When Theresa May became Prime Minister she famously promised a new economic agenda focused on creating ‘an economy that works for everyone’. But that agenda has slipped as the government has become bogged down in Brexit.
At the start of October Prospect hosted an event at Conservative party conference to challenge the government to refocus on helping workers get a fairer deal in the economy. Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy spoke at the event alongside Luke Hildyard from the High Pay Centre think-tank and two Conservative MPs, former minister John Hayes and Gillian Keegan the newly elected MP for Chichester.
Mike Clancy argued that the problem of stagnant wages and sluggish productivity could be tackled by a renaissance of collective bargaining. This would help to address the power imbalance in the workplace which has been at the heart of many of the problems with modern capitalism. Reversing the decline of collective bargaining could be achieved through a new duty on companies with over 250 employees to bargain collectively with their employees.
Luke Hildyard agreed that collective bargaining was part of the solution, but also argued for corporate governance reform. He pointed to the soaring shareholder and executive profits and made the case for greater worker representation on boards and remuneration committees to ensure that there was a greater balance between top pay and pay for average workers.
John Hayes argued that while the Conservatives should champion business, there had been a growth of monopoly capitalism that was distorting markets and leading to negative economic and social consequences. He argued that supporting business does not mean defending these monopoly businesses or calling out their bad behaviour.
Gillian Keegan recognised some of the problems identified by the other speakers, but argued that it was up to business to get its own house in order. She did not see unions as a major part of the solution, in part due to what she saw as the overly political behaviour of some unions.
Summing up, Mike Clancy argued for a mature debate about the future of the economy which goes beyond simplistic polarised views that see a choice between supporting unions or supporting business. Creating a prosperous and equitable future requires striking the right balance, but it is clear that at the moment that balance is not there.
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