Ed's statement to union members
"I'm proud to be a member of Unite and Unison – and grateful for the support that union members gave to fighting the Tories and seeing off the BNP in Morley and Outwood at the general election. When some attacked me for this, I was proud to defend the support they gave to our campaign.
But three million affiliated union members must be more than just a resource for the Labour Party. Properly listening to and engaging with union members is the best way for Labour to stay rooted and in touch with millions of working people on modest and middle incomes who depend on Labour to stand up for them. That’s why we need to further strengthen the link between our party members and trade union members in constituencies and communities across the country.
Political parties neglect their base at their peril. In our early years in office there were endless stories that we were considering ending the historic trade union link. And when our core aim should have been guaranteeing better public services for all those who rely on them, the government sometimes sounded as if this could only be done by attacking public sector workers.
We cannot duck difficult decisions and reforms, but there is a better way of doing politics which takes people with you. In education, the social partnership model between government, unions and employers delivered investment and reforms and a better deal not just for teachers and support staff, but for parents and children too.
I passionately believe in the union link and when it comes under attack – whether from this Tory-Liberal coalition or even from minority voices on our own side - I will fight to keep it. I will fight for it just as I fought for and delivered extra investment for our schools, to honour our three year pay deal for teachers, and the first ever negotiating body for support staff in our schools.
In government, too, I fought for tax credits, the minimum wage and the New Deal jobs programme in our first term, just as I fought for my old Department to be the first in Whitehall to pay the London living wage, and I will fight Tory-Liberal spending cuts this year that put jobs, growth and public services at risk.
This is an important election for our party, our movement and working people across the country. We need a leader who knows what they stand for, is rooted in the values of the Labour, co-op and trade union movements, and who understands that being a tough opposition, putting together a credible and radical programme for government and rooting our politics in the communities we serve are the three vital ingredients we need to win again."
What do you see as the role of trade unions in the 21st century?
"Those who argue that the days of unions are numbered could not be more wrong. The old smokestack industries no longer employ millions. Blue-collar have given way to ‘new-collar’ jobs. Jobs for life have ended. But workers still need to act together to pursue their rights.
As old demarcations dissolve, unions like Unite, Unison, GMB and Community have widened their scope. But ‘niche unions’ like the teaching and musicians’ unions show members still value individual service.
Today’s workers suffer new forms of insecurity and new pressures as we live longer and must balance family life and work, and global competition is intensifying by the day. Labour also need to respond quicker - we introduced the minimum wage but were too slow to legislate for equal treatment for agency staff.
The union link is as important as ever. We need each other. Unions know the fight for justice cannot end at the factory gate or office door. Labour needs the real time connection with the concerns of millions of working people.
Modern democratic unions must be responsive to the more sophisticated needs of their members, similarly a modern Labour Party must be more responsive to those members. New forms of communication and organising to match more fluid employment and politics are essential across the whole Labour movement. Today’s trade unions must have a political voice arguing for sustainable growth and a fairer society.
With a modern agenda of respect, fair pay and progression, 21st century unions are needed as much as ever before."
How would you practically implement a living wage? For example, would you support legislation to ensure that companies can only get government and local government contracts if they pay a living wage?
"It was a scandal that in 1997 jobs were still advertised for as little as £1 an hour. Labour’s rising National Minimum Wage and tax credits improved living standards for low-paid workers and narrowed the pay gap for women whilst avoiding job losses.
But low pay is still a problem - and we need to recognise that higher living costs in some parts of the country, particularly in London and the south, mean the minimum wage and tax credits are having a reduced impact there.
Ken Livingstone instituted the London Living Wage, responding to calls from unions and London Citizens to recognise the higher cost of living in London.
If campaigns for a living wage are to be successful then we have to set the example and show leadership ourselves, as Ken did when he was Mayor.
I did not just talk the talk - I was the one and only Cabinet minister to introduce the Living Wage within my own government department for all staff and contracted staff.
But a living wage cannot be implemented in isolation. Our plan must be to:
- Raise the National Minimum Wage every year at least in line with average earnings.
- Follow Ken Livingstone’s example by having the Low Pay Commission properly assess the level of a Living Wage.
- Reflect different family circumstances through child benefit and tax credits. We cannot base a living wage on a 1950s notion of the family.
- Beef up enforcement – I want to see local council and tax inspectors empowered to blow the whistle on employers who evade the legal minimum. There is a strong case for a unified Employment Inspectorate.
