Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Labour’s purpose must be to unite the country by John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary

Uniting our party is an admirable and necessary aim, but the Labour Party has to turn to uniting the country. Not in my lifetime have I seen our nation so divided.

The gap between rich and poor is growing, as low wages and the Government’s cuts to working families’ incomes bite; we have a new Conservative Prime Minister who wants to segregate children at 11 years old, and race discrimination is becoming more prominent as we see an increase in attacks on migrant workers.

Electorally the divisions are stark: Labour is virtually unrepresented in the south; the Tories barely present in northern metropolitan councils and nationalism is rampant in Scotland. The European referendum vote split the country almost in half.

For Labour the challenge is to build a team that can speak to all parts of the country and engage with people of differing views, because our primary purpose is to secure the confidence of voters, win elections and form a government. We have to get out of our comfort zone, build a wide-ranging coalition of voters under a vision to unite our country with a common purpose; making our society fairer and providing equality of opportunity.

Labour’s history suggests we can deliver a one-nation agenda. We are and have always been a broad church; a place where people who share common values can come together, even if we don’t agree on everything. We cease to be a true party of labour if we do not respect different views. Threatening to deselect, effectively sack, Labour MPs for simply articulating their honestly held beliefs is not in the broad church tradition. Jeremy must make that clear.

Labour is the party of working people, acting collectively to improve workers’ lives. Set up by the trade unions and still rooted in workplaces across Britain’s economy. Much of the divisions in our country are born out of the fundamental changes in our workplaces. Gone, largely, are the paternalistic employers who prioritised maintaining a happy and loyal workforce; replaced with flexibility, insecurity and low pay.

Labour can reunite our country by improving the world of work. Giving workers a say and greater control over their lives. Ending the indignity of struggling to get enough hours work a week to earn enough income to make ends meet. Allowing workers to have a collective voice through independent trade unions and help employers re-find their moral compass, treat employees with respect and give them a stake in their workplace.

So whilst there have been many calls for unity from the platform this week, and I hope those words are backed up with actions, our unity must have purpose. We must reach out to traditional Labour voters and way beyond; to those who are tempted by UKIP, to the voters who couldn’t place their trust in us last time and reluctantly voted Conservative; the Liberal Democrat supporters who lost faith with their party’s propping up of a Conservative administration, and we must remake the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Labour’s purpose must be to unite our country and provide the security, decency and respect everyone deserves.

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 430,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the Union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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