The campaign for the rights of agency workers is becoming a crucial test of Labour’s relationship to the unions.
Last week 141 Labour Party MPs backed a private member’s bill to give equal rights to agency workers.
The vote was a sign of the splits inside Labour and the anger at Gordon Brown’s support for business.
British labour law fails to protect agency workers and many face discrimination in the workplace.
Agency workers are paid much less than their directly employed counterparts.
They are not entitled to sick pay. They can be laid off – often after many years of work – without notice.
They are not entitled to proper holidays.
The Labour government has opposed agency workers’ rights in Europe and opposed the private member’s bill.
Legislation to change this was promised in the 2004 Warwick Agreement between Labour and the trade unions, and backed by both Labour and the TUC conference in 2006.
Brown met union leaders on Monday saying he wants unions and the CBI bosses’ organisation to sign up to his proposal for a commission.
The leaders of some of the largest unions have said that they are unlikely to support a commission.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said unions were “highly sceptical” about the integrity of any commission that included representatives from bosses.
He said, “We are not convinced that the commission is the way forward.”
Tony Woodley, leader of the T&G section of the Unite union, has said he doesn’t want promises of “jam tomorrow”.
It is however far from certain that the unions will hold firm on the issue.
The TUC general council was meeting to discuss Brown’s offer as Socialist Worker went to press.
A key part of winning rights for agency workers will be the unions calling action in defence of workers’ conditions.
Activists need to push motions through union branches everywhere in protest, and to pressure the union leaders to campaign inside workplaces to win rights for agency workers whether the law says so or not.