Category Archives: Trade Unions

Tory trade union bill is spiteful, ideologically-driven & irrelevant

The Tories’ trade union bill, which had its second reading today in the Commons, is a bill of naked discrimination against the trade unions designed to severely cut funding for the Labour Party to try to entrench the Tories in power, as well as to make it virtually impossible to strike in certain industrial sectors.   However it’s worth quoting the two main purposes of the bill which the government itself pretends are its motives.   The first is: “to pursue our ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030”.   That is beyond satire.   The truth is that 7 years after the Great Crash averages wages are still 6% below pre-crash levels, productivity is flat, the FTSE-100 companies are not investing, and household debt is tipping £2 trillions.  The idea that after this bill we’re going to overtake the US and Germany within 15 years after a record like that is daft.

The government’s second reason for this bill is “to ensure hard-working people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action”.   The truth is, the number of days lost to strike action now is on average less than one-tenth of what it was during the 1980s.   Of far greater impact on the economy is the UK’s chronic under-investment in skills – something the unions themselves want to work with the government to fix.   The bill, while obnoxious, is irrelevant to Britain’s real problems.

The tube workers aside, only the teachers and firefighters have caused any real national concern since 2010, and even then they usually did so for just a day at a time.   And frankly, even the RMT’s resistance against plans to keep the Underground running all night isn’t that unreasonable.   Night shifts are unsociable, unhealthy and potentially dangerous where they lead to over-tiredness.   And it’s worth noting that private sector workers were responsible for more stoppages in 2013 than those working in the public sector.

But the central point here is that the government seems to believe that whenever a strike occurs, it’s always the fault of the workers irrespective of what the employer does.   The majority of employers may well be decent or reasonable, but there’s still a distinct minority who are intransigent or behave badly.   The last thing that workers want to do is go on strike, but when they have genuine, reasonable and pressing demands over such essential issues as job losses, safety problems and pay, and those demands are swept aside often with little or no negotiations, they have no alternative but to take industrial action, and then to pillory and penalise them rather than bad management, as the Tories and the Tory press automatically do, is utterly wrong and unfair.

The worst feature of the bill is making it almost impossible to take industrial action even in such conditions.   If for example 1,000 members are entitled to vote, the bill would require 400 members to vote in favour, but if the ballot achieved a 50% turnout, then it would require the sup[port of no less than 80% of those voting members.   That is frankly prohibitive, as it is intended to be.

The hypocrisy of the Tories as the workers’ party: making it impossible to strike

Strike action, fox hunting, the BBC, Europe, migrant benefits – never underestimate the Tory capacity to identify things that aren’t problems and then attack them.   The number of days lost to strike action is on average less than a tenth of what it was during the 1980s.   It’s not even as though strikes are constant – and certainly workers themselves are reluctant to strike because they themselves suffer the most – or have an enormous impact on productivity nowadays.   Of far greater impact is the UK’s under-investment in skills, which is something that unions want to work with the government to fix.   But the government’s latest proposals will upset the balance between employers and workers, tilting it much too far in employers’ favour and many of the proposals will make it far harder to resolve disputes fairly.   Yet good employers know that the best way to resolve problems at work is to sit down with workers and talk it through, trying to find a compromise, rather than using statutory power to ride roughshod over workers’ rights to impose authority by default.

Notoriously the bill introduces a 50% turnout ballot threshold in a strike ballot, but it also requires in the case of public services 40% support from all those eligible to vote which is a benchmark required nowhere else in any section of British society – certainly not in the election of the MPs who will be voting for it.   In addition workers will have to give an employer 14 days notice of strike action, and this is more than enough for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike, even though these workers may be inexperienced and not properly trained, but expected to cover important roles dealing with the public at short notice.   This blatant one-sided approach is guaranteed to poison the relationship between workers and their managers.

The proposal on opting into the political fund is also wholly one-sided.   It is clearly designed to throttle Labour funding and to make the Labour party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funds that they have relied on since the 1930s.   It is clearly also aimed at undermining political campaigning by unions on behalf of their members and communities.   It sticks out like a sore thumb however that there are no proposals to force companies to ballot shareholders or place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory party.

