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Trade Unions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Glasman Lord Glasman Labour 1:31 pm, 18th July 2019

We all have plenty. Soon after I was elevated to this House, I was invited to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis and to give a talk about the dignity of work and Catholic social thought. I told Paul Kenny that I was going and he said, “Well, that’s not right. You have never done a day’s work in your life, and you’re not a Catholic”. So I took him with me. He spoke at the Vatican and shook its walls with what he said about the gig economy and the way that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government had denounced three aspects of the ILO: in 1982, the public works and the labour setting; in 1983, the minimum wage mechanism; and in 1985, the concept of a minimum wage. It is interesting that the Labour Government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did not recommit to those: they remained undenounced. When Paul Kenny gave his talk, the people in the room at the Vatican were very worried except for one person—Pope Francis—who was beaming and smiling. He came up to him at the end and said, “That was wonderful. Do you have any questions for me?”. Paul Kenny responded, “Yes. Who the hell is Len McCluskey?”.

At the heart of this is that the ILO represents an international framework of law, not a globalised one. We have been too quick to accept globalisation as the only rule. If globalisation just means that capital wins —that there is free movement of labour and capital—it limits the capacity of national democracies to set limits. The ILO opened up those possibilities and offers an inspirational framework through which, when we leave the European Union, we can think about an international order in which labour has an important and primary role.

I thank my noble friend Lord Jordan again. I hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of the debate. The ILO represents a great future. Will the Minister commit to rejoining those conventions that Margaret Thatcher denounced? It is vital that we establish a framework of labour relations in our country that respects the dignity of labour. When we talk about labour, and labour markets, we are talking about human beings. Labour is just another word for human beings. They cannot be moved around, exploited and discarded as they have been. The discontents of our times are rooted in what happened under Margaret Thatcher’s Government, when labour was despised and money and capital were worshipped.

My second question for the Minister is whether the Government can put in to all their trade agreements the right of free and democratic trade unions to be established and organised. That is the very heart of an internationalist, not globalised, foreign policy. I sincerely hope that the Government commit to that and that our party honours the debate today and begins to have a proper discussion about the international order we wish to see.