TUC calls on London mayor to allow unions access to workers

by Frances O’Grady and Sam Gurney

London is central to the origins of the British trade union movement.

The Transport and General Workers Union, now part of Unite, grew out of organisation in the London docks and the GMB traces its roots to organising gas workers in east London. The match women of Bryant and May showed that young women workers, often from migrant backgrounds, could organise and win.

Today, as we face a resurgence in insecure work and in-work poverty across the country, it is clear that protecting working people’s interests requires a resurgence of unionisation in the capital. And, from Google to TGI Fridays, workers are finding new ways to organise.

London is an incredible city. However, we argue in Capital Gains, a new Fabian Society report, that the city faces enormous challenges, hugely exacerbated by a decade of government-enforced austerity and now compounded by the impact of uncertainty over Brexit. 

The proportion of people living in poverty in London in households in which at least one adult works has rocketed in recent years. Shockingly, the majority of people living in poverty in London now reside in working households. TUC analysis last year revealed real wages are still down on pre-crash levels in 31 of London’s 33 local authority areas. The average London worker has lost a cumulative total of more than £20,000 in real earnings since 2008, far and away the largest fall nationally. 

To tackle in-work poverty in London and beyond, we need an agenda that reflects the TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda, including decent pay, secure work and progression opportunities. And there must be a wider framework of public policy that ensures decent social security and affordable child care, and that addresses spiralling housing costs.

At our 150th Congress last September, we released a report A Future That Works for Working People. In it we called for unions, employers and government to work together through a new Future of Work Commission. We believe this commission could help to: 

● ensure that new technology is introduced with the consent of workers

● investigate how to boost productivity in our city and across the UK

● ensure that the gains from that productivity are shared with workers, setting out an ambition to move to a four-day working week and higher pay. 

The mayor has a vital role to play in ensuring that the Greater London Authority’s Skills for Londoners framework supports all Londoners to be equipped for the jobs of the future. 

All of our experience shows that workers’ self-organisation has long been the best and most sustainable way of securing improvements to pay and working conditions.

We need a policy and legislative framework that promotes and incentivises the role of trade unions in the workplace, supports the access of trade unions to workplaces to organise and encourages the recognition of trade unions by employers and the benefits of collective bargaining. 

The mayor has publicly supported the role of trade unions in a modern and competitive economy, and he has championed the benefits of collective bargaining. However, if we are to achieve that aspiration of good work, it will be crucial to secure support for trade unions to access workplaces to organise workers and secure effective forms of collective bargaining and support for modern industrial relations practices.

Frances O’Grady  is the general secretary of the TUC and Sam Gurney is the regional secretary – London, east and south east England at the TUC.

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