“As the party founded by the trade unions to represent the interests of working people, Labour should be joining this public majority in backing the unions defending working people during this cost-of-living crisis.”
By Lorcan Whitehead, National Secretary of Momentum
Amid the dark struggle of the cost of living crisis, a wave of strike action this summer has offered a ray of hope to Britain’s working classes. As the historic party of organised labour, Labour should be firmly behind these workers as they defend themselves from Tory and ruling-class attacks on their living standards.
Yet Keir Starmer has so far sat on the fence in this vital struggle, even banning shadow ministers from visiting picket lines. As trade unions gear up for an autumn of strike action, now is the time for Labour to change course. Conference gives us that chance.
Something seismic is clearly happening in the British trade union movement right now. This is the biggest wave of strike action in decades, with action either already taken this year or likely to be taken soon by rail workers, posties, telecoms engineers and call centre workers, refuse collectors, bus workers, teachers, airline workers, barristers, firefighters, university workers, civil servants, and NHS workers.
Of course this is partly due to rampant inflation and soaring energy bills, but it also follows a decade during which working people have got poorer year on year. The Financial Times recently reported that our wages would be 47% higher if they’d followed the pre-financial crash trend. In my sector, higher education, the average worker has been hit with a 25% real terms pay cut since 2009. No wonder so many workers across different sectors are turning to their bosses and echoing the words of Mick Lynch: “We refuse to be poor anymore!”
Lynch’s words have resonated because this isn’t a niche issue only affecting one industry. Right across this country millions people are suffering, and polling is consistently finding majority support for striking workers from the wider public. If the Tories were able to engineer a degree of popular consent for austerity in the 2010s, the public will go along with no such repeat now. Indeed, public opposition to new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mooted lifting of the bankers’ bonuses cap is overwhelming, signifying a heightened class consciousness amongst the wider population. Wealth taxes are highly popular.
As the party founded by the trade unions to represent the interests of working people, Labour should be joining this public majority in backing the unions defending working people during this cost-of-living crisis. But so far the Labour leadership is missing an opportunity to articulate the concerns of working people. Picket line bans and below-inflation payrises aren’t just bad policies on principle – they miss the public mood, and needlessly divide within the Labour Party.
The leadership’s position is wrong – and a majority within our Party and the labour movement-at-large agree. The Labour for labour campaign seeks to rally those forces and bring pressure to bear on the leadership. So far thousands have used our lobbying tool to push Labour MPs to attend picket lines, we’ve created a set of resources to help our members and local groups to organise strike solidarity events, and we’re organising to pass a motion at Conference.
We have a big opportunity to unite trade unions and Labour members on the national stage behind a bold alternative to Tory ruin, based on support for workers and public ownership. These are popular and pragmatic stances for any party seeking to represent working-class people over corporate interests.
But in the run-up to and at Conference, there is so much more that we want to achieve. Moving the Party on this issue isn’t going to be easy, but if our movement pulls together, we can create the collective pressure required for the leadership to change course. That’s why Momentum is currently running a fundraiser, in order to:
- Organise rallies to demand Labour stand with labour
- Maximise the Left delegate operation to win crunch votes
- Paint Liverpool red to help spread the Labour for labour message
Our unions are offering inspiration with the fightback they are leading in the workplace. But up against a new, hard right Tory government ramping up its war on workers, we need a united labour movement standing strong. We must redouble our efforts to create a formidable united front between the unions and the party of working people. At this year’s Conference it’s incumbent on all of us to fight for a change of direction in the Labour Party. Help us win this battle.