Kate Osamor
Show Hide image

Kate Osamor MP: Jeremy Corbyn represents the working man and woman

Jeremy's policies have popular appeal - as the Owen Smith campaign shows. 

In May 2015, I was elected Member of Parliament for Edmonton. It was – needless to say – a disappointing election for Labour. And as I, my Labour colleagues and the press, came to dissect the election result to work out what we could do better, it was clear we needed to start with a stronger and clearer message. We needed to stop pandering to Tory rhetoric about migration – the now infamous immigration mug a lasting memory of this. We needed to stop pandering to Tory rhetoric about the necessity of austerity, as Labour’s whip continued to do post-election by abstaining on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. We needed an alternative vision; and whatever you may now think about Jeremy Corbyn he has put forward that vision. He galvanised a large section of the previously disenchanted electorate in last summer’s leadership election, and Labour’s membership has continued to grow since.

The reason is simple - Jeremy’s politics represents the working man and woman. He speaks to our very ordinary – and increasingly frequent – concerns: that our NHS is in an increasingly precarious position, that our schools are overcrowded, that the once realistic goal of owning a home now seems like a dream for so many. Neoliberalism is not and has not been working for the vast majority of the population. This was ignored by Labour for too long. It has enabled the Scottish Nationalist Party to carry an austerity message in Scotland which is clearer and more united than our own.

Jeremy’s policies have popular appeal. The parliamentary Labour party realises this. Owen Smith realises this. That is why Owen’s leadership election is being fought on policies that Jeremy does support and has put forward himself; issues that Jeremy has campaigned for his entire political career.

The PLP believe that Jeremy does not have the skills to lead this Party through a general election and into government. That, fundamentally, Jeremy is an unelectable idealist. But who defines electability? Jeremy does not pander to the media, to the Westminster bubble or to lobbyists, three powerful sectors that influence over our public perception of what it means to be the leader of a country. Public perception is changing, in Britain and worldwide. And for this reason, I fail to see how Owen Smith is inherently any more credible a candidate.

People are disillusioned with the political establishment. There has been a resurgence of populism on the right and the left, demonstrated clearly in the US presidential primaries with Donald Trump’s nomination as republican presidential nominee, and Bernie Sanders’ extraordinary journey in the democratic primaries. Nationally, the Westminster Bubble is bursting. In May 2015, the SNP took Scotland and UKIP secured 12.6 per cent of the vote, up 9.5 per cent on the 2010 election. And if Vote Leave taught us anything, it was that this country isn’t working for many people; people are angry and wanted to make their voices heard. It is devastating that people took out their anger on the wrong establishment (although two thirds of Labour voters did vote Remain).

At a time when people – perhaps justifiably – don’t trust politicians, Jeremy has shown himself to be trustworthy. He has loyally campaigned against the privatization of our public services, against human rights abuses worldwide, for decades.

Labour is now the biggest left-of-centre party in Western Europe and has won all its by-elections under Jeremy. We should be celebrating the fact that Jeremy has grown the Labour movement at a time when membership of political parties was widely accepted as a thing of the past. We need to continue growing this movement, ensuring that our growing membership extends into growing community activism. We need to be campaigning locally to make sure that our politics grows into inclusive social movements. As was key to Obama’s US presidential election victory, we need to be working hard and working constantly to expand the electorate because young people are still disproportionately underrepresented in voter turnouts.

Jeremy stands for the best of Labour. He has vision and hope for a fairer society and he understands that to enact real change we need to break through the political disenchantment of 21st century Britain and build a mass social movement.

I stand with Jeremy.

Kate Osamor is the Labour Co-operative MP for Edmonton and shadow secretary of state for international development.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.