UNION

Building solidarity in the face of insecurity

Politics - 13 Feb 2020

We will only win together

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As a proud trade unionist for nearly two decades, I have actively supported many struggles for fairness and justice at work.

I’ve been a supporter and activist in the movement ever since my first job in a call centre.

Like many I learned about the need for a collective voice through personal experience. None of my experiences as an MP in Wigan have changed that.

I grew up in the North West of England and joined Labour after witnessing the devastation Thatcher’s Government caused to communities like mine.

It wasn’t just an attack on significant parts of the country – it was wilful intention to break the trade union movement.

As my constituent Andrew Birchall told me, “I don't want to romanticise the dispute, it was a hard, tough time and many of us suffered then as now for our class.”

Many miners lost their jobs, homes, families and confidence. Some never recovered. In the interests of justice they deserve the truth and an apology and that’s why I’ve supported the Justice for the Coalfields campaign over many years.

Today I proudly represent a former coalfield community in Wigan. Thousands worked down the pits in my constituency, where whole communities were built on mining.

When that way of life was destroyed by Thatcherism it left deep scars and massive gaps that successive governments have struggled to address.


Whilst some really positive efforts were made by the last Labour Government, it didn’t go far enough to implement the long-term industrial strategy necessary for recovery and renewal because we didn’t just lose our jobs and our young people, we lost a sense of purpose and identity when we lost our industry.

So ever since I was first elected, I have fought for the future of our coalfields, and for truth and justice for the miners and their families so disgracefully treated in the past. It matters to all of us that we understand what really happened throughout this pivotal time and to draw inspiration and courage from it.
 

Injustice is all around us and needs challenging wherever it takes place.

The story of the Miners’ Strike is one of women and men, faith groups, the LGBT community, Asian communities and many others besides who stood together against this attack on an industry, families and entire communities.

When Thatcher met with the wives of striking miners she thought she could divide them. It led to Women Against the Pit Closures. It built new forms of solidarity in struggle, bringing communities together.

As a candidate for the Labour leadership and as a coalfield MP it is a privilege to have the confidence of the NUM to turn our communities and country around.

Injustice is all around us and needs challenging wherever it takes place. As a newly elected MP ten years ago, I spoke out against the unfairness of the academies and free schools programme when others on my own side were afraid to do so.

I stood with the teachers and their unions, alongside parents and the wider community – not because it was fashionable but because it was right.

It was a campaign that brought workers and parents together and built solidarity.

In my time as an MP I’ve opposed efforts to transfer NHS staff into private companies, which not only diminishes workplace standards, pay, pensions but creates a two-tier workforce within the NHS.

We did so by bringing together workers, patients and the wider public and I’ve stood on the picket lines with hospital cleaners, porters and caterers out on strike against the privatisation of our NHS in Wigan. Together, we defeated these proposals.

These are campaigns that build solidarity between affected people. Those ties that bind us together make us stronger.

It is on this principle that the Labour Party was founded – as the political voice of organised labour.  


Our opponents always attempt to pit us against one another. Young against old. Citizens against immigrants. North against South. ‘Divide and rule’ has been a strategy throughout the ages. 

But we must find strength in our movement and our history to refuse their division and to define ourselves.

Don’t believe them when they say we can’t afford to give our pensioners a dignified retirement and feed our kids, when they say we can’t afford to protect the environment and heat our homes. We’re one of the richest countries on the planet and we can do all those things with the right political will.

We can do so much better if we make the right choices and are clear about our priorities. It means putting the interests and welfare of all people before the pursuit of profits.

It means no more tax giveaways for millionaires when everyone else is struggling to get by. It means not being content to forever hand billions to wealthy landlords through the benefits system instead of building new council and genuinely affordable homes.

Our opponents always attempt to pit us against one another. But we must find strength in our movement and our history to refuse their division and to define ourselves.

Lisa Nandy

Forging this solidarity in the face of those who would sow division is hard, but it is necessary and we can only take it on together.

I was proud to stand with Hovis workers in Wigan when they stood up to agency labour, zero hours contracts and a two-tier workforce. Their union, the Bakers’ union, backed them.

But so too did ordinary members of Unite, UCU, the CWU – working people from far and wide came and stood on the picket line with us. That’s how we won.

Together we stood against forces that play havoc with people’s lives, disrupting their ability to plan their lives or budget properly, and which would lead to a race to the bottom for all of us.

Building this solidarity in the face of growing insecurity is a great challenge for our time.

We need to forge new forms of solidarity, building coalitions, asking the right questions and winning the arguments. That means having faith in our cause and belief in people - to bring them to our side and persuade them to stand with us for justice.

It can be done - and we have proven it - our history is rich with examples. It was solidarity that created the trade union movement in the first place, that won the battle for the NHS, for the minimum wage.

Look at the struggle fought by families whose loved ones died at Hillsborough – quiet, determined dignity over decades to right an historic wrong.


 

Building this solidarity in the face of growing insecurity is a great challenge for our time.

But built it must be, with hard graft and focus. To win the argument means having the courage of our convictions and a commitment to winning hearts and minds.

That need for collective belonging, to be part of something bigger than yourself is a powerful response to the Right and their individualistic and cynical values. 

Solidarity created the trade union movement in the first place, that won the battle for the NHS, for the minimum wage.

Lisa Nandy

And the Labour Party and the trade union movement must work side-by-side in our workplaces and communities that too often feel isolated and fragmented and will only fragment further if we don’t offer collective solutions.

Collective bargaining doesn’t just deliver better outcomes for working people, it benefits the whole of society. The more money real people have to spend on our high streets the better for local businesses.

Workers do not take strike action lightly – no one gives up a day’s pay unless it is a last resort. People taking action deserve solutions as well as solidarity.

I’ve always supported working people taking action and helped their voice be heard. We know industrial action is a small part of the difference trade unions make. That needs to be amplified by a Labour government.

Collective bargaining doesn’t just deliver better outcomes for working people, it benefits the whole of society.

Our country has a skills crisis. Jobs are changing at an increasingly fast rate and trade unions are vital to improving adult skills using their trusted role in the workplace to enable people.

Yet rather than encouraging this the Conservative government at Westminster has been cutting the Union Learning Fund. Thankfully our Labour-led Welsh Government has not made that mistake.

For too long successive governments denied the need for an industrial strategy and we are all paying the price for that. 

Too much thinking is limited to conversations between Whitehall civil servants and CEOs and totally bypasses working people and their communities. Trade unions need to be at the top table of decision-making.

It’s only when working people are in the room that we are going to resolve some of the big issues facing people today.

We need a fresh approach whether it is overcoming the disconnect between the towns and cities, ensuring a fair and just approach to decarbonising the economy or rebuilding those areas still living in Thatcher’s shadow.

If we had properly listened to trade union representatives in recent years we’d have not been surprised that people want and deserve so much more than just warehousing minimum wage jobs for their children.

Trade unions need to be at the top table of decision-making.

Lisa Nandy

We need to rebuild the social, cultural and economic life in these areas and give people new reasons and means to stay.

Heart unions week is an opportunity for us to affirm our support for our unions and in particular to collectively thank the army of workplace reps who put in so much time for others.

In the face of so much uncertainty let’s strengthen our resolve to bring people with us on the journey ahead by building our unions and taking on new challenges. We will only win together.
 

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