Wednesday 21 August 2013

Labour need to re-define what it means to be "Working Class". And quick

There's been much talk about what Ed Miliband should and shouldn't do lately.

We have heard a cocophony of voices telling him to stand with the left and telling him to stick to the centre, those telling him to be true to himself and those telling him to be whatever the media need him to be.

It really doesn't matter much what Ed is. What matters is the party he's leading.

That party has to speak for the majority. It has to be bold and innovative. It has to be compassionate and fair. It has to see the world as it really is. It has to listen, not tell.

The Labour Party exists to speak for the worker. In the mists of time and rhetoric, we used to call that "The working class". That term is hollow and empty for many in our society today. They do not identify as working class.

But they are nearly all workers.

Sandra has been working for the same pharmaceutical company for 12 years. They are a very well known, affluent company. They make billions in profit. She is paid relatively well for the factory-line night shifts she does. But the company "don't take on new staff" which for over a decade has been an excuse to keep people like Sandra on temp contracts. She has no guarantee of work from week to week and few employment rights.

Nonetheless, temping for this particular company is seen as one of the best untrained jobs in the town. These are the 21st century workers.

Liam's 24 and works in a call centre. He earns 13k a year and lives with his parents. He has a 2 minute limit on toilet breaks. He has to raise his hand to leave his desk. He gets half an hour for lunch, yet he regularly works from 8 til 7 to meet his targets. He can't afford to rent a place of his own . He is a 21st century worker.

Sandy is a cleaner on a zero hours contract with a major supermarket. She has three young children and their Dad died last year. She doesn't earn enough to pay her bills and fell into debt. The debt is spiralling and she has resorted to pay day loans to get through each month.

Mary is a nurse. She does the job of two nurses, every day on short staffed wards. Her trust is in chaos as it tries to find the "efficiency savings" ordered by George Osborne. She hasn't had a pay rise for years and her salary is frozen at a 1% rise. Her husband is a teacher and faces similar chaos dealt by government hands over the decades. His salary is frozen too, but they lost their child benefit and their tax credits. They live in London. Neither of them can understand why they earn 70k between them, but they can't afford to buy shoes for the kids or take a holiday.

These are the 21st century workers.

Jim is a carer. He worked all his life as a bus driver and his wife was a cook, but she has secondary progressive MS and cannot feed herself or walk any more. He has had to stop work to care for her and of course, she is no longer working. They were astonished to be turned down for disability benefits after 73 years of work between them. Like so many, after months of fear and poverty, they won on appeal. Jim works a 90 hour week. It is backbreaking work. He must bathe his wife, clean her, feed her, lift her in and out of bed. He's 58.

Jim doesn't get paid at all. But he is definitely a 21st century worker.

Steve was a policeman. He lost his job.

If the Labour Party can define these people as the people they must support, it's simplicity itself to know what our policies should be. It is almost comical that a "Labour" party might see these erosions of workers rights and not be sure how to defend them!

But the public need to know who they are defending. They need to know that a Labour party sees their struggles and states emphatically that they are no longer acceptable. They need to identify with the people speaking at them and believe that they are the workers they mean. They need reasons to go out and put a cross in a box and the belief that that cross won't be another total waste of time.

Perhaps it is easier to convince public sector workers that Labour has traditionally been on their side. But Labour today needs to also convince the factory workers and the cleaners and the call centre hamsters and the shop workers and the shelf stackers and the electricians and plumbers and designers that they see their exploitation and will no longer tolerate it.

And the key to it all is for all strands of our politics to embrace this simple reality. It is not "leftie" to defend decent, paid work. It isn't radical to suggest fair pay for a fair day's work. I'm fairly convinced we won these battles decades ago.

It is as Blairite as you like to encourage excellence and reward and success. To believe that everyone deserves the best, however that is delivered. We introduced the minimum wage after decades of battles in a Blairite government! And yes, however the press care to report it now, we reduced sickness benefits, lone parent benefits and out of work benefits consistently for the whole time we were in power. Not by cutting and hurting but by helping people to get on. With Sure Start centres and free childcare and Access to Work. With the Disability Discrimination Act and civil partnerships and devolution. Yet we've become terrified to say it!

We can run a good economy by using all of our talents, not by watching society "get by" on a daily grudge of making ends meet and austerity, believing that's all there is. All there'll ever be. We can build and produce and train and grow our economy on virtue, not the next over-inflated bubble.

