Keir Starmer should take inspiration from Joe Biden, say union leader

Workers’ rights must be ‘absolutely central’ to Labour’s election pitch, says TUC chief

Adam Forrest
Thursday 09 September 2021 10:10
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<p>Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer </p>

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer should take inspiration from US president Joe Biden, the leader of the TUC has said.

The union’s general secretary Frances O’Grady praised Mr Biden for pushing “dignity at work” as a slogan during his successful 2020 presidential campaign.

The TUC chief said the fight for better pay and conditions should be “absolutely central” to Labour’s efforts to win the next general election and oust Boris Johnson.

Labour’s recent pledges to strengthen employment rights – through the right to flexible working and by ending the practice of fire-and-rehire – were “really encouraging,” Ms O’Grady told the BBC.

But the union boss urged Sir Keir to make his priorities clear when he speaks to the TUC on Tuesday. “He’s got another opportunity to set out in primary colours what his agenda for working people in this country is.”

She added: “I hope he will take some inspiration from what we’ve seen from President Biden … with that whole issue of dignity at work becoming absolutely central to the public policy agenda and that recognition that there has to be a major reset on workers’ rights.”

Labour pledged to give gig economy workers the right to sick pay with a new employment rights charter announced in July. The party promised to create a new definition of “worker” in law to make sure everyone enjoys the same protections.

But Sir Keir is facing the threat of a strike within his own party after staff overwhelmingly voted for industrial action in response to compulsory redundancies. A reorganisation revealed last month will slash 90 jobs in response to the party’s cash crisis.

Ms O’Grady also called on Boris Johnson to define what “levelling up” is supposed to mean, criticising the agenda for being too vague. “The pressure is on the government to define levelling up. People in the country want a sharp definition” said the TUC leader.

Urging the government to address inequality, she added: “There’s a sharp picture of a Covid class chasm between those who kept on going into work throughout the pandemic, keeping us fed, safe and looked after, and the better-off in society.”

Ms O’Grady – who leads the country’s largest federation of unions – said she was “absolutely delighted” that Sharon Graham and Christina McAnea had recently been elected to lead the Unite and Unison unions.

It follows last year’s report about the former leadership at the GMB union, which found that bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment were “endemic”.

“When the GMB story came out I felt really let down and angry. Too often it was discussed around the politics of the union,” she said.

“Those women [who made complaints] should have been front and centre of everybody’s considerations, because no woman should have to put up with that kind of behaviour.”

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