"Same job, same wage, same terms and conditions": worth fighting for!

4 March 2008

Last week a Private Members' Bill to give equal rights to Agency temps got through for a second reading, supported by 147 mainly back-bench Labour MPs. It goes against Brown's policy. But it doesn't go against the so-called Warwick agreement under which the government was meant to grant new workers' rights in exchange for union support in the 2005 election.

Of course, Brown never intended to honour Warwick. He was and is the driving force behind preventing the EU directive on equal rights for temporary workers being adopted. So now he is playing for time. A commission on agency workers' rights will be convened under George Bain, who helped engineer today's low minimum wage. In other words, Brown intends to kill off the issue, once again.

There are officially 1.4m agency workers, many employed by major companies like BT, BMW, or BA, even if making these workers permanent would hardly dent their profits. And this is not counting the hundreds of thousands more casual workers on lower wages, employed directly, or by subcontractors, but deprived of pensions, sick pay and paid holidays.

But aren't we all casual workers in waiting? All it takes is yet another "restructuring", or factory closure for us to be faced with no other choice but a casual job. This is one more reason why the issue of casual workers' rights concerns all workers. The principle "same job, same rights and conditions", used to be central to the class struggle. But the union leaders, in their frenzy to rub shoulders with the bosses, have long since turned the class struggle on its head.

Yet during the big waves of strikes out of which today's unions and Labour party grew, more than a century ago, large masses of striking workers terrified Tory MPs into voting for pro-labour legislation, out of fear for the bosses' profits.

This is what needs to be done again - to stop the bosses playing even worse havoc with our jobs and conditions. But we also need to develop the political voice which we have been deprived of for so long - in the form of a working class party that does not seek to boost the profits of the capitalists, as the Labour party does, but aims at representing the political interests of working people.