Socialist Worker

‘Jeremy Corbyn gives us hope to fight,’ says Bfawu union leader Ian Hodson

What did Jeremy Corbyn’s election mean for the left and trade unionists?

Issue No. 2496

Ian Hodson campaigning for Fast Food Rights

Ian Hodson campaigning for Fast Food Rights (Pic: Guy Smallman)


What did Jeremy Corbyn’s election mean for the left and trade unionists?

I wasn’t surprised that Jeremy won. A lot of people may think that’s easy to say after the event. But the reality is I was quite confident that he could win.

It gives us a lot of hope.

I think Corbyn’s election is the opportunity that we’ve been waiting for in our trade union—to have a real debate about what society should look like.

It’s an opportunity to really discuss the issues that we face.

Do we want an NHS? Do we want people to be able to have a home? Do we want people to have a job with a contract of employment? Do we want a welfare state?

Those issues can now be openly discussed. We have a political party that is now prepared to engage in that debate.

We haven’t had it for a long time because we’ve been too scared.

Other union leaders and activists on the left have previously looked towards building a left alternative to Labour. But you always argued for people to stay in Labour.

It was our party, why should we leave? It came out of the trade union movement.

We stayed in the party, we fought our corner, we put forward the policies that we believed in.

We weren’t always successful. Clearly, the positions that Labour has taken over the last twenty odd years have not been the positions that we have held as a union.

Our members decide at conference the policies that the union should follow. We’re a democratic organisation. We’ve had a number of debates at our conference and the majority has always been in favour of remaining inside the Labour Party and fighting from within.

Now I think it was definitely the right place for us to be.

One of the things it did give us, even if we might not have been seen as an integral part of the Labour Party, was the opportunity to at least put our points of view across to the leadership.

That’s something that wasn’t available to people outside of the Labour Party.

How can people inside and outside of Labour work together?

We have an opportunity to unite people around a vision for a better society because Jeremy Corbyn’s election is an opportunity to build a fairer, better, more equal society.

There will be people who want to join the Labour Party, and be active within the Labour Party. But I think there is scope for working with people who don’t join the Labour Party but want the same things and engage with the same agenda.

What’s important is that we recognise the opportunity that Corbyn’s election gives us and that we try and unite around a reasonable agenda.

This could include defending the NHS, campaigning for a minimum wage of £10 an hour, abolishing zero hours contracts, defending the right for people to have access to justice, access to council housing.

And most people on the left say that governments should provide full employment.

Those are all areas that we on the left would say are part of our agenda.

So whether you’re inside or outside of the Labour Party is an irrelevance.

What’s important is that a Corbyn-led Labour Party changes its policies to reflect the needs of today’s society and we all work together for the election of a Labour government.

It would be good to see a Corbyn-led Labour government. But there are people inside Labour who would like to get rid of him.

Debate’s important, everybody’s entitled to an opinion. But when people have expressed an opinion and a debate takes place, once you come out of that discussion then they should be fighting for a Labour victory.

In the Labour Party they have a leader who’s been elected by all sections of the party.

Regardless of what an individual may feel, they should throw their weight behind the party’s agenda, which is still being shaped to reflect what people want in our society.

One of the things that we can all unite around is fighting the Trade Union Bill. But there are different ideas about how to do that. What do you think?

The Labour Party is now saying that it will stand in support of workers in disputes rather than saying that workers should go back to work and settle it through Acas.

That’s an important message to send to workers. Workers don’t go on strike at the drop of a hat, they go on strike because there’s a grievance. That should be recognised and they shouldn’t be chastised by politicians who really don’t understand the lives that workers lead.

So the opportunity that we now see with politicians engaging and standing on picket lines means that they will have first-hand experience of what those people’s real grievances are.

I think that may encourage them to recognise the need for change in the way that trade unions are currently legislated against.

Then, instead of being demonised as part of a problem, it will help politicians realise that working people are part of the solution to the problems we face. Collective organisations don’t threaten society.

But how should we be prepared to resist the bill once it comes in?

There are a number of things that I would like to see the Labour movement do. Instead of waiting for a union to be targeted, we should be pre-emptive. So we need to put together a message to the government that says, we will refuse to accept the trade union legislation.

It’s the only thing that they understand.

Socialist Worker is interviewing a number of union leaders and other figures on the left to discuss how to build a bigger fightback. Read interviews with CWU leader Dave Ward at bit.ly/23Hpk11, PCS union leader Mark Serwotka at bit.ly/1n1bMJD and FBU leader Matt Wrack at bit.ly/1W2rEYz

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