The Tory proposals may also criminalise peaceful picketing such as when a seventh person joins a picket line.   Is this really how we want to use police time – arresting the seventh nurse on the picket line outside the hospital where they work?   If the Tories were really concerned about improving workplace democracy, they’d commit to on-line balloting, an easy and secure way of letting workers have their say.   But they’re not, and it exposes what an utter sham it is for the Tories to claim to be anything remotely like a workers’ party.

Labour leadership contestants need to break out of Tory cage

What is so disappointing (so far) about the Labour leadership contest is the failure to edge the party to any significant degree away from a look-alike Tory posture.   Osborne launches the biggest cuts programme of the last century, and we are told that if we wish to be taken seriously we must be as fiscally conservative as the government.   Osborne preens himself with running the economy on a permanent surplus, and Labour, not to be outdone, endorses the idea, absurd and unworkable as it is.   The Tories taunt Labour for being on the side of shirkers against strivers – a ridiculous claim when Osborne has just impoverished millions of workers in poverty by severe cutbacks in working tax credits – but Labour, for fear of being lampooned by the Mail for being soft on ‘lifestyle’ benefit recipients, lamely echoes its support for tightening the benefit cap.   When is Labour going to stand up and assert what it really believes in?
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Are the IPPC and the DPP fit for purpose?

Accountability in Britain has reached a new nadir today.   The report that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) refuses to investigate claims of police criminality at the mass picket at Orgreave during the 1984-5 miners’ strike really stinks.   They have already found evidence that police officers assaulted miners and then perverted the course of justice, committing perjury in later prosecutions which still failed.   Even senior officers of the South Yorkshire police admit the perjury, but did not want it made public – who are they to block the course of justice?   The IPCC in their report today try to dump blame on them for being complicit – so why is the IPCC now seeking to withdraw from the case?
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Tory Trade Union bill is an attack on a fundamental human right

Under the Tories’ proposed new law, strike ballots would need a 50% turnout for industrial action to be legal.   But in the case of ‘essential’ public services – health, education, transport and fire services – 40% of those voting have to have voted in favour.   In other words, 80% which is the combination of the general turnout proposal and the new 40% yes vote must have voted in favour.   That would make almost all strikes illegal, particularly in large and dispersed workforces where postal ballots rarely achieve this.   This is a blatant attack on the rightful role of trade unions in being able to protect their members against exploitation at work – several recent polls have consistently found that more than 70% of the public believe unions are ‘essential to protect workers’ interests’.
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NHS charges are certain if Tories win election

The BMA rightly raises the spectre of the NHS being subject to charges for medical treatment after the election.   This has become a real threat as a result of Tory policy over the last 5 years – partly from the unprecedented imposition of £20bn cuts amounting to nearly a fifth of the entire NHS budget, and partly as a result from a third or more of hospital trusts now being in deficit and a growing minority being cast into actual bankruptcy.   All three political parties deny they have any such plans, and of course it would be politically suicidal if they did anything else.   But are they all credible?   The Tories have hugely increased charging for social care by imposing 40% cuts in the social care of the elderly and disabled.   They have expanded private dental care to such a degree in cost and coverage that DIY dental first aid kit is now growing fast – one estimate now by DenTek, one of the biggest sellers of kits, claims there are already a quarter of a million users.   And there are other reasons too why charging is very likely to be Tory policy after the election.

The Tories are now deploying the same tactic over the NHS that they’ve already applied over the Welfare State as a whole.   Create a deficit and then argue there’s no alternative but to pay it off either by cutting benefits, reducing services or imposing charges.   It’s no accident the government’s budget deficit has come down at a glacial pace and is still stuck at £92bn.   That suits the Tories very well because it provides the perfect excuse to make further huge cuts, notably the additional £12bn Osborne has promised for the next parliament.   Similarly, they would never dare charging £10 for a visit to the doctor – the most likely first element in a new charging system- if they hadn’t first deliberately generated the huge current NHS deficit by paying for the NHS merely in nominal terms, i.e. without taking account of inflation, let alone the higher than inflation annual costs of a rising elderly population and fast rising drug and medical technology prices.

