Four ways city mayors around the world have improved the lives of working people

Published date
10 Oct 2017

We hear a lot about vanity projects in city politics, the most recent example being Boris Johnson spending a grand total of £940m during his time as London mayor for projects that were, for the most part, worthless.

But what about city mayors leading on projects actually aimed at improving the lives of working people in their workplaces?

What about city mayors working with unions to implement policies and guidelines that promote employment standards, decent work and trade union voice at work?

Here are four examples from around the world.

Mexico City, Mexico

Image: Kasper Christensen

In February 2017, the government of Mexico City passed its first constitution, developed through crowdsourcing.

Citizens played a big part in shaping the constitution by submitting their own petitions through an online petition platform to be included in the constitution. They could also add proposals to the constitution via an online editing platform.

A committee of legal experts, academics, politicians and activists drafted the document and a second committee decided which petitions to accept. The Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Gobierno de la Ciudad de México (a trade union affiliated to PSI) was a key actor in the process and its president was an elected member of the Constituent Assembly.

The constitution recognises the existence of workers who are not paid a fixed wage and who instead earn a living from tips. It gives them a status that helps formalise their jobs and gives them access to a basic level of social security.

Even though the constitution hasn’t come into force yet, it is a great step forward for workers.

Barcelona, Spain

Image: Jorge Franganillo

Barcelona has significant decentralised powers, including around housing, transport and economic development. The recent developments around Catalonian independence are beyond the scope of this blog, but it’s a good city to look at for labour market policy inspiration.

In 2017, Barcelona city council produced a social public procurement guide. The guide is the result of discussion and consensus with business sectors, trade unions, associations and citizens organisations.  

Tendering companies are now required to comply with minimum responsibility criteria. The companies must offer higher wages than those set by the sector agreement as well as stable employment contracts.

The guide also includes criteria that encourages employers to hire people who are unemployed and in a situation of social exclusion.

Emeryville, California, USA

The Californian city, with a local economy dependent on retail, passed a law requiring retailers and fast food restaurant businesses with 55 employees or more worldwide to ensure fair rotas for their workers.

Employers now have to provide at least two weeks’ notice of workers’ schedules. And when work hours are assigned or changed less than 14 days before the scheduled shift, employees have a right to decline the hours and collect “predictability pay” for the change. Employers are also required to offer additional hours to existing part-time workers before hiring new employees.

Employers have to pay time-and-a-half for covering “clopening” shifts where the same worker closes a store at night and then reopens in the morning less than 11 hours later.

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Image: K_E_lewis

In Cleveland, worker co-operatives were set up in 2008 to supply local institutions – such as hospitals, councils and universities.

Today, an industrial-scale laundry, an energy business and an urban farm are all co-operatives serving the biggest spenders in the city. They are based in low-income neighbourhoods and collectively employ around 150 people, many with barriers to employment.

Each worker has the opportunity to own a share in their company. They are also eligible for pension payments, profit sharing and help with buying a home. This is known as the ‘Cleveland model’ and cities around the world are looking to it as an alternative, such as Preston in Lancashire.  

These examples from around the world can be a great source of inspiration for newly elected metro mayors in England. And they have informed the TUC’s work on regional industrial strategy – which you can read about in more detail in relation to Liverpool, Tees Valley, and Norfolk and Suffolk.

On 23 October 2017, The TUC will be launching its new report ‘Great Jobs in Great Places: New approaches to regional industrial strategy’. It learns from best practice across the globe and makes a series of recommendations to both central and local governments.

Register for the event here.