Jeff Hodge reports from the Unions Together Labour leadership hustings
Tuesday (30th June) saw the Unions Together Labour leadership hustings, excellently chaired by Mirror hack Kevin Maguire, with representation from all 14 of the affiliated trade unions including Unite, Unison, ASLEF and the GMB
The format was that each candidate was given 15 minutes to make their opening pitch on why they should be the candidate of choice in the leadership battle.
This would be followed by questions from the floor and then a 5 minute summing up from each candidate.
Jeremy Corbyn, the only anti austerity candidate amongst the four, opened up stating that austerity is a code word for greater inequality.
He went on to re-affirm how proud he was of the union link and the importance of keeping it and that it was essential to resurrect the Labour Party and trade unions as a social movement to change society.
The Labour Party was founded and funded by unions and he was proud of the fact that union funding is the cleanest money in politics.
He added further support to the unions stating that not only would he overturn the recent Tory strike ballot laws, he would seek to overturn the anti trade union laws passed during the Thatcher years and allow unions to breathe again.
It must also be added, he was also the only delegate to accept an invite from the floor to attend the picket lines in support of the RMT, ASLEF, Unite and TSSA strikes taking place on July 8th.
It was also important that the Labour Party challenge the economic orthodox that the last Labour Government overspent.
Austerity’s effect on pay had seen a 20% decline in wages in real terms since 2010, and going on to challenge the misconception put out by the Tories that was it the teachers, nurses and refuse collectors that had bankrupted Britain.
He stated that under his leadership he would look to introduce a wages council to combat low pay and that the Labour Party had an international responsibility to fight the race to the bottom.
He finished in defence of the NHS, how it should remain free at the point of delivery as a human right. And that the same should be true of the welfare state. No one should be homeless or go without food.
Next up was Yvette Cooper, who started by recognising and thanking the hundreds of trade union activists who’d worked hard on the election campaign in May.
She supported the trade union link and vowed, if elected, to overturn the most recent legislation around the strike ballot laws.
She spoke strongly in winning back votes lost to UKIP and how it was important not to ape them but to take them and challenge their rhetoric.
It was important to recognise that talking about immigration isn’t racist and that we stand up to racism, homophobia and all other hate crimes.
She passionately spoke of how it wasn’t just exploitation by companies when using immigrants on low wages, it was modern slavery. Her intention would be to make exploitation a crime.
Cooper then went on to speak about the economy and accepted the debt and deficit were too high and had to come down.
After all, it wasn’t too many doctors, nurses or teachers that caused the Lehmann Brothers to crash. That was a Tory myth that shouldn’t be accepted.
But Labour were not responsible for that debt either and in their time in office had down many things to boost the economy such as the car scrappage scheme, Future Job Fund and saving Northern Rock from going bust.
She believed that the Labour Party needed someone that not only looked like a Labour leader but looked like a Labour Prime Minister from the start.
Cooper was followed by Andy Burnham, who whilst acknowledging that Labour had suffered a devastating defeat, went on to make a strong impassioned defence of Ed Miliband.
Ed had stood up to vested interests and listened to the grass roots of the party, something he was very much prepared to do himself.
He recognised that speaking to people during the election campaign, thousand and thousand of potential voters had lost connection with the party and could no longer relate to them.
He spoke of how Labour had lost the Tory spin battle over the economy and that they had to make people believe Labour could be trusted with the economy.
But they wouldn’t win people back with a ‘no cuts’ message.
However, there was a responsibility to tackle corporate tax evasion, give councils full freedom to build greatly needed housing and to buy out private landlords.
He, like Yvette Cooper, stated that under his leadership, Labour would seek to overturn the recent Tory strike ballot laws but went on to add that with regard to the Thatcher anti trade union laws, there was no point in ‘turning the clock back’ but that we needed to look forward.
Whilst acknowledging Labour had allowed the market to advance too far into the NHS, his record of defending it proved he was the person best suited to take on the Tories.
He also referred to Orgreave, Shrewsbury and obviously Hillsborough as further examples of how he would campaign for the people to get justice.
With generally good recognition from the audience, he finished with a passionate plea to lift our heads, get off the floor and make our movement great again.
Finally was Liz Kendall.
As with the other 3, Kendall spoke of her trade union roots and how she believed in the link.
History was important but so is the future.
Labour needed to change it’s approach and restore economic credibility, whilst having a plan, between businesses and the unions, on ending the productivity gap.
She insisted that it was vital that Labour maintained a strong relationship with business, and that they needed to be both pro business and pro worker.
The remit of the low wages commission needed to change and that the minimum wage needed to become the living wage, moving it sector by sector.
On many occasions, Kendall spoke of the need of a social partnership between unions and business but added that that should not lead to a weakening of workers’ rights.
Following the opening statements there were a series of questions for the candidates, of which some are below;
Would you back having just one rate for the minimum wage, instead of lower rates for the young, and would you raise it to £10?
Cooper said the gap between the youth rate had fallen so far behind the main rate that a review was needed.
Burnham said he cannot support a separate minimum wage for young people and an hour’s work deserves an hour’s pay.
Kendall said the Low Pay Commission should review the rate but added that she believes in social partnerships where employers and employees settle this between them.
Corbynpraised Labour for bringing in the minimum wage and that it should be increased towards £10
A youth rate was very hard to justify as young people eat as much, if not more, than old people!
How do you ensure that older people get the social care they need, and that care workers are paid properly?
Burnham says how can they show people that care matters when people are paid the minimum wage added to the fact that carers do not even get travel time between jobs?
He advocates that the NHS should become integrated with care to create National Health and Care Service.
Kendall said that her plan to extend the remit to the Low Pay Commission would see wages in the social care sector rise.
Corbyn said he backed Labours 2015 manifesto but council cuts had made matters worse.
Cooper says the issue only highlighted the damaging effect Tory cuts had had on our social care system.
Would Labour end the public subsidy of private schools?
Yes says Corbyn.....no ambiguity there then!
Cooper wouldn’t commit because she didn’t know how practical that would be. Though she did agree in principle.
Burnham said he believes in comprehensive education and believed in the principle of the question.
Kendall was opposed to the proposals but wanted to improve schools.
Will you reverse the damaging cuts to the arts?
Burnham, Cooper and Kendall all said that while cuts were taking place in other sectors it was very difficult to give assurances to the arts budget for 5 years time.
Corbyn said he didn’t see the arts investment as a subsidy but as an investment and that Labour should continue to invest.
In summing up, from a personal viewpoint, Corbyn was excellent, receiving support and applause nearly every time he spoke though it has to be added that Burnham did come across extremely well and very confident in his opening and closing statements and was also very well received.
Cooper came across as the obviously polished politician she is though there seemed to be moments she waited for applause that didn’t come....maybe that tells a story.
Now bear in mind I’m writing from a personal capacity here, so I need to state I’m no fan of Kendall
Maybe it was because of my view of her that I felt she came across as false and completely lacking any connection with the union members attending.
Jeff Hodge is a Unite the Union rep at Kodak, he is writing here in a personal capacity.