I used to work on a temporary contract. I used to work on a zero hours contract. I had no basic workplace protection; I had no sick pay or holiday entitlements and could have been let go without any real explanation. On entering work and leaving work I would be stopped and searched. I was not allowed to change out of my work clothes, which had been removed of pockets so that I could not keep personal possessions on me. I was also paid £3.56 an hour. Even though I was politically aware and significantly left wing, I never joined a trade union. When I raised the idea with fellow employee’s it was laughed off; most were young people like me just trying to earn a bit of money on the side of our education, happy to accept any conditions that meant we had enough to spend at the weekend.
My employer has recently been exposed for such practices, but the problem is that such practices have been well known for many years. Indeed it has been five years since I worked there but it appears that nothing has changed. And with the revelations surrounding Conservative MP Lucy Allan that were released yesterday evening, I am not surprised. In the latest bullying scandal to hit the Tory party, the MP claimed that an ill member of staff was “pathetic” and ascribed her with an “alcohol problem” in a series of voicemail messages that make for uncomfortable listening. Just a few weeks ago the same MP admitted to adding a death threat to a Facebook post from a constituent, a case currently under investigation by the parliamentary standards committee. Though Allan’s comments are odious, they are only exemplary of what is going on in wider society.
And that is why we need strong trades unions more than ever. I am doubtful that Allan will face any real disciplinary force. The main reason I hold such doubt is because as these scandals emerge, whether it be the Sports Direct dossier or Allan’s attacks, the Tories have launched a great ideological attack on workers’ rights. Though working people face the greatest threat to their living standards and wages in a generation amid the backdrop of an uncertain economic climate, the government has unashamedly pushed for a far-reaching reform of trade unions that will only weaken the rights of working people. From armband wearing “picket supervisors” to an all-powerful Certification Officer, the clauses of this new legislation expose the reality behind Conservative rhetoric about standing up for hard-working people.
But why? Call me a Trot if you wish – and I promise I am not quoting from Mao or Marx here – but this really is an ideological piece of class warfare. As is shown by the pomposity of Allan’s phone calls, the Tories believe that some people are simply unworthy of these basic defences in the workplace. Driven by profit, and arguably greed, those funding and supporting the Tory machine own most of these businesses in the first place. It is estimated that Mike Ashley made £100million overnight on the eve of the election as it was made obvious Labour plans to ban zero hours contracts would not be enacted. Why on earth would he want to support stronger union laws? More importantly, why would the Tories back such laws that would weaken their support?
Cases such as my own should especially open the eyes of the Labour party, but they should also be used to stress the human cost of such draconian methods. For too long, Westminster and the media has been detached from these “normal” stories; I remain hopeful that Jeremy Corbyn will make this human element a core principle of his policies. The Tory party do not stand for those who want to get on and make a living, they continue to stand for entrenched and inherited wealth – the Labour party remains the real party of the workers and the builders.