Winning for workers must be the priority at Labour party conference

CWU general secretary Dave Ward lays out his priorities for conference.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

For all we have heard in the past week about the internal structures of the Labour Party’s democracy, for me the biggest question facing the Labour Party conference is how we unify workers across the country to join the fight for a radical Labour government.

In speaking to members of the Communication Workers Union I am clear on one thing: people are crying out for change. Insecure employment, record levels of in-work poverty, public services left on the brink after seven years of austerity - this is the legacy of four decades of neoliberalism that we have a once in a generation chance to end by getting behind Jeremy Corbyn and fighting for a bold new deal for workers.

The developments this week on Brexit will further fuel the debate on Labour’s position, as the prospects of the government falling, or of failing to negotiate a deal at all, have both undoubtedly risen. Those calling for another referendum will no doubt see this as vindicating their position. I don’t agree.

I support keeping all options on the table. But a second referendum, re-running the same old arguments, is the only get out of jail card left for a government that has nothing to offer the country.

Labour has got to shift the focus onto its positive vision for the future and the only way we can do this is with a general election where we set out our position on Brexit as one part of a broader programme for radical change.

Workers won’t think Labour is credible if we’re only talking about the risks of what could happen and sound like we’re blind to the reality of what has already happened to the world of work and the pressures they face on a daily basis.

We are ten years on from the financial crisis and workers’ wages are still on average three percent below where they were before the greed of a few wrecked the economy for the many. On average, people are earning £800 less in real terms, and for young people the situation is even worse, with a five percent drop for those in their twenties and a 7 per cent drop for those aged between 30 and 39.

And it’s not just on pay that we’ve seen this crisis spiral: the use of exploitative contracts is now part of the foundation of the British economy.  It’s not just zero hour contracts – its contracts without sick pay, holiday pay, short term contracts, specific event contracts.  These compound the structural imbalance at work that is driving low pay, low skill and low productivity.  In all of these cases we are seeing a reduction in people’s protections at work when we should be seeing constant progress.  Workers are facing a challenge with every single corner they turn despite working harder and for longer than ever before.

That is what should be the focus of this Labour conference: the uniting behind a radical new deal for workers. It is only by standing in solidarity as a movement that we can achieve this through the election of a transformative socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn. The media is already focussing on possible division and disagreement on internal issues within the Party. As important as they are, the left must remember that they are in a position of strength, and we need to use this strength to set the agenda not just within the Labour Party, but within the wider country.

It’s not just a moral duty to win the fight for workers’ rights – it is also an electoral one. I believe that a focus from the Labour Party on the crisis in the workplace could attract more voters that we are yet to reach. Labour’s last manifesto offered a bold platform for us to launch from and John McDonnell’s recent announcements on shared ownership show how much change the Labour leadership is offering.

Nobody can deny that it’s the programme set out by the Labour leadership which transformed Labour’s fortunes and has finally once again made the party relevant to working people.

With millions of people having seen their life chances - and those of our their families - eroded by decades of politicians tinkering at the edges - pushing the fight for a new deal for workers to the top of the agenda is the route to a Labour government.

For all we have heard in the past week about the internal structures of the Labour Party’s democracy, for me the biggest question facing the Labour Party conference is how we unify workers across the country to join the fight for a radical Labour government.

In speaking to members of the Communication Workers Union I am clear on one thing: people are crying out for change. Insecure employment, record levels of in-work poverty, public services left on the brink after seven years of austerity - this is the legacy of four decades of neoliberalism that we have a once in a generation chance to end by getting behind Jeremy Corbyn and fighting for a bold new deal for workers.

The developments this week on Brexit will further fuel the debate on Labour’s position, as the prospects of the government falling, or of failing to negotiate a deal at all, have both undoubtedly risen. Those calling for another referendum will no doubt see this as vindicating their position. I don’t agree.

I support keeping all options on the table. But a second referendum, re-running the same old arguments, is the only get out of jail card left for a government that has nothing to offer the country.

Labour has got to shift the focus onto its positive vision for the future and the only way we can do this is with a general election where we set out our position on Brexit as one part of a broader programme for radical change.

Workers won’t think Labour is credible if we’re only talking about the risks of what could happen and sound like we’re blind to the reality of what has already happened to the world of work and the pressures they face on a daily basis.

We are ten years on from the financial crisis and workers’ wages are still on average three percent below where they were before the greed of a few wrecked the economy for the many. On average, people are earning £800 less in real terms, and for young people the situation is even worse, with a five percent drop for those in their twenties and a seven per cent drop for those aged between 30 and 39.

And it’s not just on pay that we’ve seen this crisis spiral: the use of exploitative contracts is now part of the foundation of the British economy.  It’s not just zero hour contracts – its contracts without sick pay, holiday pay, short term contracts, specific event contracts.  These compound the structural imbalance at work that is driving low pay, low skill and low productivity.  In all of these cases we are seeing a reduction in people’s protections at work when we should be seeing constant progress.  Workers are facing a challenge with every single corner they turn despite working harder and for longer than ever before.

That is what should be the focus of this Labour conference: the uniting behind a radical new deal for workers. It is only by standing in solidarity as a movement that we can achieve this through the election of a transformative socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn. The media is already focussing on possible division and disagreement on internal issues within the Party. As important as they are, the left must remember that they are in a position of strength, and we need to use this strength to set the agenda not just within the Labour Party, but within the wider country.

It’s not just a moral duty to win the fight for workers’ rights – it is also an electoral one. I believe that a focus from the Labour Party on the crisis in the workplace could attract more voters that we are yet to reach. Labour’s last manifesto offered a bold platform for us to launch from and John McDonnell’s recent announcements on shared ownership show how much change the Labour leadership is offering.

Nobody can deny that it’s the programme set out by the Labour leadership which transformed Labour’s fortunes and has finally once again made the party relevant to working people.

With millions of people having seen their life chances - and those of our their families - eroded by decades of politicians tinkering at the edges - pushing the fight for a new deal for workers to the top of the agenda is the route to a Labour government.

Dave Ward is General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).