Labour Research August 2015


Who is best for the unions?

Labour Research interviews the candidates for leadership of the Labour Party on a range of issues of concern to unions and their members.

Millions of trade unionists who are members of the Labour Party, registered supporters, or (for those who are members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party) registered affiliated supporters, have a say in who will be the Labour Party’s next leader.

Timetable and rules

All Labour Party members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters who join before 12.00pm on 12 August 2015 can vote in the election.

The election is taking place under the One Member One Vote (OMOV) rules agreed by the 2014 Collins Review instead of the previous three-way electoral college. Under the previous system, equal weight was given to three sections of the party: party members, parliamentarians (MPs) and trade unions and affiliated societies.

Members of Labour-affiliated trade unions need to register as affiliated supporters before 12pm on the 12 August deadline, while members of any union can register as a supporter, just as any other Labour supporter can, in order to vote. Their vote will now count just as much as the vote of a Labour MP.

Ballot papers will be sent out on 14 August by post, and the deadline for returning ballot papers (or voting online) is 12pm on 10 September with the new leader announced on 12 September.

Labour Research contacted the four leadership candidates and asked their views on six key trade union issues. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn replied and their responses (edited for reasons of space) are set out below. To ensure fairness, their answers start off in alphabetical order and are then rotated so that no one person’s views are given particular prominence.

Liz Kendall’s campaign team did not provide us with information. But her views in some of these areas are set out in the box on page 10. They are taken from her answers at the GMB general union’s congress hustings events, her campaign website and communications, and a January 2015 interview she gave toThe House, the weekly magazine relating to the House of Commons.

The new leader will be announced at a special conference on 12 September 2015.

Union decline

Many economists argue that the decline in the power of trade unions and the fall in the percentage of employees covered by collective bargaining have increased inequality and been economically damaging. Do you agree with that analysis, and, if so, what would you do to reverse that decline?

Andy Burnham: Improving the economic position of British workers is not a simple challenge, but it will be at the heart of my mission as Labour leader.

We need to invest in the skills and industries of the future, so that we have an economy of high value, high paid jobs. We need to ensure that a high quality technical education is available to all young people, with the same funding arrangements available for apprentices on quality schemes as is available for higher education students.

And we need to tackle abuses of EU law that allow the undercutting of workers as part of a Labour campaign to reform Europe, and then fight to stay in that reformed EU.

Yvette Cooper: The historic link between the Labour Party and the trade unions is incredibly important. Of course there are challenges in that relationship, but we share a mutual desire to build a fairer, more just society.

I first marched with the trade unions in the 1980s on the People’s March for Jobs. The workplace has changed a lot since then, but workers’ rights haven’t kept up with the changes.

We need a full review of employment rights. We need to make sure that serious exploitation (particularly of migrant workers) in the workplace is a crime and we need much stronger enforcement of employment rights.

Jeremy Corbyn: Trade unions are essential in building a more equal society and sustainable economy. As union membership and collective bargaining agreements have declined, so has the share of national wealth going to workers, leaving a larger share for bosses and shareholders, and increasing inequality and destabilising the economy.

We need to give unions the right to organise in workplaces and reduce the employee threshold for statutory recognition so that workers in small businesses can benefit from union membership.

We need to restore national pay systems and consider industry-wide bargaining systems.


What is your attitude towards the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US? Do you support it, oppose it entirely or are there only particular aspects you oppose? Please could you explain your reasons.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am opposed to TTIP and have been actively campaigning against it — in Parliament and outside with groups like War on Want and Global Justice Now.

TTIP is less of a trade deal and more of a transfer of power from elected governments to corporations with legal mechanisms to enforce that power transfer. No democrat, and no democratic socialist, could ever support something that would limit the ability of governments to act on behalf of their people or the environment. It must be defeated and millions across Europe are organising to do so.

We need international treaties that include co-operation to eliminate poverty and protect human rights — including respect for ILO conventions.

Andy Burnham: As shadow health secretary I went to Brussels to make clear that the NHS must be exempted from any opening up to competition under TTIP. Too much of the TTIP negotiations have been conducted out of the public eye, creating legitimate fears about what may be proposed in a final deal.

I will work closely with our Labour MEPs to vet the emerging proposals and I would not support anything that undermines the public nature of the NHS, or allows democratic choices of the British government to be challenged in private tribunals.

Yvette Cooper: Trade between nations is important and many jobs depend upon it. Nations prosper and economies grow when we increase global trade.

But free trade cannot be a free-for-all. If implemented properly, TTIP can bring benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers.

I support the principle of TTIP, but we need to make sure the NHS is protected from any agreement.


Over the last 30 years, huge swathes of our public services and publicly-owned industries have been privatised or outsourced. Would you call a halt to privatisation and outsourcing and which, if any, public services would you bring back into public ownership?

Yvette Cooper: Lots of public services have functioned as mixed economies over many decades. This in itself is not necessarily a problem.

But I have huge reservations about the enforced competition the Tories have introduced into the NHS. I don’t believe this delivers for patients, for NHS professionals or for the taxpayer.

The decision to re-privatise the East Coast Main Line and bar a public operator from competing was a complete disaster for taxpayers and commuters.

There must be a wholesale review of the franchising process with a focus on putting the needs of travellers first.

Jeremy Corbyn: The services we all rely on — energy, water, rail and postal services — should be in public ownership with service users, workers and government jointly in control. Privatisation has meant higher costs for us all, no real private investment, and often a worse service too.

The UK lags behind other nations on infrastructure because the privatisers have sweated the assets and not invested in the future. They want to maximise their profits, not maximise the good. That’s why we need public ownership.

