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The first Covid lockdown inspired a wave of gratitude to the key workers who kept the show on the road, while the rest of us stayed inside. But the weekly applause at the gates gradually faded as the nation found itself digging for the long haul. The economic balance of power that had led to low levels of pay for people in highly valued jobs has remained fundamentally unchanged.

More than a year later, delivery drivers, food production workers and other employees vital to UK supply chains are once again making headlines. As Parliament prepares to return from vacation next week, a combination of the pandemic and the effects of Brexit has made labor shortages in these sectors one of the central stories of the summer. And for the first time in decades, it appears that labor policy and the balance of power in the labor market are changing. Last month, the Unite union secured a higher pay rise for beer delivery drivers after threatening to strike. Online shopping deliveries from companies like Asos and Argos may be delayed if DHL employees vote to reject a 1% pay rise and take industrial action. Meanwhile, a range of bonuses, incentives and incentives are offered by companies with the aim of persuading people to work for them.

It seems possible that these are just frontline episodes in an ongoing battle for the future of work, the power of unions and the status of employment in sectors where precariousness and low wages have become rampant. A pre-pandemic TUC report calculated that the share of economic output going to wages rose from an average of 57% in the three decades following World War II to 49% in 2018. The 2008 crash led to the poorest decade for the average wage. has been increasing since the 19th century. But the emergence of a tighter job market in lower-paying jobs – and a hiatus from Covid that has caused many people to reflect on their working lives – may prove to be the catalyst for a recalibration. Collective bargaining, illustrated by a recent successful campaign by Dutch hauliers for better working conditions, is making a comeback. The union recognition agreement reached in May between GMB and Uber, covering 70,000 drivers, was a sign of the times. Sharon Graham, the new general secretary of Unite, has made it a priority to establish a union presence within Amazon warehouses.

Boris Johnson, aware of the need to respond to less well-off leave voters who turned Tory in 2019, is unlikely to take a Thatcherite confrontational approach to these new developments. The fact that we are living in interesting times was indicated by a recent brutal intervention by Sir John Redwood in favor of better remuneration and better conditions for carriers. For Labor, however, this emerging battleground represents an opportunity to mend its shattered electoral coalition: a new labor policy promoting fair wages, dignity and employee safety may appeal to the voting truck driver, the evil social worker. paid and urban youth. graduate working in odd-job economy. On issues such as corporate governance, industrial strategy and transformative investment in skills and learning, Labor can tread with conviction in territory where the Conservative Party has only entered opportunistically. The seismic events combine to modify the terms of the debate in parts of the labor market. Until the next election, Britain’s main workers will rightly remain in the spotlight.


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