Posts Tagged ‘strikes’

Tristram Hunt is losing teachers’ votes

26/11/2014, 02:32:25 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

In a recent Labour List poll, Tristram Hunt was voted the least popular shadow cabinet member. Other than himself and Ed Balls, all other shadow cabinet members were gifted a positive rating. Dr Hunt’s rating was the only one in negative double figures.

David Cameron moved Michael Gove out of the Education portfolio to protect the Tories approaching an election year. Since then, Nicky Morgan has done all that she can to placate teachers on the verge of further strikes by asking Ofsted to release clear expectations on workload. The Tories have also shifted education debate on to the only thing that they can win on, fear of Islamic extremism.

Teachers are unlikely to flock to the Conservatives at the general election, but parents might. Parents should be angry that their children have been used by Gove as guinea pigs in untested curriculum experiments and have had their futures pulled from under them by shifting goal posts. They should be concerned that 10 years of movement towards an education of inclusion is being abandoned for tighter definitions of special needs and rigorous and inflexible examinations.

But they aren’t because there is silence from the opposition. From a parental perspective, Hunt is nowhere. He has made one statement about curriculum changes, that being that the AS Levels alterations are ‘confusing’. Other than that he has attempted to position himself next to the Conservatives on family values in schools and battling extremism. Both territories that Labour are not perceived as strong on with undecided voters and that the Labour grassroots will feel uncomfortable with.

And when it comes to teachers, Labour really are in trouble. Strike action has been gaining less and less traction with NUT and NASWUT members who are increasingly concerned that unions are losing parents and alienating staff from school leaders. An appetite for further strikes has been lost by the utter contempt displayed by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and the deafening silence from anyone on the Labour front benches.


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In bashing trade unions, the Tories are looking a gift horse in the mouth

10/07/2014, 01:54:18 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As part of his efforts in opposition to detoxify the Tories’ brand, David Cameron appointed a turncoat former Labour MEP, Richard Balfe, to build bridges with the trade union movement. There was even feverish talk of a “Clause Four moment” with the hope that Cameron might address the annual conference of the TUC – the only Tory leader in 144 to do so.

It never came to pass and Balfe is long forgotten; but in government, Cameron has pretty much left alone the settlement bequeathed by Labour. There is no love for trade unions, but there has been no return to the malicious nonsense of the 1980s, when trade unionists were dismissed as “the enemy within” and staff at GCHQ were banned from even joining a union.

However, writing in today’s Daily Express, Tory Party Chairman, Grant Schapps, retreats to old habits, scolding “trade union barons” for using today’s one-day stoppage to “disrupt families and schools whenever and wherever they feel like it.” And in a bid to throw red meat to his core vote, Cameron is now floating the idea of applying turnout thresholds to trade union strike ballots.

If fewer than half of union members vote to strike, then it cannot go ahead. To be sure, this is generated by regular RMT action on London Underground which invariably sees a relatively low turnout in strike ballots. (Boris Johnson, in particular, has been rattling his sabre on this issue for ages).

Of course, the double standard – hypocrisy – of a coalition government admonishing trade unions for not achieving a 50 per cent threshold for industrial action, is obvious enough. (For that matter, hardly a single councillor in the UK would be able to take up their seat).


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The Labour leadership’s reaction to Thursday’s strike action is incoherent

08/07/2014, 10:14:26 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Can you hear it? Those creaks and squeaks disrupting the heavy, doleful silence. That’s the sound of people squirming,  uncomfortably in their chairs. And its emanating from the upper echelons of the Labour party.

The cause is what’s happening on Thursday: industrial action on a scale rarely seen. Heallth workers, teachers, local government employees, fire fighters, university staff, civil servants and rail workers are among the groups that will strike.

Their reasons are understandable: real terms pay cuts, deteriorating pensions provision and redundancies. If the unions didn’t strike in these circumstances, there really would be little point to them. They are accountable to their members and their members are mad as hell.

What is less understandable is the reaction of the Labour leadership. There seems to be no collective line to take.

Tristram Hunt was on Marr on Sunday giving his particular rendition of the Sound of Silence. He neither opposed nor supported the teachers’ strike action, casting himself as a rather odd, impotent observer of events. Certainly for someone who aspires to be the secretary of state for education.

Then there was Owen Smith yesterday on the Daily Politics, initially trying to stick to the no-line-to-take-line-to-take but finding himself compelled, by the pressure of his own logic, to back the strikes as the interview unfolded.