- Strengthen laws on agency and posted workers to combat undercutting.
- Ensure low paid workers have access to trade union organisation if they so wish.
- And ensure the public sector leads the way on fair pay, both directly and through procurement.
Now we must reject the Tory counsel of despair and press the case for a living wage."
What should be the future of public sector pensions? Would a future Labour Government led by you stand by theagreement reached between the TUC and the Labour Government in April of this year and commit to provide 'good quality, index-linked, sustainable, defined benefit pensions' or public sector workers?
"Britain’s public service workers will have been shocked at the sudden review of their pensions announced on Sunday, especially since Cameron and Clegg have repeatedly said they want to target public sector pensions for cuts.
It is wrong for the new government to pre-empt this review, and to restore some faith in its independence, the commission must at least have a proper trade union voice.
I am right behind Dave Prentis' call last week to stand up for public sector workers’ pensions. The picture of 10 million public servants retiring into shameless luxury is a media myth - the GMB calculates the average pension in local government is just £77 a week dropping to £50 for women. Moreover pensions are for the long term and should not be based on short-term share prices.
Yes we are all living longer. But Labour and the trade unions have already acted since 2005 to keep public sector pensions affordable for the future. The NHS, civil service and teachers’ schemes are still based on final salary but now have a ceiling on taxpayer contributions. And for years employers like the Post Office took ‘contribution holidays’.
Teachers, nurses, postal workers, police officers, local government staff and other workers who have dedicated their lives to public service deserve to retire in dignity. We all rely on their efforts.
So the Tory/ Liberal attacks on public sector pensions are hypocritical, unfair and unwarranted – at worst they are an excuse for cuts - and I will fight them tooth and nail."
If elected as the Labour leader, would you support a three-line whip for the PLP against the Coalition government's Bill to privatise, and break up, Royal Mail?
"Yes. Postal workers delivering letters for the same stamp price, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, 6 days a week, makes Britain proud.
The CWU has attracted huge support for its campaigns to retain the Post Office as a public service. It keeps friends and families in touch, and keeps the economy connected. So I fully back the manifesto pledge to invest in Royal Mail in the public sector.
Yes there is pressure on letters from emails, but the internet is also boosting delivery of packages. So the future need not be gloomy.
The big challenges facing Royal Mail are:
- Modernisation. Royal Mail and the CWU have made massive strides to agree tough modernisation plans, backed overwhelmingly by CWU members. This requires investment and we should explore innovative ways to achieve this.
- Transforming the Post Office into a ‘People’s Bank’, as we propose.
- Pensions. Like millions of public sector workers, postal staff are threatened by a Tory-Lib Dem government attack on their pensions. The Post Office is not going to do a moonlight flit, so a long-term sustainable solution to the deficit is the answer.
- The wider economy. Did you know that the Con-Dem government's unfair VAT rise will apply to postage stamps too? We have to get the economy right and prevent the double-dip recession the Tories are recklessly flirting with.
- Con-Dem plans to privatise Royal Mail. It is a good idea for postal staff to be more involved in Royal Mail. But a small stake held in trust for staff would not give employees any significant control, is certainly not a John Lewis model and would not disguise the overall sale to private owners which the Government plan.
I will fight against the Con-Dem plans, which endanger this vital and popular public service."
Labour stands for equality and fairness at work and in the wider community. How do we tackle the gender pay gap, discrimination and low pay in the current economic climate?
"For me, equality sits at the heart of our socialist principles. It is 100 years since the women chainmakers’ strike for a minimum wage, 42 years since the famous Ford women’s dispute and 40 years since the landmark Equal Pay Act they inspired. Though Labour has acted to narrow the pay gap, there is still a 17% pay gap for full time workers and 40% for part timers.
It's not enough to study the pay gap; we must take decisive action to narrow it. To begin with, we must defend Labour’s Equality Act from Tory back-sliding and extend the requirement to promote equality to the private sector, starting with those on government contracts and publishing every large company’s pay gap.
We cannot succeed by individual case law alone. I want to promote union-negotiated collective settlements, pay audits, equality reps and representative legal actions.
The National Minimum Wage improved women’s pay. It should rise above £7 an hour. I support the Living Wage and was the only Cabinet minister to implement the Living Wage for all my staff and contractors.
Finally tax credits and child benefit are essential in tackling family poverty and we must defend them against Tory- Lib Dem attacks.
