The first public meeting of our leadership campaign took place in Manchester last night and was a real success. It's just great to attend a packed meeting again where people were enthusiastic once again about discussing the future of our party.
The meeting focussed on a set of 6 key policy pledges:
1. Withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
2. End to privatisation.
3. Abolition of student fees and full support for comprehensive education.
4. Restoration of civil liberties and trade union rights.
5. A green energy policy based upon renewable power sources.
6. Increase in the Basic State Pension and the immediate restoration of the earnings link.
The debate was open, serious and friendly. I was struck by the determination of the many party members and trade union members who were so enthusiastic in their support for the policies being advocated by our campaign. A good point was made that we need always to ensure that whilst we undertake a proper critique of New Labour's failures our campaign must remain an overwhelmingly positive one, which acknowledges the advances we have made as a party over the years and more importantly looks to the future.
As one contributor said, she was excited that for the first time in a long time she was now able to go out there and argue from a Labour Party perspective for policies she believed in and supported.
A major section of our party has been virtually ignored by New Labour over the last 9 years. That is the trade union movement.
As Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, once commented, New Labour has treated the trade unions like some embarassing member of the family, best hidden from view. The only times New Labour seems to acknowledge the existence of the unions is when the party either needs funds or needs trade unionists on the ground to campaign in elections.
As a result of a historic breakthrough in the co-ordination of trade union influence within the party, the unions secured the famous "Warwick Agreement." This union/Labour Party pact set out a programme of very basic but critically important policy initiatives which New Labour pledged to address in government. Key issues like corporate manslaughter legislation, protection of pensions, the development of a strategy for manufacturing and challenging privatisation.
Many trade unionists will feel totally conned by the performance of New Labour over Warwick. Barely any meaningful progress has been made on the implementation of the major pledges of the Warwick Agreement. The Corporate Manslaughter Bill published by the Government is ineffective. Pensions remain largely unprotected with companies continuing to demolish schemes and withdraw hard fought for benefits. The pace of privatisation of public services and public sector jobs is actually speeding up. Britain's manufcaturing sector is losing so many jobs each year that it is expected the country's manufacturing base will have all but disappeared within the next twenty years.
The setback of New Labour reneging on the Warwick Agreement doesn't mean that the strategy of unions co-ordinating the exercise of their influence on the Government was wrong. The only way in which we will be able to secure the implementation of a trade union agenda is if there is greater and firmer co-ordination of trade union influence on the Labour Party and in Parliament.
That is one of the reasons why I have worked hard over a number of years establishing trade union groups of MPs in Parliament to secure a stronger voice for trade unions in policy making. It is also why I have been at the forefront of developing the strategy for the Trade Union Freedom Bill and why I set up the "Public Services Not Private Profit" campaign with the support of 16 unions.
New Labour may have failed us over Warwick but there is still the need to develop a new trade union/Labour Party pact based upon a clear commitment to its implementation.
At the TUC next week I will be launching a Trade Union Programme for Labour in Government. It includes a commitment to introduce the Trade Union Freedom Bill we have been drafting over the last two years designed to bring the employment rights of trade unionists in Britain up to the same level as workers in other European countries. Other elements of this programme include an end to privatisation of public services and the bringing back of rail and air traffic control into public ownership. In addition the programme commits a Labour Ggovernment to the introduction of a firmer health and safety regime, including an effective corporate manslaughter bill and ensuring that the Health and Safety Executive id properly resourced. The programme includes also the development of an interventionist industrial strategy to protect and develop manufacturing industry.
These are just some elements of my Trade Union Programme for Government. I am launching the programme not only to encourage trade unonists to support the programme's policies but also to launch a debate on what else should trade unions expect from a Labour Government if we are to secure a decent quality of life at work for our members.
Let me hear your proposals.