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Volume 54 Number 13, June 8, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

Condemn Labour Using its "New Deal" to Bring Workers On Side

June 2022, London - Enough is Enough! rally

The Labour Party recently published the latest version of its "New Deal for Working People", which is to feature prominently in its election campaign.

Angela Rayner originally launched the New Deal at the Labour Conference in 2021. As originally introduced, the New Deal was ostensibly a set of measures that would, it was claimed, end the practice of "fire and rehire", ban zero-hours contracts and ensure regular hours for all, strengthen trade union rights, and introduce sectorial Fair Pay Agreements, amongst other changes. The legislation to enact the New Deal was to be created within 100 days of a Labour election victory [1].

In its initial form, it was drawn up in agreement with the unions affiliated to the Labour Party. The context is an extended period of sustained industrial action and campaigning under the heading of "Enough is Enough!" in the face of the rising cost of living, particularly food and energy prices, further deterioration of social programmes and the increasingly brazen imposition of worsening employment terms along with the casualisation of work.

Junior Doctors and teachers and many others have been in prolonged action around their claims, asserting themselves over wages and conditions during and after the pandemic, and are demanding their rights. They are seeking the repeal of laws that have strengthened the police powers of the state against their ability to organise in self-defence, such as the Minimum Service Levels Act aimed at undermining strike action.

It is in that context that these unions drew up this New Deal with the Labour Party. Unlike the agreements with unions in the heyday of social democracy, this deal arose not in conditions of relative equilibrium, with the big unions accommodated in the arrangements of governance, but has instead arisen as a result of the profound disequilibrium that exists in the social relation between employer and worker. It is also in conditions of the current and decaying cartel party system, with Labour on its part attempting to win votes from working people to ensure a large victory in the electoral coup they are attempting to mount.

The reality then is that all along, and particularly in the recent period leading to the coming election, the deal has been a battle with a Labour Party that seeking to use it to manipulate the electorate and ensure the deal contains no real substance.

On May 8, union leaders met with Labour leader Keir Starmer to discuss a new draft of the New Deal that Unite general secretary Sharon Graham rejected as "unrecognisable" [2]. After nearly a week, while reports claimed that Starmer had been forced to back down on proposals to water down the deal, it is clear that serious points of contention remain [3].

The latest version, now made public [4], though it says "we will introduce legislation in Parliament within 100 days of entering government", it does not actually commit to anything. It does not state what of the legislation it will introduce in that period, and it is at pains to explain that this will really amount to starting the parliamentary process.

In particular, it explains: "Labour is pro-worker and pro-business, and we will work in partnership with trade unions and business to deliver our New Deal. That is why we are committed to following a proper parliamentary process for our legislative proposals, with a full and comprehensive consultation on the implementation of the New Deal. We will invite businesses, trade unions, and civil society to input on how we can best put our plans into practice."

In conditions where civil society barely operates, this is an invitation to business to call the shots, as all power is on its side. The New Deal is merely a set of policy objectives, debated at length with the unions, announced to great fanfare, but in substance is little more than a starting-point to consultation with business. Indeed, all the cartel parties are making various vacuous promises that have no intention of being kept, and in this sense the New Deal is no different.

As Michael Doyle explains, writing in Conter, "Even the section on strengthening collective bargaining is focused on the needs of business. Starmer's commitment to strengthening collective bargaining is about reducing strike action and disruptions to business. There is nothing about increasing wages and achieving better terms and conditions. Labour's position on the industrial action of the past few years is one of supporting keeping pay increases below inflation - an example being the sacking of a Labour shadow minister who expressed support for the RMT's demand for above inflation pay rises in 2022." [5]

In its current form then, the latest and essentially final draft is the result of the machinations of Starmer and his circles to try to bring the workers and their organisations on side, to secure their electoral support and to divert them from fighting for their own interests.

Workers should therefore harbour no illusions about the Labour Party or get distracted by the presence of a "New Deal". While the fact that the deal exists indicates something about the effect of the workers' continued actions at this time, as an end in itself it will simply maintain the system of exploitation. In the current conditions it would favour only the rich, if workers' independent aims are allowed to be buried beneath it.

The workers instead need to have their independent programme, and organise to stop of paying the rich and increasing investments in social programmes, which is the only basis of the alternative. The issue is not to "make work pay," as Labour describes the aim of its deal, but to change the direction of the economy. This can only be achieved by the workers working out solutions which favour them, not relying on any other force.

The call still is: All out to elect anti-war candidates and challenge the cartel party system! The New Deal cannot be allowed to divert this into a voting for a Labour landslide. Vote for anti-war and independent candidates wherever possible, while strengthening the fight for empowerment. A deal is not a new arrangement. The need is for fundamental democratic renewal of the political system, expressed in an Anti-War Government, which is the burning need of the day.

1. "Labour's new deal for working people"
2. Andrew Murray, "Unions to meet Starmer over workers' rights fears", Morning Star, May 8, 2024
3. David Maddox, "Unions stop Keir Starmer watering down workers' rights package", The Independent, May 14, 2024
4. "Labour's plan to make work pay: Delivering a new deal for working people", May 24, 2024
5. "The workers' movement and the coming Labour government", June 5, 2024

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