The Labour Party, The New Working Class and Employment
117 years ago, The Labour Party was founded by the Trade Unions to protect, defend and fight for the working classes in Parliament. The Labour Party continued to fight and defend the working classes, however in the 1980s, Britain underwent a period of ‘de-industrialisation’, the factories, the mines and the heavy industry that defined the Northern landscape disappeared. The traditional working classes, disappeared. The British economy transitioned to be based on consumerism not manufacturing. This meant a new working class emerged, a working class that works in call centres, department stores and supermarkets.
There are many problems and challenges facing the new Working Classes. Labour keeps claiming to be the party of the working people, but if the Party doesn’t give some policies that benefit working people, then this is just an empty value. Labour must come up with more than values, we need polices to help the working classes, otherwise we face electoral oblivion.
Zero Hour Contracts
According to the Office of National Statistics, some 903,000 people are employed on these contracts. These contracts, where employees have no regular hours, can lead to many families to struggling all the more. Take a single mum for example, if this single mum is employed on a zero hour contract, they would have no regular income, also if a mum doesn’t know what hours they are going to work, how can they plan child care?
Supporters of Zero Hour contracts, like to claim that it gives flexibility to the employee, but for many workers, this isn’t the case. Too many zero hour contracts, contain clauses that state the following “You shall be available to work when requested unless otherwise agreed in advance with us.” This means, that the worker, has to work when the Employer requests, in other words, the contract is flexible for the employer who doesn’t have to give any hours but inflexible for the employee who must work as and when their employer requests.
The Labour Party must propose an end to zero hours contracts all together, before the 2015 General Election, the Party promised to end ‘exploitative zero hour contracts’ this proposal was seen as a middle of the road approach as many employers claim zero hours contracts make it easier for them to employ students and young people. Others claim that it’s too hard to legislate to tackle this growth in zero hours contracts. However, New Zealand, has already brought in legislation forcing employers, to offer a fixed minimum number of hours every week to their employees, the legislation also stops employers from penalising their workers for refusing to work extra hours at short notice. Labour must be strong and radical, and abolish zero hours contracts.
The law in the UK currently guarantees employees a 20 minute break at work if they do a 6 hour shift, while under 18s, get a half and hour break if the work 4 and half hours. This may seem all fine and good. But this takes fails to take into consideration the workload, or the work of the employee in question. For example an employee working in a warehouse, may have a more physically demanding job than an employee in a call centre. The law, also takes no consideration of the time a worker is at work, if an employee works a shift 5 hour shift from 5 o’clock to 10 o’clock, they will receive no break and therefore will not be able to eat any form of tea.
Labour must propose a change in law to ensure the rest breaks employees are legally entitled too are based on the reality of the times the employee works for and the type of work they carry out.
It was estimated by the Office of National Statistics, that some 4.6 million people in 2015 were self-employed. Labour must begin to reach out and appeal to this growing class of worker. Those who are self-employed, face dangers from the fact they have no sick pay, no holiday entitlement or any form of maternity/paternity leave.
Labour must work, to help move people who seek to move from self-employment to a full or part time job. Labour must also work to improve pension schemes for the self employed and introduce insurance schemes for maternity and paternity pay for those who are self employed, maybe on the model used by German unions.
Unions are the very organisations that founded the Labour Party, yet their membership has been declining since the mid-1970s, many people no longer see any relevance in joining or being part of a union. The Government must legislate to allow unions to work with freelance, self employed or ‘gig’ economy workers to create insurance and pension schemes. Labour must be prepared to advocate legislation which prevents employers from refusing to recognise unions. If a union is active in the workplace, then employers should be forced to work alongside this union in the interests of its employees. Companies must also be compelled to allow workplace representatives on their boards.
Labour has for a long time, worked in partnership with the Co-operative movement. However, the Co-operative movement has declined greatly inside the UK. The idea of mass nationalisation of the means of production, supply and exchange as was originally in clause 4 of the Labour Party's constitution, shows no more signs of resonating with the electorate now than it did in the 80’s. Labour can stand for community and privately owned companies, by working to promote and encourage the formation of new Co-operatives, by scrapping business rates and creating a local tax on business that doesn’t punish the SME’s vital to our high streets and industrial parks or creating financial schemes to benefit start-up co-operatives.
It is no good Labour continuing to fall back onto its values of ‘fairness and equality’ it must come up with policies that explain how these ends can be achieved, and achived to benefit the many. Labour must address the concerns of working people. To be the party that represents working people, Labour needs more than words and sound bites, it needs policies. There are many areas, where Labour can work to protect working classes. It’s time Labour took action, and once again become the party of working people.