With a snap election looking more likely by the day, the time for dismissing Boris Johnson as a gaff-prone buffoon is over. The trade union movement needs to be ready for a contest that will define our country for generations to come.
With an election victory and a much larger majority, Johnson’s cabal of hard-right, free market fanatics would wreak havoc on this country and cause untold damage. His cabinet includes people who believe that capital punishment should be brought back, that women should be denied the right to an abortion even in the case of rape and that the NHS should be open to US big business.
A Johnson government would pose a massive threat to workers, unions and public services. The threat is magnified by Johnson’s insistence that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October come what may. The prospect of Johnson and his zealous capitalist accomplices controlling a no-deal Britain post Brexit — flogging off anything that isn’t nailed down to the highest bidder — should be enough to revitalise and invigorate our activism.
The UK already has the most restrictive trade union laws in Western Europe and the decimation of the movement altogether is firmly in Johnson’s sight. He will relish the opportunity to finish off the job that was started by Thatcher and faithfully continued by Blair and Cameron. As an example, Johnson recently announced plans to introduce at least ten new ‘free ports’. Based on the Singapore model, these ports are exempt from normal tax and customs rules and have virtually non-existent employment rights and trade union activity. This is Boris Johnson’s vision for Britain and it’s one we have to defeat.
I have long called for a general election so we can get rid of the rotten Tory government, however, an early general election presents Labour with two challenges. Firstly, they won’t have the luxury of being up against the ineffective and robotic Theresa May. In stark contrast, the carefully choreographed image of Johnson as a no-nonsense, straight talker will appeal to many voters. Labour strategists will disregard Johnson’s ability to court these people at their peril.
Secondly, Labour’s pivot to a less ambiguous Remain position is significant but the real challenge for the party in an election will be cutting through the Leave-Remain dichotomy. In the election of 2017, Labour’s brilliant manifesto and campaigning efforts allowed them to shift the debate towards domestic issues. Three years on from the referendum result, the Brexit frenzy has reached fever pitch and Labour’s task of focussing on those same domestic issues will be much harder.
Despite this, Brexit has paralysed the government for over three years and the everyday problems people face have not eased but have in fact worsened. Record levels of poverty, homelessness and destitution show that what this country needs is a radical Labour government.
At the centre of this is the restoration and enhancement of trade union rights. In my union, for example, Corbyn has committed to ending the hostility towards trade unions in the civil service. This means finally giving civil servants the pay rise they deserve and a return to national pay bargaining. Hardworking PCS members know more than most just how vital these things are. Across the union movement more broadly, Labour’s promise to nationalise key industries is hugely popular with public sector workers and the public as a whole.
Described as a fanciful wish list by those without the political ambition to be bold or the ability to address the real concerns workers have, these pledges will undoubtedly improve the lives of millions of people. In return, Labour will see workers, activists and trade unionists mobilising and turning out across the country to campaign for a Labour victory.
I firmly believe that by harnessing the power of its half a million members and the many hundreds of thousands more activists across the trade union movement, Labour’s message of hope and optimism can defeat the selfishness and greed of Boris Johnson’s Tory party. The stakes have never been higher.