A Labour party know all this. Every member, every MP. We know it works and we showed it works

By living under the shadows of 80s past, of militant and strikes, we have become terrified of identifying with anyone at all. It's ludicrous. We speak for the worker. ALL of the workers. And most people in this country work. The greatest victory of the right wing press has been making left wing governments terrified of talking about workers. A Labour party ashamed to defend labour. Last year, George Osborne announced a scheme to buy people's employment rights for goodness sake and there was barely a flutter of response. This is what we've come to by being ashamed to be who we are.

Very few feel as valued as they should. Very few feel they get to reach their full potential or live a comfortable life. We should identify with all of them. And they should naturally identify with us again.

Labour must engage all of these people and fast. But even faster, they have to give the people something to identify with. To identify themselves with. They are the 21st century workers, but in this 21st century consumer trance and political hiatus, few even realise it any more.


  1. Excellent post, Sue. I sense your utter frustration, which you've expressed really well xx

  2. Absolutely spot on, now how many labour MPs have or are going to read it. It is certainly what the majority of labour voters want to hear. I have always voted Labour yet this lot what would I be voting for. I do not think I have ever heard our labour leader say much worth listening to. He is such a grey person bet most of the country could not tell you is name. Last comment why did he never stand up and defenders against the Tory Lies?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. “If they're holding onto their pride, their ego and their excuses instead of holding onto you, it's time to let go.”

    3. If Labour don't get their act together, Scotland will vote for independence.
      This will leave England under permanent Tory rule, since it has always been the Scottish vote that has.put Labour into Westminger

      Labour has very few working class MP's. Milly Bland and crew are from privileged backgrounds. They have no idea what it's like to be poor and disenfranchised.

  3. I can't help thinking "working class" and "worker" have become hostages to skiver rhetoric lately, with Labour terrified to say anything that might imply people who don't work have equal value. Surely what we need is a party that looks out for all people equally, whether they work, are unemployed, are children, pensioners or are unable to work due to disability. And on the last one of those I'm far from clear where the party in general, and Ed in particular, stand.

  4. All of this is very simple to take on board sue it's all common sense at the end of the day

    a toilet break for example needs to be at least 15 minutes or 30 minutes if combined with a 4 hour period of work

    A eight shift needs to be 2 x 15 minute breaks and a main 1 hour break as minimum

    working outside of this guideline leads to long term illness for many people

    the prime minister does not work for more then 4 hours at a time without a break nor do mp's or lords so a bit of common sense here from ed will go a long way of getting in connecting with the people and getting into power

    as i said above to be successful in life no matter who you are or wherever you live in the world you will only be classed by most people worldwide as a genuine trusted sore if you can connect with them and you can only connect with people worldwide by understanding their needs and concerns

    if your not that sort of understanding person or your not intelligent enough to understand the need for others then you should not even be in politics as your a liability to all who come in contact with you

    i could go on to address all that you have written sue as it's all very easy for the right person to resolve and to put into place

    however if you have mp's and lords that believe in slavery and most do then be prepared for a lot of old bull that there'll be speaking for the next 50 years just like the past 50 years and yes i have most of there speeches on vhs tape/dvd from 1977 when vhs came out

    the mp's and lords set the bar by what they do in the course of the week and the standards they set should be applied to everyone in the work place wherever that work place may be with very few exceptions

    A surgeon for example in the middle of a very delicate operation lasting more then 4 hours then he should continue but with supervision so that he stays alert for safe practises

    As i say i could go on with hundreds of examples all common sense and shouldn't be a problem for ed to get to grips with should he wish to do so

    he is probably a decent person but a weak one and has been lacking over the past 3 years in getting what should be straight forward his personal message out

    1. Everyone is complicit.
      Employers have workers spying on and snipping at each other, either through the workers' own petty jealousies, or because they can be bought for a better job title and a few pennies an hour more than their co-worker.
      Having a car is almost essential to get to work in most areas.Cars have helped to give people a little bubble, or superman suit. They work in battery farms, drive in a vacuum, turn on their huge TV's and are fed the lies that help them get up and do it all again.
      It's not just political parties that need fixed.
      This is not solely a UK problem
      Humanity is selling it's sole to...........
      Who knows?
      Whoever controls the global debt, and the post modern slave trade

  5. It seems some of us down here on the lower political levels have working folk in mind. I also represent union members at work. The more you move up the ladder, the further you can become from the issues of day to day working life.
    This Government are taking us back to work houses and gruel.
    I do hope Labour get a wiggle on.

  6. Totally agree with you Sue, Labour need to step up to the plate if they are going to win the next election. My husband was made redundant from a well paying job and had to take a job on minimum wage, no increase unless the min wage is increased,some days he doesn't even get a chance to eat his sandwiches that he takes for his lunch and has to work through his shift with no breaks at all & this is quite a regular is so demoralising but their are just no other jobs available. The Tories say make work pay that has got to be the biggest LIE of all.. but if Labour don't decide they want to represent the working class, I haven't got a clue who to vote for, as I feel if Labour do win we are just going to get a watered down version of the Tories... Please! Please! Labour help us the workers who need you or we are all doomed.. God help us all..