In the 44 press releases issued by the Labour party over the past week, not one has addressed Thursday’s action and given an official Labour line.


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Thursday News Review

30/06/2011, 05:53:38 AM

Strike day

Thousands of furious workers are staging a mass walkout today to fight Government plans to savage their pensions. The strikes by around 750,000 teachers and civil servants will be the biggest day of industrial action since Margaret Thatcher was PM in the 1980s. Hard-pressed staff have already been hit by savage Coalition cutbacks and are incensed over proposals to hammer their pensions. Thousands of schools in England and Wales will be closed today while ports and airports will be disrupted. Driving centres, courts, job centres and even Downing Street will also be affected. Last night Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Government was morally responsible for the strikes because it was trying to steamroller through unfair changes to pensions and had failed to negotiate. She added: “Deciding to strike is not a decision we take lightly. This is the first time ATL members will be involved in a national strike in our 127 years. – Daily Mirror

The coalition government faces the first industrial uprising against its austerity measures today as up to 750,000 public servants strike over planned changes to their pensions. A third of schools are expected to close and two-thirds of universities have cancelled lectures. Benefits will go unpaid, court cases will be postponed, police leave has been cancelled in London and airports are bracing themselves for backlogs at immigration. Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, said it was the most important strike in his union’s history. “Everything we have ever worked for is under attack,” he added. The government was trying to avoid inflaming the situation. David Cameron told the Commons: “What we are proposing is fair: it is fair to taxpayers but it is also fair to the public sector because we want to continue strong public sector pensions.” He said Labour was avoiding the issue, accusing the party of being “paid for by the unions [so] they can’t discuss the unions”. None of the four striking unions, with members in schools, colleges, universities and the civil service, is affiliated to the Labour party. Nearly every other union is poised to move towards strike action by the end of the year if the bitter standoff over public sector pension reforms is not resolved. Roads in central London will shut as thousands of people march in demonstrations that will be echoed across the country. Police leave has been cancelled so officers can cover for striking police community support officers, call handlers on the 999 lines and security staff. – the Guardian

As many as 750,000 teachers and civil servants are expected to join today’s strikes. Millions of others face severe inconvenience or financial loss: from parents who stay at home because their children’s schools are closed to people wanting to enter or leave the country. It should be stressed that not all public-sector staff will be striking. Many NHS staff, transport workers and others are not involved, although their unions do not exclude action in future. This is nothing like a general strike, nor even a strike by the whole public sector – though there are those on both sides of the public-private divide with an interest in presenting it as such. There is no doubt that many public sector workers are angry, frustrated and disillusioned on the very specific issue that is the focus of today’s protest: moves by the Government to change the terms and conditions of public-service pensions. And they are not completely wrong when they argue that long-standing terms of employment are threatened or that pensions have been a plus for the public sector in recruiting and keeping staff. But these arguments ignore the bigger picture. In pension provision, Britain is rapidly becoming two nations. One nation can look forward to a pension which, while not necessarily qualifying for the description “gold-plated”, is secure and bears a predictable relation to salary and years of service. The other nation – which comprises the vast majority of the working population – increasingly cannot. In most private companies, secure final-salary schemes are a thing of the past. Contributions are higher, the returns mostly lower, and the pensionable age higher than in the public sector – if there is a pension scheme at all. – the Independent

Prezza hits the campaign trail as election day looms

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott put tackling unemployment at the top of the agenda as he joined Labour’s Inverclyde by-election candidate on the campaign trail on Wednesday. Speaking just hours before the polls open, Mr Prescott said Iain McKenzie’s message was “jobs, jobs, jobs”. He added: “I am delighted to be out and about in Inverclyde today supporting Iain McKenzie to be a strong, local voice in Westminster. He’s a local man who knows this area like the back of his hand. Iain didn’t just arrive in Inverclyde for the by-election. It’s about jobs, jobs, jobs. Unemployment here is too high. The Tories are ruining the economy, punishing families and hurting decent people just looking for work. Inverclyde needs a local champion to go down to Westminster and fight the corner. That’s why I’m here to back Iain.” –

Voters in Inverclyde go to the polls later to elect a new member of the UK Parliament. Polling stations in the constituency will be open from 0700 BST until 2200 BST. Labour is defending a 14,416-vote majority in the Westminster seat, also being contested by the SNP, Tories, Lib Dems, and UKIP. The by-election is being held to find a replacement for David Cairns, who died from acute pancreatitis in May. Sophie Bridger is standing for the Liberal Democrats, Iain McKenzie for Labour, Anne McLaughlin for SNP, Mitch Sorbie for the UK Independence Party and David Wilson for the Conservatives. – BBC News

