THE BLOG
09/06/2015 06:47 BST | Updated 09/06/2016 06:59 BST

Under My Leadership, Labour Will Open the Space to Rebuild and Renew the Union Movement

A strong role for trade unions in the 21st Century is essential, and as a proud trade unionist I will fight to my last breath to defend the existence of effective, free and independent trade unions... The Labour Party and the trade union movement once again face big challenges together. To re-establish our relevance, reflect the era in which we live and fight for our values in unforgiving times. These are battles that, I as a lifelong Trade unionist and as a Labour woman will relish. And it's a battle that Labour and the trade unions can win together.

I am standing to lead the Labour Party because I believe our party faces a mortal threat, and that to confront this challenge head on, we must change.

This will require leadership and courage from the Labour Party, working alongside Trade Union leaders and members to rebuild the relationships, organisation and culture of our movement so it is a renewed force in modern Britain.

We must offer a constructive alternative for our economy based on partnership, quality and innovation. We must be pro-business and pro-worker.

Our alternative must address the two fundamental weaknesses of the British economy: low productivity and low wages. A prosperous market economy requires all sides - government, employers and employees - to share responsibility for our long term future. This is what we mean by striving for the common good.

A Labour Party fit for the future must be unafraid to challenge past certainties, but also defend the foundations on which our movement is built. A strong role for trade unions in the 21st Century is essential, and as a proud trade unionist I will fight to my last breath to defend the existence of effective, free and independent trade unions.

Trade unions are one of the foundations of a fair society, because they give people at work who might not otherwise have one, a voice, and a degree of control over their working lives.

They're key partners in building a modern, competitive economy where work pays, rights are respected and workers are never treated as mere commodities.

The renaissance and success of the British automotive industry, under both of the last two governments, has been partly based on a constructive working relationship with unions to promote British manufacturing in a fiercely competitive global market.

That is why under my leadership Labour would reject and repeal any moves to repudiate trade union rights brought forward by this government. Indeed, under my leadership Labour will open the space to rebuild and renew the union movement.

This is about practical steps such as allowing online ballots over industrial action to encourage engagement and help speed resolutions, which would benefit employees and employers alike.

More fundamentally as the UK economy changes, so must the trade union movement. With only 14% of private sector employees a member of a trade union and a huge increase in low paid, part time and insecure work, the trade unions face the same challenge the party they helped found and of which they are an integral part does - how can we remain relevant in a changing world?

The UK trade union movement has a proud historic record of organising and standing up for employees across the economy - the skilled workers who can command high wages because of their skills, as well as those working at the no less valuable but lower paid end of the labour market.

At the end of the 19th Century, when trade union organisation had become concentrated among skilled employees, brave men and women went to the docks, to the municipal enterprises, and helped set up the general unions, which evolved into giants such as the Transport and General Workers Union.

And in the post war era trade unions organised effectively in the public sector, again including refuse workers as well as senior council officials in local authorities, senior nurses and doctors as well as ward orderlies.

A strong economy now needs our trade unions to meet the new challenges with the same energy and imagination with which they met the challenges of the past. There is a large disparity in trade union membership based on earnings, with people earning less that £13,000 a year less than half as likely to belong to a union as those earning between £26,000 and £52,000.

And with over 70% of private sector employees working in SMEs, a sensible government would be working with the trade union movement to ensure that it was better able to serve those who work in smaller employers or in insecure, low-paid work and build a partnership approach that supported improving standards and a more secure economy.

Organising in these sectors, where there are often many small employers, where levels of skills demanded are low, where regulation is stretched, and employees are vulnerable to exploitation is more vital than ever.

The care sector is just such an example. Care workers are vital to the UK economy and to the lives of millions of our elderly or disabled loved ones - yet thousands barely have any training and don't even get the minimum wage, let alone the living wage, because they're not paid for travel time between appointments.

As shadow care minister, I have been inspired by the commitment of paid carers and appalled that such important workers are so undervalued.

Many other low paid, insecure workers need that help. But just as the Labour Party can't help people who will suffer most under a Tory government until we appeal to all voters, so the trade union movement must do more to organise the workers who most need a voice and a chance.

The Labour Party and the trade union movement once again face big challenges together. To re-establish our relevance, reflect the era in which we live and fight for our values in unforgiving times. These are battles that, I as a lifelong Trade unionist and as a Labour woman will relish.

And it's a battle that Labour and the trade unions can win together.

Labour MP for Leicester West and Shadow Minister for Care and Older People