredible actions from comrades who

  1. Forced Natwest and TSB to drop their “No DSS” clause.
  2. Fought for and won landlord licensing in Bristol, Sheffield and Newcastle.
  3. Got Bristol City council to drop a £4m council tax rise for the poorest.

and of course, won dozens of repairs, stopped dozens of evictions, and won back dozens of stolen deposits for ACORN members.

From trade unions, amongst many many wins, we’ve seen UCU fight against unsustainable workloads and bad pensions.

IWGB are running the longest JustEat strike.

Unite won a string of pay rises for workers across this country from dockyard workers in Plymouth to airport workers at Gatwick.

GMB won an above inflation pay-rise after a long-running bin strike in Eastbourne.

In Sheffield, the Bakers union are organising bar staff at one of the biggest food markets in the city.

For the first time in British history call centre workers at BT who are part of the Communication Workers Union voted for strike action.

The tide is turning. We are demanding for what is rightfully ours.

I joined my union because I didn’t want to just hear about a housing revolution, a climate revolution, or a workers revolution. I wanted to be part of it. Our time is here and now.

Wherever you are in the country, there will be a community organising group. Join them. Join your trade union. Remind your neighbours, your families, your colleagues that there is strength in numbers and we don’t have to put up with things as they are. If there isn’t an active local group, start one.

Right now, there is another 17 year old starting her working life. There’s another student signing their tenancy agreement without knowing their housing rights. Another young person has been pushed to take on a job that pays them less than minimum wage. Young Labour, alongside our comrades in the trade union movement, and community groups, have a duty to help organise these young people in our workplaces, communities, and town halls to raise our living standards.

One of the greatest lessons from Labour movement is that we fight for bread, but we fight roses too. I look forward to fighting for a world of roses with each and every one of you.

Featured image: Durham Miners’ Gala 2022. Photo credit: Young Labour Socialist Future

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