The Tory-Lib Dem government threatens to widen inequality by reneging on equality law, undermining enforcement, slashing tax credits and benefits and cutting public sector jobs which pay women more. This could set us back decades and Labour’s new leader must put equality at the heart of our concerns."
The unfair treatment of agency workers causes many problems, not just for the agency workers themselves, but also for their directly employed colleagues. How should the Agency Workers Directive be implemented and enforced in order to put a stop to the exploitation of agency workers and the undercutting of permanent staff, and what other measures should be put in place? Why do you think progress was not made to sign up to and implement the Agency Workers Directive sooner under Labour, given supporting it was part of the Warwick Agreement of 2004?
"While Labour put the minimum wage and other advances into law, we were far too slow to legislate for equal treatment for agency staff. The TUC's Vulnerable Workers project exposed heart-rending cases. And it was not enough to implement the posted workers directive when the floor was simply the minimum wage rather than the proper rate for the job.
Why did it happen? Because there was a school of thought in some parts of government that this would appease business. The election showed that this was futile, especially when business leaders signed a letter backing the Tories against the national insurance rise.
I support immigration and migration, which has made an immense contribution to our economy and the diversity and richness of our society. I’ve said this in front of a baying crowd of BNP supporters in my constituency and will do so again. But I don’t believe in free migration, I believe in fair migration – fair to migrant workers and to working people.
The scale and pace of migration from Eastern Europe in the second half of the last decade did have an affect on our communities, on housing, and on the wages and terms and conditions of many workers. Not acting quickly on implementing the agency and posted workers directives exacerbated that. So we should have a proper set of guarantees to stop exploitation of migrant workers and prevent unfair under-cutting.
I also support a Living Wage and was the first and only Cabinet Minister to implement it within my Department for all staff and contracted staff. But the law can’t do it all. In future unions must have the chance to organise and attract all types of worker to eradicate injustices."
Britain has the most restrictive industrial laws in the western world, which stop unions from best representing their members. What one restriction do you think most urgently needs lifting and why?
"Being a union member seems tough right now: public service jobs, pay and pensions under attack; ideological cuts that risk a double-dip recession; lawyers thwarting democratic decisions on technicalities; and the Government plotting new restrictions.
But the biggest underlying threat facing unions is falling union membership - especially but not only in the private sector. That's why unions like Unite, the CWU, Unison and GMB have stepped up organising efforts.
Unions are predominantly a force for good and I want to enable unions to organise to represent their members properly. The ILO proclaims a right to organise in free, democratic societies. I want to improve the Freedom to Organise in modern Britain.
Labour empowered workers to vote for recognition. But the right of access to staff only applies where a formal ballot process is underway. Catch 22 is how to get to this stage. It is currently too easy for employers to be obstructive.
Laws can't do the job for unions but laws can ensure fair and reasonable access to workers who are interested in joining.
And once established, trade union reps need training and proper facilities to represent members effectively - we must resist the impending Government attack on facilities.
Finally I want to maximise participation. Union members should be allowed to vote in ballots in non-postal forms such as secure and secret internet and workplace balloting. Experience shows this means more people will take part.
The Freedom to Organise can help union members to help themselves."
The Labour Party has always prided itself on being the Party of equality and diversity. How will you ensure that Labour’s shadow cabinet and the PLP are representative of women and men? What one thing would you do to make sure that Labour is better connected with and representative of ordinary trade union members?
"Equality is at the centre of Labour’s beliefs. That’s why as part of my contract with the Labour Party in this contest I am proposing a special Diversity Fund to help more under-represented groups – including women, BAME groups, disabled people and those from ordinary backgrounds – to become MPs or Councillors.
As we champion equal pay, improve support for disabled children, tackle homophobic bullying or defeat the racist BNP in the wider society, so we must be determined to ensure equality in our own party.
I support the goal of having half of women in Labour’s shadow cabinet – and in the PLP too. To deliver this we need not only targets and all-women shortlists but a change in culture in our party and in Westminster too.
We have made great progress on equality, thanks to campaigns often led by women in the Labour Party, but Britain remains unequal and we need a stronger voice for the diverse range of women in our Party too, including trade union women.
So to strengthen links between the Labour Party and the union movement I have also said we should extend the £1 youth membership rate to all affiliated union members who haven’t yet joined the party.
You can read more about these issues in my response to the Lead for Women campaign here."