EU budget grab

David Cameron is facing pressure to veto the latest ‘ludicrous’ cash demand from Brussels after it  announced plans to slap three new taxes on Britain. The European Commission yesterday revealed budget demands which would cost UK taxpayers £10billion. In what Treasury officials viewed as one of the most outrageous power grabs in recent memory, they demanded the right to raise a Europe-wide sales tax. Brussels bosses also called for a new financial transaction tax, which critics say will hurt the City of London and leave consumers with higher borrowing costs.  And they unveiled plans to let Brussels grab a chunk of green taxes which are already being levied on polluters. In total, the commission demanded nearly £100billion extra for the EU’s budget between 2014 and 2020. British taxpayers would have to pay £10billion more over the seven-year period – an increase of £1.4billion a year on the current British annual payment of £13.3billion. – Daily Mail

Which one are you again?

One in four people thinks Ed Miliband is his elder brother David. A similar proportion of voters believe that David is actually Ed. Nine months into his leadership of the Labour Party, the findings of the ComRes survey for The Independent do not paint a flattering picture for Ed Miliband, as he steps up his efforts to convince the people that he is a prime minister-in-waiting. Other members of his Shadow Cabinet are even more anonymous. The only good news is for Ed Balls, the combative shadow chancellor who stood against the Milibands for the Labour leadership last year, and who appears to have made more of an impact on the electorate than the two brothers. He was correctly identified by 68 per cent of the 2,000 voters who were shown photographs of eight senior Labour figures and asked to put one of five names to their face. Ed Miliband was named accurately by 64 per cent of those questioned but 23 per cent thought he was his brother David. David was identified by 61 per cent but 26 per cent thought he was his brother. The other five Shadow Cabinet figures tested by ComRes were recognised by only three or four in 10 voters, suggesting that the Opposition team is struggling to be noticed and many Shadow Cabinet members remain in the shadows. – the Independent

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Commons sketch: PMQs

29/06/2011, 01:15:07 PM

by Dan Hodges

Strikes. Splits in the shadow cabinet over the response to strikes. Anger from the unions at Ed Miliband’s response to the strikes.

Welcome to leader of the opposition’s question time.

David Cameron, helpfully, offered to field some of the questions on Ed Miliband’s behalf. What message, Karen Lumley from Redditch asked, should be sent to the teachers in her constituency who weren’t going on strike. ‘Scabs!’ screamed the prime minister. Actually, he didn’t. ‘I would congratulate them on doing the right thing and keeping their school open’, he said.

Ed Miliband stood up confidently. He knew how to play this game. Week after week he fired questions pointlessly across the dispatch box. Week after week David Cameron refused to answer them.

He wasn’t going to be talking about strikes. He was going to be talking about the issues that really mattered to people. Like how many people under the height of 5 ft 6 were employed in the NHS. Or something like that.

David Cameron looked weary. Of course he didn’t know the answer to that. That was a question on detail. He didn’t do detail. Anyway it wasn’t his job to answer the questions today.

No problem said Ed Miliband. ‘Let me give him the answer to the question’. This was fun. Ed Miliband question time. He asked the questions. He answered the questions. Perhaps if he could catch John Bercow’s eye he’d let him have a go at being Speaker as well; ‘Order! Will the leader of the opposition stop interrupting the leader of the opposition. Let the leader of the opposition speak’.

By now David Cameron was becoming frustrated at Ed Miliband’s evasiveness. Mainly because he was actually proving quite good at it. ‘What the whole country will have noticed’, the prime minister taunted, ‘is that at a time when people are worried about strikes he can’t ask about strikes because he’s in the pockets of the unions’.

Ed Miliband rolled his eyes. Dear oh dear. Was this the best the prime minister could do?

Apparently it was. ‘He can’t talk about the economy, because of his ludicrous plan for tax cuts’, shouted Cameron. There was another first, a Tory prime minister attacking a Labour leader for cutting taxes because he was in hock to militant trade unionists.

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t possibly get any more surreal, up popped someone called Guto Beeb. ‘Would the prime minister agree’, asked the Conservative member for Aberconwy, ‘that Aneurin Bevan would be turning in his grave as he sees a Conservative secretary of state increasing spending on health in England whilst a Labour government in Cardiff cuts spending on NHS’.

He’d love to. But first he had to check with the chair. Was it in order, he asked, ‘to talk about Labour’s record in Wales?’.

On the other side Ed Miliband sat serenely. If the prime minister fancied answering questions about Labour policy he was welcome to.

Leader of the opposition’s question time was proving quite fun. A chap could get quite used to this.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Wednesday News Review

29/06/2011, 05:12:23 AM

Spoiling for a fight

David Cameron was accused yesterday of deliberately stoking up tensions ahead of tomorrow’s mass walkout by teachers and civil servants. Labour said Tory Cabinet ministers were spoiling for a fight with the unions so they could rerun the battles of the 1980s. The accusation came after ministers broke off talks on Monday and refused to enter into last-minute negotiations with union bosses. Up to 750,000 teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other public sector workers are expected to walk out in the largest day of strike action since the 1980s. It is thought that more than 3,000 schools in England and Wales will be closed and a further 2,000 partially shut, with a million pupils affected. Hundreds of job centres, tax offices and courts are set to be closed or badly disrupted by the strike over pensions. Driving tests will be cancelled and customs checks will be affected at ports. But instead of trying to resolve the dispute, Mr Cameron outraged unions with an inflammatory speech yesterday, attacking strikers and insisting his public sector pension raid would go ahead as planned. – Daily Mirror

Passengers are being warned to avoid flying tomorrow as airports are dragged into the strike disruption over public sector pension reforms. The walkout is also set to hit four out of five schools, affecting seven million children, as union members defy calls from David Cameron to call off the industrial action. The Prime Minister yesterday told public sector workers strikes were ‘wrong’ at a time when discussions were ongoing, pointing out that their retirement funds are costing every household in the country £1,000 a year and must be reformed. Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are due to desert their posts at air terminals, threatening massive queues at passport control. Airport operator BAA which is responsible for Heathrow, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, said: ‘Certainly there will be queues at immigration, there’s no doubt of that.’ A BAA spokesman said the strike would affect only arrivals, as checks for departing passengers were carried out by BAA staff, rather than the UKBA. However, passengers transferring  flights in the UK are expected to  have problems. The PCS union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka said attempts to train UKBA managers to take the place of passport-checkers would not prevent delays, adding: ‘It is likely that there will be severe disruptions and delays affecting both ports and airports. – Daily Mail

C’mon back us Ed

Tomorrow’s strikes will nail one poisonous myth: public servants do worthless jobs. Many ConDems, plus a few foolish Labour figures who should know better, demonise staff on the state payroll. Shut schools and closed courts will prove how much we depend on them. If as few employees back action as Cabinet minister Francis Maude argues, he’s got nothing to worry about. Nobody’s forced to strike and the closed shop was ­abolished years ago. But Maude’s jumpy because he fears the public could turn on the Tories if strikes spread. Ed Miliband’s terror of a Tory “Red Ed” tag triggered an ill-judged union denunciation by the Labour leader. At one point I feared Scared Ed might offer to join Michael Gove’s gimmicky Mum’s Army. Miliband should note the poll showing a majority think the pension strikes are legitimate. Appeasing Right-wingers who’ll devour him at their convenience, is a risky strategy. Because when Mili’s feckless friends turn, he might find old mates scarpered earlier. – Daily Mirror

Hypocrisy of the highest order

Campaigners say it is “unacceptable” that an MP who has campaigned for the living wage is recruiting an unpaid worker for her House of Commons office. Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham, is seeking a “voluntary Westminster worker” for duties including policy research and dealing with constituents. Ms Brown said she “would like to pay everyone” in her office, but “did not have the resources to do so”. The Labour Party said staffing decisions were a matter for individual MPs. Ms Brown’s official website states: “Since her election in 2005, Lyn has campaigned tirelessly for a living wage for all.” The living wage is an hourly salary rate – higher than the minimum wage – that campaigners say is necessary to allow a family to meet their basic needs. In London – including Ms Brown’s constituency – it is currently £8.30. – BBC News

A labour MP who has campaigned against low wages was yesterday branded a hypocrite after advertising for an unpaid researcher. Lyn Brown is seeking a “voluntary Westminster worker” to help with constituency and research duties. The West Ham MP has been at the forefront of a campaign for a living wage of £8.30 an hour for workers in London. Her website states: “Lyn has campaigned tirelessly for a living wage for all.” Gus Baker, from campaign group Intern Aware, said: “This is a double hypocrisy. How would someone from a low-income background take that opportunity? It is manifestly unfair.” Ms Brown said: “I would like to pay everyone who volunteers for me and who is ultimately seeking a wage. The reality is that I do not have the resources.” – Daily Mirror

