Trade union leaders warn Starmer ‘don’t take our vote for granted’ in workers’ rights row

Matt Wrack, the president of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has told The Independent that a crunch meeting has been arranged with Starmer over reports Labour’s workers rights policy document has ‘been watered down’

David Maddox
Political editor
Monday 06 May 2024 16:16 BST
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Keir Starmer reveals moment he considered quitting as Labour leader

Trade union leaders have warned Sir Keir Starmer that Labour cannot take their members’ votes for granted in the upcoming general election if promises of a new package on rights have been betrayed.

The warning is an ominous message for Sir Keir despite Labour’s successes in the local elections last week, amid claims the party may struggle to form a majority.

Splits have already emerged with some Labour voters either staying at home or backing alternative left-wing candidates over their leader’s support for Israel with the war in Gaza.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, TUC president Matt Wrack, who is also general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), revealed that he and other union leaders have arranged a crunch meeting with the Labour leader.

It follows reports that Labour has “watered down” a policy document on workers’ rights, denied strongly by the party.

Matt Wrack, new TUC president, is set to hold a crunch meeting with Keir Starmer
Matt Wrack, new TUC president, is set to hold a crunch meeting with Keir Starmer (PA)

Mr Wrack told The Independent that he had been involved in consultation to put the document together.

He said that at the meeting with Sir Keir to be held on 14 May, trade unions “will compare and contrast” the list of items they previously agreed with those that made it into the document. While he added that he has no reason to believe Labour has watered the policy document down, he has yet to see it himself.

Mr Wrack insisted that the repeal of the last two pieces of legislation brought in by the Tories – including the minimum service law restricting the ability to strike, as well as the minimum requirement of 50 per cent turnout – are “the basic requirements” of what he and other union leaders want.

He also noted that Labour had committed in conversations to agreeing on a more modern voting system which will allow for digital voting on industrial action – currently, it is restricted to postal votes.

Junior doctors on the picket line
Junior doctors on the picket line (PA)

He said: “My message [to Starmer] is that these changes will be extremely popular and vote winners.

“This is a great opportunity for the workers to turn back the tide a little bit on 40-odd years of anti-union and anti-worker legislation, which has tipped the balance in the workplace in favour of employers against the worker and is a factor in increasing inequality in workplaces also in wider society.

“On this issue, we've got a positive gain that we can explain to our members and the reasons I think its popularity has been commented on quite widely.”

Union leaders have had concerns over Labour’s commitment to the policies because others, including the plans for a green deal, being watered down ahead of the publication of an election manifesto.

But highlighting the danger of isolating union members, Mr Wrack warned: “Labour should not take our votes for granted.”

Strikes have become a potential dividing issue between the Tories and Labour after a series of unions in the NHS, transport network, government and even lawyers took industrial action.

Sir Keir had initially told Labour MPs not to join picket lines, but deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh have been photographed with strikers.

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