A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of… Peter Mandelson. I’m paraphrasing Marx slightly but, much like a Dickensian ghost of New Labour past, Lord Mandelson has apparated again from the shadows to offer his input where it was needed the least.

Writing in last week’s Sunday Times, the Labour peer has urged his party not to ‘rush’ reforms to employment and trade union law for fear it may upset the business applecart. An interesting perspective: I do wonder why a former business secretary and founder of Global Counsel, a private lobby firm helping corporations spot ‘opportunities in politics, regulation and public policy’, is so keen to give his hot take in this policy area.    

Coincidence, I’m sure.    

Another spooky coincidence was the President of the CBI Rupert Soames also admitting that he has pushed Labour to ‘soften’ their New Deal for Working People. Invoking curious similarities to Mandelson, Soames fears that giving workers more autonomy, rights and security could somehow stunt economic growth.    

Why is it that economic prosperity and a moving the dial ever so slightly on the bank balance of those who retain the wealth in this country takes precedence over giving workers, the actual wealth creators, more rights at work? Contrary to what private sector hedge fund managers and those at the top of the corporate chain like to think, decent, secure work is a proven driver of sustainable economic growth.    

The Herald: As a general election nears, the pressure is being dialled upAs a general election nears, the pressure is being dialled up (Image: free)

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the UK Parliament Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. In their report last year, they make clear, in addition to a swathe of empirical evidence already out there, that ‘economic growth is being held back by a lack of workers, poor enforcement of workers’ rights and disorganised political leadership’.  

It’s precisely on that last point that we will be shouting from the rooftops. With the General Election jungle drums beating louder, a beat that will only increase as times goes on, the pressure is being dialled up. Corporations, business interests and the influential private sector lobby smell the change in the air. They know a change of government could be in the offing. They know this is their chance to strike. It’s exactly why Labour’s Business Conference in February was sold out. Both party and business lobby are on the charm offensive and, frankly, the corporate interests have got the money to make their charms all the more appealing.    

But all the money in the world shouldn’t trump the political and moral foundations of the party that our movement built. All the cash being tossed about for just a smidgen of influence within a new UK Government cannot hold a candle to an organised, determined branch of workers who seek to better their working lives.   In that respect, we need to see political leadership from the Labour Party to resist any and all attempts of compromise or ‘watering down’ of the New Deal for Working People.   

 The New Deal offers workers throughout all four nations of the UK a glimmer of light from the cold darkness of 14 years of Tory Government, a period in which wages have fallen in real terms whilst the wealth of the few has sky rocketed.  It proposes changes to employment and trade union law that has, throughout that time, been ridden roughshod over and fundamentally undermined by the Conservatives.


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A ban on zero hours contracts, which have reached record levels under this administration, gives workers security and clarity on their income; employment rights from day one, giving every worker, no matter their status, a guaranteed level of working rights off the bat; and just as important, the repeal of all the pernicious anti-trade union law that has been inflicted on our movement. The Trade Union Act (2015) in addition to the incoming Minimum Services (Strikes) Bill will be set to go, giving our movement the respect and function it deserves to stand up for working people.    

The New Deal should be a clear indication that the tide is turning. It’s not the full bhoona and it could be improved.  However, it represents the principles of a potential government that values workers and their trade unions rather than demonises them or actively conspires against them.   

It's precisely why Starmer and all of the Labour leadership must stick to their word. Last April, during STUC Congress on an unseasonably warm day in Dundee, Angela Rayner stood at the rostrum and pledged that the New Deal would be in place within 100 days of a Labour Government. To our movement, the promise was made. It’s a promise we expect to be kept.     Naturally of course we want this to go further.

We want any New Deal to enhance and protect workers’ rights across the UK but to also turbo-charge Scottish democracy by fully devolving employment law to the Scottish Parliament.  

The Herald: Sir Keir StarmerSir Keir Starmer (Image: free)

I have previously written about the First Minister, in his fledgling first days of leadership, trying to be all things to all people. Political centrism can only hold so long before voters inevitably question the principles of their politicians.

That same argument applies to Starmer and his Labour Party. In response to Lord Mandelson’s comments, Anneliese Dodds said the Labour Party was both “pro-worker” and “pro-business” and that whilst committed to the New Deal, there was discussions to be had with unions and businesses. Consultation to create workable, coherent policy is welcome. But eventually you must pick a side.    

From this side of the fence, we cannot permit nor allow for a grotesque stripping of the New Deal as folk like Mandelson, Soames and their ilk would like. Workers’ rights are not to be bartered nor bought.  Not now. Not ever.   

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress