Category Archives: Workers’ rights

Tory manifesto like Emmenthal – more holes than cheese

Tory policy over the last 3 years has been a desperate effort, against all the odds, to introduce a feel-good factor.   The sell-off of housing association homes, the hotspot in the Tory manifesto, was the latest attempt, seeking to regain the momentum of Thatcher’s Right to Buy when now the crisis in housing is not about ownership but about lack of house-building.    Another piece of chutzpah was Cameron’s seeking to rebrand the Nasty Party as the party of ‘working people’ whilst at the same time virtually prohibiting the capacity of trade unions to defend the living standards of their members by introducing a 50% minimum turnout threshold for strike ballots, a restriction imposed nowhere else in the world.   Then he announced that workers on the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour would pay no income tax, provided they worked less than 30 hours a week, whilst ignoring that they have been hit hard by higher VAT and tax credit cuts, let alone the huge £12bn welfare cuts still to come which are bound to hit low-paid workers because more than half of all households in poverty have a member in work.
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Another hit for low-paid workers, one of the hidden benefit cuts making up Osborne’s £12bn, now revealed

Following my post on the further £12bn welfare cuts promised by Osborne if the Tories win, I received an email from one of those persons who read it, Sue Tuke, with some devastating new revelations about how the proposed cuts to Universal Credit when self-employed claimants miss their monthly targets will likely be part of the hidden benefit cuts not yet announced.   She said she felt strongly that people should be warned about this, and I agree.   I am therefore setting out what she, and I, believe is likely to happen, and I am indebted to her for bringing this to my attention.   In effect the Tories are playing the same trick that they used before when they ended Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replaced it by Personal Independence Payments (PIP): they didn’t dare abolish DLA outright, which was their preferred option, so they introduced an alternative benefit (PIP) subject to stricter conditions, reduced coverage, and at a lower rate.   Now they’re using the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) to do the same thing again: make big cutbacks in Tax Credits which they would prefer to get rid of, but can’t immediately.
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Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed

No section of the population has suffered worse abuses from the government over the last 5 years than disabled people – those who are least able to bear it.   They are subject to assessments about their capability to work, enforced by Atos at the behest of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which in thousands of cases grotesquely ignore the patent inability of many severely disabled people who cannot conceivably find work in their current circumstances.

They can then be deprived of all benefit income for at least 4 weeks (and for 3 months the second time round) and thus made destitute if they have been late for appointments or are considered by Atos/DWP not to be making enough job searches or for what are clearly trivial infringements of draconian DWP rules.   In many such cases  claimants do not understand why they’ve been penalised.   If as a result of being deprived of all income they experience severe financial hardship, to the extent of being unable to feed themselves or their families or to pay the rent, they then claim hardship payments, they are told in all but a very few cases that they don’t qualify.   So what should be done?
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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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How far did blacklisting extend outside construction?

It was originally assumed that blacklisting was a secret tool used by construction companies – Balfour Beatty, Costain, McAlpine, Skanska, Carillion, Kier and over 30  others – to keep out people they didn’t want.   To achieve this the euphemistically named Consulting Association over 16 years (1993-2009) complied a database on thousands of construction workers who were denied a job if it was reported that they were trade union activists or had expressed concern about health and safety standards or had simply been the victims of derogatory gossip, thus destroying their livelihood for sometimes 30 or more years for reasons kept secret for the worker himself.   This scandal may finally be exposed in the High Court this year, though nearly half of the 3,213 persons with Consulting Association files on them have still not yet been traced.   But the latest evidence now emerging indicates two other sinister trends: the extensive involvement of the police and security services and the inclusion on the blacklists of several persons in public life who have had no connection whatever with the construction industry.
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Whistleblowers tell us more about the bad underside of the State than Parliaments ever do

Whistle-blowers are worth their weight in gold, though governments certainly don’t think so.   Some of the most important things we’ve learnt about the nature of the societies we live in have come exclusively from whistle-blowers, without whose help the democratic holding of governments to account in critical areas of policy would have been impossible.   The Wikileaks release of classified diplomatic and military data, mass surveillance of Western populations, systemic tax evasion via establishment banks, the MPs’ expenses scam, and now the leaking of hundreds of dossiers and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – let alone dozens of smaller leaks by principled individuals scandalised by the behaviour of superiors – have all exposed a shocking misconduct by State institutions which would have gone unaddressed but for the bravery of a few honest persons who are then rewarded for their pains by being hounded out of a job, threatened, and even prosecuted.
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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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The on-demand economy is an even greater threat than zero hours contracts

Much of the debate about the fast-growing on-demand economy has centred around Uber.   Uber drivers get paid only when they work and are responsible for their own pensions and health care.   Risks borne by companies are being pushed back on to individuals, and this has huge implications for the organisation of work, the potential insecurity for workers, and the nature of the social contract in a capitalist society.   Like many innovations, the on-demand economy began in the US, but the concept of connecting people with freelances is growing prodigiously.   Uber, founded in San Francisco in 2009, now operates in 53 countries, had sales last year exceeding $1bn, and now has a valuation of $40bn.   Altogether some 53 million US workers, a quarter of the labour force, already work as freelances.
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The scandal over City Link shows private equity at its worst

Jon Moulton, long-time Tory party donor till 2012 when he absconded to UKIP, owner of the private equity company Better Capital (sic!) that controls City Link, perfectly portrays how capitalists like him, when the going gets rough, abandon all sense of responsibility towards the 2,760 workers losing their jobs because of his managerial incompetence, transfer even basic redundancy rights to be managed and funded by the taxpayers, and used a secured loan as investment to ensure that if the company collapsed he would rank ahead of staff when the proceeds from the liquidation came to be distributed.   As a result he now expects to screw off £20m from the liquidation whilst leaving nearly 3,000 workers high and dry.   This is a modern form of private equity asset-stripping.
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