Theresa May is very hard ahead in the opinion polls and it is widely expected that the Conservatives will win a landslide majority in the upcoming general election. Following the leak of the draft copy of the Labour manifesto much media attention has been placed on the comparison between Labour’s detailed plans for the country and the Tory platitudes marching out of the mouth of Theresa May. The PM is now appearing to put some meat on the bones of Tory priorities and has done so by making a pitch for Labour supporters in the party’s heartlands.
So how does a Tory leader go about winning over the Labour heartlands? Firstly you pursue Brexit because former industrial towns, especially in Wales and Northern England, voted for Britain to leave the EU. However, aside from this, what would a Tory leader do? Theresa May has hit the nail on the head and is promising improved workers’ rights. She has said that the Conservatives, if re-elected, would retain all workers’ rights currently guaranteed by EU law and also push for worker representation on company boards and protect pensions for retired employees.
This all sounds fantastic, but the problem is that if you believe that the Tories are going to protect workers’ rights then you are a fucking idiot. That sounds strong, but I believe that the last few years of Tory rule have shown my hostility to be justified. The standard of living of working people in this country has been on the decline for decades and the last seven years of Tory austerity have accelerated this trend for millions. Here is the Tory record on workers’ rights.
The 2016 Trade Union Act severely curtailed the rights of workers to go on strike and agitate for better pay and conditions. The law introduced ballot thresholds that, if applied to general elections, many politicians wouldn’t meet. Furthermore, this legislation required unions to give employers two weeks notice of any industrial action, thus undermining one of the purposes of a strike. The Act also attacked union funding and postponed the introduction of electronic balloting.
As well as the Trade Union Act, the Tories introduce fees for employment tribunals that are punitive and actually increase the further the case goes. For example, if you take your employer to an employment tribunal over unfair dismissal you have to submit a Type B claim. This means that in order to even apply for a tribunal it will cost the worker £250. If the claim then goes to a hearing, you have to pay another fee of £950, a grand total of £1,200. How can the Tories claim to be on the side of working people when, in order to right a wrong, it may cost you £1,200? These changes in the law were done by the Tories, so to argue that they care about working people is simply false.
Additionally, wages have been stagnant and the Tories have done little to reduce the cost of living. The Tories did introduce the National Living Wage (NLW) but they did so in an Orwellian move to redefine the minimum wage. The NLW for over 25-year-olds is £7.50 per hour, but the Real Living Wage, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, is £8.45 per hour outside London and £9.75 inside the capital. If the Tories really cared about working people they wouldn’t have renamed the minimum wage, they would have actually introduced the Real Living Wage.
Furthermore, the Tories have capped public sector pay increases at 1% over their time in government, even though the cost of living has increased by over 1%. This is an effective cut in the wages or nurses, teachers, firefighters and so many other workers who we all rely upon every single day. The Tories are not the party of working people, and they never will be.
Finally, the Tories have drastically cut in-work benefits, thus leaving thousands of people in in-work poverty. Even if we buy into the Tories’ framing of the debate about benefits as everyone unemployed being a drain on society, this twisted logic doesn’t stack up. These benefits recipients are getting up every morning and going to work. The reason they need help from the State is that their employer isn’t paying them enough to live off. The Tories could have raised wages to a level that would make people self-sustaining, but instead they have kicked the ladder out from under people who desperately need help.
The Tories will keep trying to portray themselves as the party of the workers so that Leave-voting Labour supporters may back Theresa May’s party. My appeal to these voters is simple: don’t be fooled. The Tories get into power on the back of lying and misinformation. Workers can only be made better off by a government that rooted in and accountable to the labour movement. Restrictions on trade unions and pay freezes are the record of the Tories, and they shouldn’t be trusted. Theresa May may well say that she will introduce all of these benefits for workers but I’ll believe that when I see it.