  7. Nicely written. Good to see you back.

  8. Not to negate any of the content, but Sandra (12 years on temp contracts) has been entitled to a permanent job for the last 8 of those, and in fact her employer has been negligent in not proactively arranging this.

    I don't know what piece of legislation it is, but both my fiancee and I have experience of it.

    If you are employed (quasi-)continuously in effectively the same job for the same employer for 4 years they are obliged to make your employment permanent.

    The intention is to prevent predatory casualisation - if they are really using you as a permanent employee, they must make you a permanent employee. They cannot get around it by having small gaps between contracts to avoid the continuous employment criterion - that was anticipated in the legislation.

    I *think* this was introduced somewhere in the 2000-2002 time frame and I am not aware of this protection having been removed.

  9. Has Ed Milliband said anything lately? Like maybe "please Sir Mr Cameron, can I go to the toilet?"

    This dire government should be as easy a target as John Major's. But all we seem to hear from Labour is that they couldn't change anything. Perhaps in that case they should all leave politics and do something else.

  10. A reassuring and meaningful piece of writing as ever Sue. I do think though that any government, be it Conservative, Labour or any party you care to mention, will have it's orders from the 'invisible forces' that seem to control the directions that politics and indeed the world takes. 'America', 'globalization', 'Europe', the 'New world Order', all dictate to Cameron, Miliband et al, who are really just puppets for the 'bigger people', who seem to have our future in their hands and we can't do much about it, can we?

  11. that's about it martin and if anyone interferes with the establishment or talks out of turn you'll find they always end up dead
    I've often said to my wife if i don't make it at any point you know i found the truth

    1. Lol, you put it better than me Nick, thanks mate.

    2. ed can say what he likes like all people throughout history with wealth as it wont effect them one iota

      At the next election you can be 100% certain things for the sick and disabled wont change a dot

      sue and i hopefully will still be around fighting our corner but many wont they will be long gone with the rest in a uphill battle to stay afloat on a sinking raft

      those with a spouse will fair a little better those on their own wont live to tell the story about their demise

      once the likes of sue stops however then that I'll be it for the rest of us game over

      Ed knows that he knows sue and he knows hopefully in his heart that he could make some sort of difference if he wonted to

      if he feels he cant then the honourable thing to do is to stand down just like robin cook did with Iraq as we don't need to go down the Egyptian route in where a load of bull was spoken by their leader at the election and then the police having to step in and remove him as a bullxxxxx of which has left many good Egyptian people dead and a country now in turmoil as the tourists have stated to stay away

      There are tourists still going thank god and they will be well looked after not only by the locals but also the police but it will take time to get back on track all because of a bungled election on where promises were made but nothing happened and with regret the police had to step in

      the people of Egypt are some of the most hard working of all and deserve the worlds finest of leaders and i hope and pray that a special person will see things from my angle and take Egypt back to the top in world tourism where it rightfully sits

  12. Sue, i apologize if my earlier comment was steering the topic a bit far away from your points, i would never demean anything you say, as i am always in awe of your views and support and respect your efforts very much. Maybe it won't matter if Miliband says anything, people will probably vote againgst the pathetic uncaring Conservative government anyway. As hard as it is to avoid anger and frustration at this point in time, believe in justice and fairness to return to our lives soon. I honestly have become more concerned about the welfare of good people since 2010, not less caring and i truly believe decent people see through tabloid headlines and political rhetoric, so that Cameron and his money-stealing goons do not win in their pathetic foolish 'austerity' games.

  13. john oliver, chief operating officer, at DWP is leaving his post to "spend more time with his family". latest in a long line.

    1. John Oliver once said that the was a "widespread public perception that benefits were being given to fraudsters and scroungers, as that is what the media seemed to spend most time reporting on, but in reality two thirds of 'lost revenue' was due to administrative errors". Mr Oliver said there was "not enough finance available to develop a marketing campaign to present a more balanced view of the benefits situation in the eyes of the public". Oh right, never enough money when it means opposing the governments beloved media eh?

    2. Oh wow; I had to contact him actually because DWP messed my son's award up so badly this year and he hadn't even heard of it had happened as was utterly shocked at how badly the system was breaking down. Maybe he's realised he was facing a forest fire with nothing but a leaky garden hose. It's a shame because as said below he really seemed to have a clue about how badly things were going and probably wanted to try and highlight the fact.