This pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance, and enduring relevance, of trade unions – from the way they have fought for sick pay for workers in the gig economy and opposed the disgraceful practice of fire and rehire, to the brilliant job they have done standing up for teachers and our children and making sure workplaces up and down the country are Covid-secure.
There can be no doubt that the conditions and treatment experienced by workers during this terrible period in our history would have been far worse were it not for the tireless efforts of union leaders and representatives. Their actions over this last year have helped to save lives, prevent financial hardship and ensure that working people are treated with dignity and respect.
As mayor of London and a lifelong trade unionist, none of this comes as any surprise to me. Time and again throughout my life, I’ve seen the positive difference trade unions can make on behalf of working men and women. It’s why I know that trade unions will continue to have a vital role to play – not just in helping to protect their members for as long as this crisis lasts, but in building the better, more equal future we all want to see. A future in which we have a new settlement for our key workers that doesn’t merely pay them lip service, but truly recognises their value to our society and rewards them with fair pay.
This crisis has forced us to step back and reflect on who the key workers really are that keep our country running and our city moving. In addition to our heroic NHS staff and the brave members of our emergency services, it’s clear that our society and economy simply would not have been able to function without our cleaners, care staff, transport workers, teachers, educators, shopworkers, delivery drivers and posties.
That’s one of the many reasons why this week I’m backing HeartUnions – a national campaign organised by the TUC to highlight the good work that unions do every single day to give their members a voice in the workplace. Another reason is because, as the son of a bus driver and as a working-class boy from a south London council estate, the success of the trade union movement will always be a cause close to my heart.
Trade unionism runs in my blood. As a young child, I saw how my dad benefited hugely from being unionised. Unlike my mum, who was a seamstress and wasn’t in a union, my dad received decent pay and good terms and conditions precisely because he was a member of a trade union. When he was assaulted at work one day, the union also intervened on his behalf to make sure he was given enough time off to properly rest and recover before getting back behind the wheel.
Growing up, such experiences left a deep impression on me. They shaped my view of the trade union movement and convinced me of the indispensable role unions have in our society as advocates for working people.
By organising to represent the interests of millions of working people, trade unions have been a powerful force for social change throughout our history – fighting for fair pay, dignity at work and crucial protections for their members, including vital health and safety legislation. That’s why, since taking office, I’ve been determined to reach out and build a constructive working relationship with them.
In contrast to the previous mayor, who routinely demonised trade union leaders and saw them as a threat to counter, rather than as partners to work with, I’ve made sure that the unions have a seat at the table. I’ve brought back quarterly meetings with the London, East and South East TUC, as well as the transport unions, so we can work through any issues that might arise.
This approach doesn’t just benefit trade union members, it benefits all Londoners – and the evidence speaks for itself. Not only have we been able to negotiate a new pay deal for London’s 25,000 bus drivers, but because of positive relations with the transport unions we managed to get the night tube up and running and reduce the number of days lost to strikes across the TfL network by almost 75%.
In close collaboration with the unions, my administration has also been able to roll out our flagship Good Work Standard – ensuring that more than 200,000 workers across our city are receiving the London Living Wage and benefiting from the best employment practices. We’ve used new contract negotiations to improve terms and conditions for cleaners on the London Underground. We’ve taken important steps to improve transport worker safety during the pandemic, including sealing driver cabs. And we’ve brought the Woolwich ferry back in house.
But, if we are to make further gains for workers and create a city that truly works for all of London’s communities, we need to ensure that City Hall stays Labour. And so, in addition to asking LabourList readers to show the trade unions some love and back the HeartUnions campaign in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, I’m also appealing to you to help me defeat the hard-right, anti-union Tory candidate who would seek to undo all of the progress we have made together.
The London mayoral election on May 6th is going to be a two-horse race between me and the Tory candidate, and we cannot afford to be complacent for a second. Not only would a Tory victory be disastrous for the rights and wellbeing of working Londoners, but it would also lead to a reversal of the huge strides my administration has taken to clean up London’s polluted air, build more genuinely affordable homes and make public transport more affordable for millions of Londoners.
A Labour victory in May is ultimately how we can ensure that we have an administration focused on delivering for working people, standing up for London and making our city an even better place to live and work after this pandemic than it was before.