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We deserve better – we demand better – Labour Briefing – September 2020

We deserve better – we demand better

Ian Hodson, national President of the LRC-affiliated Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union and member of the Don’t Leave, Organise Steering Group, lays out the context and aims for a powerful new campaign on sick pay, demanding that workers no longer have to choose between protecting their health and paying the bills.

The Covid-19 health crisis has demonstrated that we live in a small world, our lives are all connected, and we depend on each other for our very survival. It has highlighted how dependent we are on frontline, undervalued and often low-paid workers, to function effectively. Not on the elite, living and working in their protected ivory towers.

We have all relied on key workers – in the food industry keeping the nation fed; transport workers keeping hubs open; cleaners reducing the risks of contagion; NHS workers risking their lives to save ours; postal workers making essential deliveries to people self-isolating –and many others enabling us to survive this Pandemic. These are the heroes who have worked on our frontline, today’s soldiers in our battle to defeat this virus.

This crisis has highlighted the failure of politicians to create an economy that works for all. We know that had the election in December 2019 resulted in a Corbyn-led Labour government, we would now be dealing with this crisis in a different and more humane way. Unfortunately the election defeat and the subsequent victory for the so-called unifying candidate Keir Starmer has seen many on the left decide to leave the Labour party for a wide and varied number of reasons, including the lack lustre opposition to a failing Tory government that entered into lockdown too late and put lives at risk with its failure to plan for sufficient PPE and vital life support equipment, compounded by 10 years of running down our NHS and confusing guidelines that don’t apply to their cronies.

Socialists have been incensed by the failure of Labour to speak out robustly against this dangerous incompetence. In addition, the inability of the current leadership to oppose the Tories on evictions and rent support, instead appearing to side with landlords; its undermining of the stance of teaching unions; its failure to demand resignations from failing government ministers and advisors breaking the C-19 rules that they themselves put in place; and of course the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey whilst ignoring comparable comments by those on the right of the party. All this has called into question the façade of unity on which the recently elected leader ran his campaign.

In response, the left has established a network to encourage those who believe in our socialist politics to remain in the Labour Party and fight to preserve and build on the gains of the past five years. Don’t Leave, Organise is the successful achievement of a unified left – something all socialists surely wish to see as fervently as our enemies do not.

As a campaigning trade union, the BFAWU is proud to be working with DL-Organise to launch a drive to change the current paltry statutory sick pay and replace it with sickness income funded by employers, linked to the average hours worked and set at the real living wage.

The recent news coverage of the Greencore factory in Northampton is just one example of the tragic consequences of the failure to provide sick pay that workers can afford to live on. The desperate decision of going into work – risking their health and that of others – or being unable to pay for food and bills, and possibly losing their homes is a choice no-one should have to face.

Alongside the former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, President of the LRC, and Jeremy Corbyn’s former policy advisor Andrew Fisher, we are going to produce the life-changing answers to the real questions posed through this pandemic, demonstrating that as socialists, we have the answers and organisational power to respond to the real issues that working people face every day.

The #FullSickPayNow campaign will follow the successful path that changed the debate around low pay, zero hours contracts and young people being paid less simply for being young. Our Zoom launch on 9th September was a great success followed closely by a motion to TUC congress. The campaign will now engage with the thousands of activists signed up to DL-Organise, with Trades Councils, Trade Unions and CLPs to demand better for the many in every community and workplace.