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Angela Rayner with Jeremy Corbyn at a school at Willenhall in December 2019.

Angela Rayner with Jeremy Corbyn at a school at Willenhall in December 2019. Photo: Jeremy Corbyn / Flickr / cropped from original image / used under llicense / license details in link below

Labour's ambivalence towards workers' rights alongside its embrace of the neoliberal status quo is set to backfire, argues Lucy Nichols

In a move that is shocking to few but disappointing to many, the Labour Party has once again fallen short when it comes to backing workers’ rights.

In an interview with Radio 4, Angela Rayner – the deputy leader of the party – refused to say whether the Labour Party was against zero-hour contracts, or if it would abolish them given the opportunity.

This comes as Labour has promised to give all workers the same rights from their first day of employment, meaning even those working in the gig economy would have a right to sick pay, holiday pay, parental leave and minimum wage.

Despite this promise – which is truly the bare minimum when it comes to what Labour’s pledges to support workers should be – the Labour party remains disappointing in its stance on workers’ rights.

In refusing to condemn zero-hour contracts, Angela Rayner reminds us of the huge shift to the right that the Labour Party has undertaken since the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn by Sir Keir Starmer, but also the extent to which the party continues to alienate the working class – and is happy to do so. Rayner goes on to underline how Labour’s new policy aims to benefit both the employer and the employee. This alone is indicative of the party’s real stance on workers.

Zero-hour contracts are truly soul-destroying, and often only taken on by the most vulnerable, or the most desperate for paid work. Around a million people in the UK work zero-hour contracts, from hospitality and farm work to students, single mothers, and migrants and refugees.

These contracts, which are usually very attractive to bosses and employers, rob workers of stability, security and the ability to plan anything with advance notice. It is a zero-hour contract that played a part in radicalising me, after a terrible job that had me working near full time one week, and as little as 8 hours the next week, and at far less than minimum wage.

For Labour to refuse to take a firm stance on this particular issue is insulting to the million people whose livelihoods rely on something as unstable as zero hours a week of work. It is also important to take into account Starmer’s recent attack on under-25s, and the party’s decision to put 90 jobs at risk within the party.

The Labour Party has apparently given up on backing workers, especially those who work in the most precarious situations. This is a grave mistake for the party, which hasn’t really got much room for error, having lost thousands of members in the last year under the new leadership.

The reality is that unions are very strong at the minute. Thousands of workers have been on strike since the beginning of the pandemic. At present, refuse workers in Bexley right through to UCU members at the University of Liverpool are on strike, while members of Unison in Greater Manchester and the RMT are also due to ballot for industrial action. The Labour Party would do well in backing these struggles wherever possible.

But the decision to abandon workers is not just a mistake or a blunder: it is a deliberate political choice by the party, which continues to purge socialist members in favour of backing the neoliberal status quo.

Whether or not members decide to stay and fight, it is clear that extra-parliamentary movements need our support, because the Labour Party is offering no real opposition to the Conservative government in the House of Commons. The fightback remains far away from Westminster: on picket lines, in universities and on the frontline of demonstrations and so on. This is why it is crucial that we support trade unions, and movements like the People’s Assembly in their efforts to take on the Conservative government and fight in the interest of workers – even those on zero hours – and not against these interests.

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