The Tories have therefore landed a charge bombshell on the NHS.   The forecast £30bn gap in the NHS budget by 2020 is to be filled by £22bn efficiency savings (i.e. cuts) plus £8bn of extra annual funding from the Treasury (i.e. an increase in privatisation and outsourcing).   The real answer to the plight of the NHS is two-fold.   End Osborne’s lethal policy of contracting the economy in favour of steady expansion to generate sustainable growth, real jobs, higher incomes, and increased government tax receipts to pay off the deficit faster.   Second, in that very different context end any further cuts to the NHS and recognise that higher public spending on the NHS is justified when the health service in the UK absorbs only 8% of GDP compared with 10-11% in Germany and France and 17% in the US.

What the 3 main parties aren’t telling you: a radical way out of austerity

On budget day this Wednesday (18th) I and 16 other contributors are launching in the House of Commons our book ‘What the Three Main Parties are not Telling You: A Radical Way out of Stagnation and Inequality’ as a counter-blast to Osborne’s demand for another 5 years of austerity.   Mariana Mazzucato refutes the conventional idea that the role of the State is simply to redress market failures; rather it funds not only the rate of innovation but also generates its direction.   Ha-Joon Chang notes the tide of public opinion is steadily moving against privatisation and in favour of renewed public control, and he cites many international examples to confirm this.

Michael Burke argues that with the continuing strike by private investors and the failure of the banks to lend to industry, public investment is now critically needed to kickstart the economy on the path to sustainable growth (not the temporary uptick now fading which is all that Osborne has conjured up).    David Blanchflower sets out a medium-term plan to cut the deficit and a short-term plan to boost growth driven by tax cuts to firms focused on job creation, especially for the young.   John Mills demonstrates that with the balance of payments deficit spiraling upwards to probably £80bn this year, while net borrowing by consumers is still limited by falling wages and business investment remains flat, the government deficit (the balancing item) can hardly reduce and may well get higher. 
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As Syriza win on anti-austerity platform in Greece, Labour MPs seek change in direction here

As Syriza wins a remarkable victory in Greece on a platform of ending austerity and greater state intervention in the economy, fifteen Labour MPs including myself have today expressed concerns about elements of Labour’s policy agenda, and proposed a change of course in three key areas. We have issued a statement calling for an alternative to austerity, for public ownership of the railways and for a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace.

Jobs and growth are vitally needed rather than prolonged austerity as the best means both to cut the deficit fastest and to give hope to our people. Public ownership is urgently needed to reverse failed privatisations, and the railways should lead the way to a new perspective of the crucial role of the public sector. And an enhanced role for the trade unions is strongly needed both to promote economic partnership in our workplaces and to reverse the extreme inequality now so badly disfiguring our society.
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Osborne’s anti-business jibe is a cover for eliminating all dissent

Osborne’s latest diatribe at an Institute of Directors meeting against the ‘anti-business views’ of charities, pressure groups and trade unions (he would no doubt include the churches too, but daren’t risk publicly attacking them) is yet another sign of this Tory government’s determination to suppress criticism and squeeze out dissent to ensure the paramountcy of the market beyond all other considerations.   He appealed to company bosses to ‘put their head above the parapet’ to argue for ‘a country that is for business, for enterprise, for the free market’ – not for fairness, equal opportunity, public services, accountability of power, or social justice.   Osborne’s sole objective is to consolidate a fundamentalist market system, dominated of course by the extremely narrow elitist group he was addressing, with all other interests marginalized.   It’s the same Tory allergy to criticism that has provoked Grayling’s demand to limit political and civil rights by abandoning the ECHR, Cameron’s demand to restrict strikes to a 50% voting threshold of all those eligible to vote (a requirement that would disqualify all MPs if applied to parliamentary elections), May’s demand to override privacy by snooping on the communications of all citizens, the disgraced Newmark’s insulting demand that charities ‘stick to their knitting’, among many other examples.
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