Andy Burnham: I oppose the Tories’ ideological push for privatisation of services which work well in public hands.

As shadow health secretary I have stood up against the creeping privatisation in the NHS under the Tories and I will continue to fight for a publicly-owned and publicly-delivered NHS.

The public ethos of the NHS is not only valued by patients and staff alike, but it enables us to deliver better healthcare at a fraction of the cost than in privatised health systems like the US.

Anti-union laws

The Tories are proposing to bring in more anti-trade union laws on top of those introduced since the early 1980s. Would you legislate to remove all or any of the restrictions on union activities introduced under previous Tory governments (on picketing, secondary action, balloting for industrial action and the sequestration of union funds)?

Andy Burnham: We must fight the battles of today, not yesterday. The Tories are proposing draconian new restrictions on union ballots and, as leader, I will fight these every step of the way, fighting alongside the trade union movement.

Jeremy Corbyn: I don’t want to go back to the days of the closed shop or not having to hold a ballot for strike action. Instead, we should modernise trade union balloting with secure online, workplace balloting.

And the limits on peaceful picketing and on what constitutes a trade dispute need to be re-examined.

If workers want to take solidarity action, and win a ballot to do so, there should be no legal restriction.

Yvette Cooper: We must fight hard against the proposed legislation being brought forward by the Tories, particularly on the thresholds for strike ballots.

It is wrong that the government seeks to impose 40%-50% strike thresholds, particularly when it was the Tories who brought in police and crime commissioners, who were elected on turnouts of under 10%.

Bedroom tax

All the Labour leadership candidates have said they are committed to scrapping the bedroom tax. What other changes would you make to the state benefits system?

Jeremy Corbyn: We need to value our social security system — it was established to prevent poverty and destitution. That is the mark of a civilised society and we must return to that goal. But the system is bailing out employers’ low pay and landlords’ high rents. We need to tackle low pay and high housing costs.

Disabled people have been hardest hit by welfare changes. The Independent Living Fund, which has been shamefully closed by this government, must be reopened.

We must scrap the work capability assessment and end sanctions and workfare. The social security system and Jobcentre Plus should be there to help people, not trip them up.

Yvette Cooper: The Tory onslaught against the welfare state has seen some of the weakest and most vulnerable paying the price of welfare cuts. That has to stop and I will stop it, including ending the bedroom tax.

We need to reform the work test carried out by Atos [the firm that undertook work capability assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions] which has caused huge hardship for some severely disabled people.

People able to work should not receive out-of-work benefits if they refuse a job they are offered. But we must not stigmatise those who are unable to work because of sickness or disability.

Andy Burnham: The bedroom tax is a cruel and ill thought-through measure which I oppose.

But we are seeing the Conservatives spread fears about a further assault on tax credits and the disabled; fears worsened by the Tories’ refusal in the general election to set out where their planned £12 billion in cuts will come from.

I want to ensure that work pays, but unlike the Tories I want to achieve this through raising wages — including the minimum wage and promoting the Living Wage — not by cutting tax credits for those in work on low incomes.

The next five years

The next election is 2020. What would you do as Labour leader to prevent things getting worse over the next five years?

Yvette Cooper: I will build a movement that inspires people and offers the hope of real change. We need to win back votes from Tories, the SNP, UKIP and the Greens — in towns as well as big cities, in the South and North, in Scotland, England and Wales.

We won’t do that by simply doing more of the same. Nor should we try and ape the Tories by swallowing their manifesto. We will win by offering voters a strong, optimistic alternative for 2020. A Labour alternative rooted in our values — equality, social justice and the belief that everyone should have a fair chance in life.

Andy Burnham: Labour needs a leader that can reach out to every part of this country and lead a strong opposition to this government and its damaging plans.

I will be that leader with a clear vision and a single plan to strengthen Labour up and down the country and deliver a Labour government in 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn: Labour must become a social movement again. We cannot defeat the government without huge pressure from outside.

Labour needs to be organising and campaigning within our communities to create a climate in which it is no longer acceptable to sell off our national assets, demonise migrants and those on welfare, or attack trade unions.

Liz Kendall

In a recent speech at Reuters, Liz Kendall said that employees need a stake and say in the companies they work for and that partnerships between employers and employees can improve the long-term prospects of companies with better productivity, training, and working arrangements.

She pointed out that in Germany and other European countries, there are significant rights for employees to be represented on company boards.

At a hustings event at the GMB general union’s annual congress in June, candidates were asked whether they would campaign against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Kendall said that trade agreements should be about bringing down barriers to trade so that they benefit ordinary working people. Referring to concern about the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism, the international system whereby multinational corporations can sue the governments of countries in which they invest for violating their property rights, she said that there was “no way that corporations should be able to wield overbearing power”.

On privatisation and outsourcing, in January 2015, she toldThe House, the magazine of the House of Commons, that there “will remain a role” for private firms and voluntary organisations “where they can add extra capacity to the NHS or challenge to the system”.

On welfare, Kendall has pledged to scrap the Tories’ controversial Work Programme as a “failed experiment in welfare privatisation”, and hand control of welfare-to-work schemes to cities.

And on trade union rights she says: “Trade unions helped found the Labour Party, and if I am elected as leader that link will never be broken.” She added: “I will tolerate no weakening of protections for working people or the basic rights of trade unions while I’m leader. If they’re implemented by this Tory government, the Labour government I will lead will reverse them.”

In response to George Osborne’s Budget, she said that as leader, she’d task Margaret Hodge, Labour MP and former chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which scrutinises government spending, “with a full review of tax reliefs to target the billions of pounds in government subsidies that are poorly targeted and in many cases provide an opportunity for tax avoidance”.