Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Harriet Harman: Trade Unions Matter


For thirty years, I have supported the cause of working people.  In the 1970s, as a civil rights lawyer, I was legal advisor to the strike for equal pay at TRICO and the battle for Union recognition at Grunwick.  I also represented employees in pioneering equal pay and sex discrimination cases.

With Labour in opposition, as Shadow Employment Secretary, I crafted our strategy to deliver the National Minimum Wage, embedding it in our national life so that no Government could ever repeal it. 

Working with women in the party and the trade unions, I led the battle to change the agenda and image of what was a male-dominated movement.  In a joint project with the textile union, KFAT, “Mothers in Manufacturing”, we brought home how difficult life was for women struggling on poverty pay with no childcare or family-friendly rights.  We have made big advances with the National Childcare Strategy for which I, working with Labour movement women, was responsible for, and new workplace rights on family-friendly flexibility, maternity and paternity.

Together with ‘all-women shortlists’, which I championed and which transformed the face of the Parliamentary Labour Party, that led to our winning a majority of women to vote Labour for the first time in our history.  That support, which cannot be taken for granted, is vital to Labour staying in power.  David Cameron knows that.  Hence his brazen pitch to women and families.  If Labour loses the support of women, Labour loses the election.

Labour and the Trade Unions

The link is vital.  Trade Unions are our roots in the world of work.  The link is an expression of common values.  For working people, their access to power is their union and their right to vote. 

The link must now be strengthened at all levels.  More workplaces affiliated to Constituency Labour Parties.  More Councillors and MPs from the Trade Unions.  And why not also a year’s free membership for all young trade unionists to boost the participation of young people in the Labour Party and strengthen the connection between the trade unions and the party?

But Labour has lost the confidence of many trade unionists.  The new leadership must listen and learn:

-         Guaranteeing tough enforcement of new laws on corporate manslaughter;

-         Legislating for equal treatment of agency workers and the directly employed; 

-         Introducing mandatory equal pay audits.  I want as Deputy Leader to be Equal Pay Champion in the public and private sectors.

The new leadership must:

-         Value the public service ethos and not see the public services as just a marketplace.

-         Boost British manufacturing, using the power of public procurement, and ensuring we become a world leader in the manufacturing of renewables.

-         Put housing at the top of the political agenda, with a greater level-playing field for Councils.

-         Press forward with a Transport Bill on better buses, properly regulated.

And the new leadership must help Unions grow.

Winning back the lost millions, we can win a fourth term under Gordon Brown.  For his Deputy, we need a team of men and women to win men and women and to win in all parts of Britain. That’s why I am running for Deputy Leader, representing a heartland constituency in Camberwell and Peckham, where we have increased the Labour Party membership in four years up to 700.  I want to win because I know who loses if Labour fails, the working people of Britain.


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