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Here's why I'm backing Andy Burnham to lead Labour back to power

It’s hard to find a more genuine, decent person in politics than Andy, and I think people will connect with him at a time when we’re battling scepticism and apathy as much as we’re fighting the other side. 

On May 7, the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire voted decisively for a Labour government. And it is the people in my constituency and my city who will suffer from the Tory agenda which followed our defeat. In the face of such a defeat, it’s only natural that we spend a short time looking at why we lost so badly. It’s clear we have a lot to learn.

I knocked on a lot of doors, both in my own constituency and in marginal seats across the country and two things struck me wherever I went: people didn’t trust Labour on the economy and in general they weren’t big fans of Westminster politicians at all.   

We need to reconnect with the people we lost - to Ukip, to the SNP and those that lost faith in the entire system, and we must win votes back from those who put their trust in the Tories.

But, amongst all of this, we cannot and must not abandon our core purpose – to speak up for the voiceless and address the fundamental inequalities that means a girl born today in my constituency can expect to live up to ten years less than another girl born in a wealthier part of my city.

It’s a big job, make no mistake. But I decided quite early on that I’d be backing Andy because he is up to that task.

In my initial conversations with him, his absolute determination to take on the big issues that in the past we have tended to leave untouched was clear: on immigration and Europe and on how Labour is perceived as being part of a metropolitan elite. But it is his track record of standing up for our values and the principles we hold dear which clearly marks him out.

When it would have been easier not to, he spoke out against private sector involvement doing so much damage to our NHS; he staunchly defended our comprehensive system from Tory attacks; and while in Government he helped kick-start a process which may finally, after 26 years, bring some closure to the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster who have suffered repeated injustices over more than two decades.

More often than not, these calls went against the prevailing political winds inside the ‘Westminster village’ and that matters because we desperately need a leader who can reach out and speak to the entire country not just talk amongst themselves in London.  Andy has repeatedly shown that he can do just that.

Within that I know that Andy understands there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to why we’re not in government today.  Anybody that claims otherwise is merely attempting to force their own ideological agenda onto the defeat because while some in the South may have wanted to hear more about small business or wealth creators, there were plenty in the North and West Midlands who wanted to talk about immigration and wages; and tens of thousands of voters in Scotland who wanted change so badly, they rejected all of the main Westminster parties.

For me our main issue in this election was one of incoherence.  We didn’t spend too much in Government, but we supported the Tories’ spending cuts.  We wanted some kind of reform of Europe but didn’t advocate a referendum.  We abhorred the Tories’ welfare cuts but we voted for the welfare cap. We had some great policies in our manifesto but people just didn’t know what we stood for in a more fundamental way – we needed an overarching vision for our country. I was a vocal and firm supporter of Ed and was enthused by the way he started his leadership, but as the campaign progressed our offer seemed to be whittled away by overly cautious pledges on rail fare increase caps and childcare that even the Tories could match.

Yet people from across the political spectrum have recognised that so much of what Ed was saying was right.  We did not lose because we championed people on low pay and zero hours contracts and because we stood up to this Government’s vindictive assault on the poor.  What attracts me most to Andy is that he will not sweep all this away but will build on it, broadening it out so that it appeals to all sections of society.

And finally, If the last few years have taught us anything, the power of ‘being a normal bloke’ (or woman come to that) shouldn’t be underestimated. Farage is anything but ‘one of the people’ but he plays his role well and Ukip benefit from that. I so desperately wanted Ed Miliband to succeed but his perceived character flaws did get raised on the doorstep, constantly perpetuated by the right wing press looking to accentuate anything they thought didn’t ‘fit’.

It’s hard to find a more genuine, decent person in politics than Andy, and I think people will connect with him at a time when we’re battling scepticism and apathy as much as we’re fighting the other side. 

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.