The battle for Labour’s soul

This week may see the biggest Labour backbench revolt since Iraq

Linked with Johann Hari – England.

Published on Johann, by himself, (first publication on The Independent, Febr. 18, 2008, titled: Will Labour show it cares about workers?).

Excerpts: … There is a toxic loop-hole in British employment law, which 1.5 million people have been lassoed by. If I go to work for Joe Bloggs Ltd, after a short period I begin to acquire employment rights. I get sick-pay, holiday leave, and the right to not be arbitrarily dismissed from my job. But if I go to work for an employment agency that then places me in exactly the same job at Joes Bloggs Ltd, my employment rights never come. I can work there for twenty years and still be given no sick pay and no paid holidays, and be sacked in a second. They are financially trapped: they can’t get credit, never mind a mortgage …

… So Gordon Brown has a choice. He can be dragged into a draining, demoralising row with his own party, which he may well lose – or he can make this a bright, populist dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives.

He could make job security an election issue, by offering the electorate two clashing models of how to deal with globalization. David Cameron is committed to racing-to-the-bottom with your rights by repealing swathes of basic employment protections – including rights for ten million part-time mums in marginal Middle England seats. In this Redwoodian world-view, every right is a restriction on the freedom of corporations: the weakest workers just have to live with the perma-stress.

By contrast, Labour can point out that in a (rightly) market-fuelled economy, no government can make your job totally secure – but Labour can make it liveable by laying out some humane rules and rights, and using the state to vigorously uphold them. This doesn’t fuel unemployment if it’s done properly: one of the most regulated countries in Europe – Sweden – has the lowest rate of joblessness.

The way Gordon Brown deals with contracted-out workers this week will answer a deeper question: has the Labour Party really contracted out its soul to the CBI? (full long text).

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