In countries across the Western world policy-makers are looking to improve workers’ standard of living in the face of more globalised labour markets and pressure from corporate powers to do the reverse. In New Zealand the government has opted to support the people who generate the wealth of their society- the workers. The country’s Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has announced that the minimum wage will be raised to 16.50 NZD an hour (11.60 USD), in a move expected to benefit 164,000 workers. Although the Ardern government may be in its early stages, this marks an important departure from the years of National Party rule and will hopefully set a tone for the next few years.
French President Emmanuel Macron has signed into law decrees that attack the rights of people to collectively bargain and organise and allows employers to more easily fire staff. Trade unions have lambasted Macron’s actions. According to France 24 Philippe Martinez, the General Secretary of the CGT, said the decrees give “full powers to employers” at the expense of workers. Although some measures will not be implemented until next year, the decrees are part of Macron’s plan to liberalise the French economy to improve productivity and cut unemployment. However the government’s blatant disregard for the concerns of working people will not be forgotten any time soon.
In a historic move workers in McDonald’s outlets in Cambridge and Crayford have gone on strike over low wages and insecure employment. The industrial action was organised by workers and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) who have courageously taken on one of the largest companies in the world. But successes in this area from across the globe have shown that workers can successfully lobby for better working conditions. This action can bring about real change but only if the struggle of these workers is highlighted and staff at other fast food outlets unionise.
We live in a time that is certainly more tolerant and accepting than many centuries previously. Advantages in women’s rights, race relations and LGBT emancipation have been numerous and the activism of those groups of people agitating for change shouldn’t be minimised. However it would be foolish to argue that systemic prejudices remain commonplace in Western societies. New evidence of discrimination on the grounds of race has been revealed by data collected by the TUC. Structural disadvantages for people of colour can only be rectified if there is a popular demand for change to force the government into decisive action.
Employment tribunals are a key way for workers to protect themselves against unscrupulous employers but in recent years the number of people going to tribunals has dramatically fallen. This is largely because of the introduction of tribunal fees, whereby workers had to pay, in some cases, thousands of pounds up front in order to have their cases heard. According to figures from the Ministry of Justice quoted by the BBC, the number of cases going to tribunals has dropped from around 5,000 per month before tribunal fees were introduced in 2013, to around 1,600 per month after the introduction. However this situation has finally been remedied, as the Supreme Court has ruled that these punitive fees are against the law.
Because of Theresa May’s general election own-goal, Labour are more influential and united in the House of Commons, and indeed the Tories and now descending into their latest Europe-based civil war. In an attempt to appear more Prime Ministerial, Theresa May gave a speech today in which she reached out to the Labour Party and other parties to work with the government on delivering Brexit. May said “I say to other parties in the House of Commons- come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country”. Labour needs to seize this opportunity in order to preserve the more positive aspects of EU membership whilst also exploiting the fissures currently opening up in the Conservative Party.
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.