John McDonnell has urged Labour to ‘work with rather than against’ trade unionists as it prepares for the next election.
It comes as members of the RMT union voted to accept a pay deal today, ending their involvement in industrial action until at least the spring of next year.
Union members agreed to an offer of a backdated pay rise of 5% for 2022-23 from 14 trains companies.
The former shadow chancellor’s comments follow attempts by Sir Keir Starmer to deepen ties with the unions, amid criticism that the Labour leader has failed to set out a vision for power.
In a speech to the Trade Union Congress conference in September, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner pledged to strengthen workers’ rights and create jobs if the party secured an election victory.
But according to McDonnell, the Labour party doesn’t ‘fully understand’ the role that trade unions have played recently, especially when voters look to the government for support.
“[People] are looking at what other means they can to protect themselves and protect their standard of living and quality of life – and in many instances that means the trade union movement.
“That’s why we’ve seen a resurgence of industrial action, because electoral politics is not working for people, because you’ve got a Tory government and the election won’t be for at least another year.”
The MP for Hayes and Harlington said he was amazed by the ‘completely new generation’ of trade unionists joining picket lines.
“There’s young people in particular that have come out in terms of industrial action, and they’ve discovered what trade union is. And I have to say in virtually all the disputes I’ve been involved in or have any role in, people have won.
“If you look in other areas as well, unions might not have got everything they’ve demanded, but they’ve actually been out to protect the workers against the cost of living to a large extent.
“So the Labour leadership – I don’t think it’s completely understood that this new generation is there, and it won’t go away if Labour gets elected. The people are still facing those same problems, people are not just going to sit on their hands, they will expect a Labour government to deliver for them electorally.”
There has been a shifting balance of power towards the unions in recent years, with employers increasingly agreeing settlements in the strikers’ favour.
In October last year, striking barristers received a 15 per cent pay rise, while Royal Mail workers concluded a three-year dispute after receive a 10 per cent increase.
“If that doesn’t work, they’ll resort to industrial politics again. So I think there needs to be an understanding in the Labour leadership in particular, about the role that trade unions will always play no matter who’s in government. And the key element of that, therefore, is to work with them rather than against them.”
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