Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has promised that Labour will “stand on every picket line we possibly can” if civil service workers strike over pay.
He told the conference, “It’s important that the Labour Party is not just seen as an election force but a campaigning force as well.
“If you take the decision to ballot and take industrial action we will be with you on every picket line we possibly can.”
McDonnell said the party would no longer treat trade unions as an “embarrassing relative”. Instead, “when we go into government the trade union movement is coming into government with us”.
He suggested that the Tory government could “collapse under the weight of their internal contradictions”.
“People are fed up. They want change,” McDonnell said. “The labour and trade union movement are that change. We’re the ones that will make that change by making sure that we elect a Labour government.
McDonnell repeated Labour promises to renationalise privatised industries and bring outsourced workers back in house.
He also said Labour would end the years of Tory attacks on civil service jobs through office closures and redundancies.
Some 180,000 civil service jobs have been lost due to cuts that, as PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka pointed out, “started disgracefully under Gordon Brown”.
McDonnell said, “We’ll make sure that HMRC is properly staffed—with national and local offices again.”
He also promised to “End the pay cap once and for all and make sure people have a decent level of income”.
Yet, speaking to PCS members ahead of McDonnel’s speech, two Labour MPs refused to commit to fully reversing the cuts and closures.
Shadow Work and Pensions minister Margaret Greenwood was asked by a DWP worker if Labour would “rebuild the jobcentre network and reverse office closures and job cuts”.
Greenwood replied, “I’m not in a position at the moment to make a commitment of that nature because we don’t know when the next election will be and we don’t know how far the closure programme will have got by then”.
Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the public accounts committee, also refused to make similar promises to HMRC workers, pointing to the deficit left by the Tories.
It’s a sign that a Labour government may allow itself to be restrained by arguments that have justified austerity such as the need for “responsibility” and to reduce the deficit.
It means we can’t just wait for a Labour government to end austerity—we need to fight to stop it now.