By Nikola B
According to a recent Financial Times report, Labour’s policy is being watered down in an effort to court corporate chiefs in what is becoming known as the “smoked salmon and scrambled egg“ offensive.
As the 2024 general election looms ever closer with Labour currently 17 points ahead of the Tories in the national polls, Angela Rayner whose portfolio covers workers’ rights, dismissed the FT report as “Tories scaremongering,” adding that Labour would deliver “the biggest levelling-up of workers’ rights in decades – providing security, treating workers fairly, and paying a decent wage.” However as the saying goes, there’s no smoke without fire.
Drafted alongside the Labour Party’s affiliated trade unions, launched and endorsed at the 2021 Labour Party conference, it was promised a Labour government would write the New Deal into law within a 100 days of taking office. The Policy would create a single status of worker instead of the current three categories, ending the practice of fire and rehire, zero hours contracts and strengthening workplace rights for the self-employed.
Labour, along with its affiliated trade unions, met in July at the party’s National Policy Forum to decide which policies would be included in the party’s election manifesto. Karl Hansen of Tribune Magazine reported: “Following the Forum, a number of key pro-worker policies were weakened: the pledge to ‘create a single status of “worker” for all but the genuinely self-employed’ was replaced with a vague undertaking to hold a ‘consultation’ on ‘a simpler framework’, which in turn undermined the pledge to ‘give all workers day one rights on the job… by ending the qualifying periods for basic rights’.
Unison was the only trade union not to be party to the erosion of the New Deal, the effects of which will continue to leave millions of Britain’s most vulnerable workers with few employment rights, and or exposed to the legalised scam of the self-employed contracts used by gig economy employers.
Presently rights and protections are staggered, dependent upon length of service. For instance, from day one, workers are entitled to the national minimum wage and protection from discrimination. After 26 weeks there is the right to request flexible working, although not guaranteed and paternity leave. After one year a worker is entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave. After two years workers have the right to bring a claim for ordinary unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy payments. Under Labour’s original “New Deal” workers would have been guaranteed all these employment rights and protections from day one.
Approximately 5 million people currently work under self-employed contracts, for those not genuinely self-employed it is a means used by predator companies and corporations by which they can legally pay low wages with no entitlement to sick pay, holiday pay or the national minimum wage, it is a wasteland of employment rights. These companies avoid liability for national insurance and pension contributions whilst the British taxpayer, struggling through the worst cost of living crisis in over 30 years, is unwittingly supplementing these low wages through the benefits system. For the Labour Party not to legislate fully against such employment practices if they win the next election is akin to acting as an enabler to these parasite employers.
Labour’s “New Deal” also identified attacks on the Trade Union movement stating: “Restrictions on union activity are holding back living standards and the economy. We will update trade union legislation so it is fit for a modern economy and empower working people to collectively secure fair pay, terms and conditions.”
It is difficult to imagine employers being happy or willing to give workers full employment rights from day one. However, with a flourishing gig economy and a proliferation of businesses such as the myriad of lucrative food delivery services and Amazon, a behemoth dominating online sales and delivery, one cannot envisage such a powerful global company relinquishing their lucrative self-employed contract business model without a fight.
Amazon, the US’ second largest employer, increased its spending to a record $5 million on federal lobbying at the beginning of 2022, and according to the US publication More Perfect Union: “focusing much of its increased lobbyist spending on labor and antitrust issues… Amazon lobbyists reported trying to influence legislators on the Raise the Wage Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act… among other bills.”
What happens over there soon finds its way over here. Tribune Magazine reported “… Labour front bench reportedly meeting with lobbyists for Amazon, one of the world’s most anti-worker employers, in recent weeks. It all paints a picture of a party that is intensely relaxed about injustice in the workplace.”
Given Labour has the sticking power of a post-it-note when it comes to retaining progressive promises one can envisage the New Deal becoming unstuck and surreptitiously kicked under the fridge to join the dusty detritus of their pledges on nationalisation of key public utilities, abolition of student loans and a 5% tax increase on the rich.
Keir Starmer has talked about how Labour would “smash the class ceiling,” a phrase which, within the context of the Labour Party, to quote Kurt Metzger, comedian and writer is “as meaningless as the word woman,” another actuality the Labour leader struggled with for some time.
Starmer went on to state: “There may have been times in the recent past where Labour was afraid to speak the language of class at all – but not my Labour Party.” One wonders how much feisty class talk went on at the reported meeting with Amazon, or when Starmer’s reached his decision to demonstrate Labour’s commitment to strong fiscal policy by refusing to budge on Labour’s adopted Tory cap on the 2 child benefit policy. Maybe discussions were held over a House of Commons taxpayer subsidised slap-up lunch. Definitely no U-turn there, more’s the pity.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal “saving capitalism for the capitalists… was bold, visionary and humane,” to quote Oliver Stone (The Untold History of the United States). He invested in infrastructure and industry, restoring people’s faith in the banks through emergency legislation, lifting millions out of poverty and bolstering the trade union movement through key legislation. Unfortunately Labour’s “New Deal” is beginning to look more like a dud.
Confidence in Labour hit the floor following their involvement and lies in the illegal war on Iraq and was only compounded following their cavalry charge to attack and dismantle the Brexit referendum result, the biggest democratic exercise in UK history, the charge of the Light Brigade as it turned out.
The only consistency the Labour Party has demonstrated is its inability to represent the interests of the working people with policies that could be turned into meaningful legislation if they win the next election. Labour policies and promises should include small print reading: terms and conditions subject to vacillation, cancellation and backtracking.
And so as we wearily begin to track the slow and painful demise of yet another Labour Policy that sounded too good to be true, I cast my mind back to the immortal words of Brenda from Bristol, “You’re joking – not another one!”