Rights at work should be back on Labour’s agenda

Trade unions have a say in this leadership election, too.

This week, Ed Miliband backed the idea of extending the right to request flexible working to "every worker, not just those caring for families". This is an idea first proposed in 2007 by Beverley Hughes. Back then, Hughes argued that "everyone has a life outside work, not just parents . . . many people make valuable contributions to their communities in their non-work time".

When you read that quotation now it feels like a "big society" argument, yet the coalition is going in the other direction. The Tories campaigned on a platform to make Britain "the most family-friendly in Europe". But for Ed Miliband, even though he's a new father, the issue is wider than one of families. He highlighted this week that "we still work harder, for longer, than any other country in western Europe".

Ed Miliband's latest defence of the European social model -- aligned to his promotion of a campaign for a national living wage and his call for Will Hutton's review of top pay in the public sector to be expanded to include the private sector -- will appeal to trade union members who have a say in this election. But it will also appeal to employees grinding out a living in low-paid or monotonous jobs.

All five candidates have said that Labour should have moved quicker on the Agency Workers Directive, a cause championed by Unite. Candidates will appear before the Unite executive this weekend and will be pressed not just on employment rights for individual workers, but also "collective rights" for trade unions.

Repeal of Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws is unlikely to be offered by any candidate other than Diane Abbott, but the CBI has recently called for further tightening of the rules on strike ballots. Balls, Burnham and the Milibands might rule out allowing the 40 per cent turnout threshold that the CBI is lobbying for. 

Another issue that they would be wise to get ahead on is public-sector pensions, as that will be a major concern when the leadership candidates meet the Unison executive tomorrow. John Prescott has already labelled the Labour MP John Hutton's decision to chair a review for the government as the act of a "collaborator". Laying down red lines for Hutton not to cross would be a smart political move by the candidates. Actually making policy proposals could frame the review itself. 

It is important that Labour gets ahead of this debate, because there are some extremely distasteful views being expressed by Tories on this issue. Richard Balfe, Cameron's trade union envoy, told the Telegraph.

Public-sector pensions are like lollipops for kids. You decide what sort of lollipop you're going to give, and then you work out how you are going to pay for it. It's perfectly possible to maintain public-sector pensions at their current level, if you make some fairly modest alterations to employee contributions. Public-sector pensions will clearly be a very significant issue in the wider relationship between the government and the unions.

For a serious analysis of the true costs of public-sector pensions, check out the TUC's explanation showing how less than 0.2 per cent of teacher pensioners, 1.8 per cent of civil-service pensioners and 2.5 per cent of NHS pensioners get a sunset package of more than £40,000 a year.

Employment rights need to be on Labour's agenda, because the coalition has them in its sights. And voters across the social spectrum, both parents and those without family commitments, working in both the public and the private sectors, want more control over their working lives.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism will do him more good than harm

The Labour leader's criticism of police cuts and western foreign policy will resonate with voters.

The election campaign, if there was any doubt, has resumed. In his speech responding to the Manchester attack, Jeremy Corbyn did not limit himself to expressions of sympathy and solidarity. He squarely targeted Theresa May on her home turf: policing and security.

The Conservatives' repeated warning is that Corbyn is a "threat" to his country. But the Labour leader countered that only he could keep it "safe". Austerity, he declared, "has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap." May, having been warned by the Police Federation while home secretary of the danger of cuts, is undoubtedly vulnerable on this front. Under Labour, Corbyn vowed, "there will be more police on the streets" (despite Diane Abbott's erroneous arithmetic), while the security services would receive whatever resources they need.

Corbyn swiftly progressed to foreign policy, the great passion of his political life. Though it is facile to reduce terrorism to a "blowback" against western interventionism (as if jihadists were Pavlovian dogs, rather than moral agents), it is blinkered to dismiss any connection. As Corbyn noted: "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home" (the Tory-led Foreign Affairs Select Committee is among those who agree).That the former Stop the War chair has long taken this view absolves him of the charge of crude political opportunism.

Corbyn was also more careful than his pre-briefed remarks suggested to caveat his criticisms. He emphasised: "Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

"And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre."

But he maintained his central charge: western intervention has made the world more dangerous, not less. "We must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working," he said. "We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism."

Though Corbyn's arguments have appalled Conservatives (and some in Labour), they are ones that will likely find favour among the public. Polls have consistently shown that most voters oppose western adventurism and believe it has endangered the UK. Corbyn's words will resonate among both the anti-interventionist left and the isolationist right (this is, after all, a country which has just voted to retreat from even its closest neighbours).

The speech, given at 1 Great George Street (in the room where Ed Miliband gave his resignation address), was marred by Corbyn's refusal to take questions. But it was unarguably well-delivered. "Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror," he warned in a pre-emptive strike against the Conservatives.

Corbyn's decision to give an overtly political speech four days after the Manchester attack is being widely described as a "gamble" or even a profound error. But the election will now rightly focus more closely on the issue of security - nothing should be beyond democratic debate.

Many of Corbyn's life-long stances, such as unilateral disarmament, do not find favour with the electorate. But there was little in his speech today that the average voter would contest. The Conservatives will hope to turn the heightened security debate to their advantage, ruthlessly quoting Corbyn against himself. But on this front, as on others, the Labour leader is proving a tougher opponent than they anticipated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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