Have you heard the news? Workers and bosses have the same interests. That’s right. The biggest and most significant social divide in Britain today, the key battleground between those who produce the wealth and those who own it, is apparently no longer an issue.
According to Labour leading light Chuka Umunna MP, you can be ‘pro-worker and pro-business’.
The shadow business secretary’s speech to the trade union faithful at TUC yesterday was strong on style, smooth on delivery – and almost totally devoid of anything positive for trade unionists to take back to their workplaces.
Chuka said: ‘A strategic and strong pro-worker, pro-business agenda that has us all working together – employers, trade unions and government – to ensure the UK and all our people succeed is the only way we will rise to the challenge of building a new economy.’
Some might say: what’s wrong with trying to work together? Negotiations between business and workers’ representatives are part and parcel of any workplace where unions are recognised by their employers.
But what determines the result – whether a wage rise, freeze or cut, is who has the industrial power – who holds the balance of forces within those negotiations. It has little to do with common endeavour or mutual interest.
Businesses are by design working towards greater profit accumulation. They demand higher productivity and would ideally like to pay the least possible to secure longer hours and reduced costs in terms of safety.
Workers on the other hand are striving for higher pay for doing fewer hours. Through this clash, every workplace in Britain determines the wage levels and whether people keep or lose their jobs.
It is a reality the Labour frontbench, including Umunna, are well aware of but refuse to engage with, because it would mean backing one side or the other.
Instead, the shadow business secretary said: ‘Labour is a political party built on the power of common endeavour, the value of collaboration, the importance of solidarity, respecting people’s rights and ensuring they have a voice.’
Some might say the Labour Party was founded by Keir Hardie and others to give power to change society for workers, not simply to be a voice at the table.
And the use of the word collaboration did not go down well with some of the delegates.
On a positive note, Umunna did talk about blacklisting and employment tribunals, which was welcomed by some. But there is a difference between fundamental legal workers’ rights and the exercising of industrial power to put workers on the front foot.
Umunna’s speech was about putting workers in their place, where they will be legally accepted so long as they dance to the tune of the boss, and give him a hug every once in a while.
By Nathan Thanki and Asad Rehman.
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