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Monday News Review

27/06/2011, 06:33:48 AM

Tory tragedy

Christopher Shale, David Cameron‘s constituency chairman, was warned by Downing Street officials that a sensitive memo written by him had been leaked to a Sunday newspaper shortly before he died at the Glastonbury festival. The prime minister said that he was “devastated” by the news that Shale, aged 56, had been found dead in a portable toilet at the festival, after apparently suffering from a heart attack. Early rumours that he may have committed suicide were rejected by police. It has emerged that two Downing Street officials tried to reach Shale around lunchtime on Saturday to warn him about the note, in which he described parts of his local party as crass and grasping and said that it offered people no reason to join, had been passed to the Mail on Sunday. One official contacted him by text just after 12.30pm to advise him not to speak to reporters; another suggested he get in touch with Conservative headquarters. Shale subsequently contacted the Witney constituency agent Barry Norton, a West Oxfordshire councillor, who said that Shale had been aware of the Mail article but was “quite confident that this was not really an issue”. – the Guardian

That politics is a tough game is a much-used cliche, but it’s true. Like Harold Wilson’s phrase about a week being a long time in politics or Enoch Powell’s observation that all political careers end in failure, the old saying is accurate. The riddle of the untimely death in a Glastonbury VIP toilet of Cameron’s right-hand man, Christopher Shale, is a moment to reflect on the ­pressures of political life. Avon and Somerset Police are investigating and an inquest could be held. Conspiracy theorists have jumped to ­conclusions and will refuse to budge, as they did with Iraq weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. Mr Shale’s death is first and foremost a tragedy for his family. So out of respect to them we should avoid instant verdicts, although police suspect a heart attack. A senior figure in any ­political party would feel under pressure should a damning private assessment receive a public airing. That Mr Shale died after Downing Street rang him may well prove a coincidence, the call and his death hours later two unconnected events. Mr Shale’s conclusions – Tories come across as graceless and always on the take – were uncontroversial to anyone who sees the modern Conservatives up close. What made them controversial was his position as a ­prominent Tory in the PM’s backyard – a close friend. Did telling the truth have tragic consequences for a respected local politician? – Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror

Trade over rights as Wen Jiabao visits number 10

Mr Wen, who is on a three-day visit to the UK, has already said he wants to welcome more UK products to China. On Sunday he visited the Longbridge MG car plant, where he faced a small human rights protest. Downing Street said there was potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British businesses. The two leaders are expected to sign an agreement to help UK companies work with China’s regional cities, in architecture, civil engineering and research and development. British poultry farmers are being allowed to export to China and the visit is expected to see agreements reached for the supply of pigs. Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague are due to join Mr Cameron for the talks and Mr Wen is accompanied by other senior members of the Chinese government. They are also likely to discuss improving cultural and educational relationships between China and the UK and global issues such as international security and climate change. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “China’s rapid economic rise is good news for the UK. It means more money flowing into our economies and has the potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British business at home and in China.” – BBC News

Whitehall officials are firmly focused on improving Britain’s trade links with China as Wen Jiabao visits London – to the frustration of human rights campaigners. The Chinese premier and other senior officials are meeting David Cameron and other coalition figures in a summit this morning, as British officials seek to further their goal of securing $100 billion of bilateral trade with China by 2015. Deals worth over £1 billion are expected to be signed later, following up the $1.2 billion Rolls-Royce deal made when a UK delegation led by Mr Cameron visited China last November. The UK will raise human rights issues, but is not prepared to compromise its trade interests by souring relations with Beijing. “Our support for freedom of expression, development of independent civil society and our conviction that the transparent and consistent application of human rights under the rule of law, are essential prerequisites for China’s long term prosperity and stability,” No 10 said. China has released artist Ai Weiwei and dissident Hu Jia in the last eight days, but a strong police presence outside the latter’s home has kept journalists away from his home. –

The talks before the strike

Crucial talks aimed at averting autumn strikes will be held today between the Government and unions – with one official admitting the negotiations are “fraught with difficulties”. The meeting follows weeks of an increasingly bitter war of words over pay and pensions reform and ahead of Thursday’s industrial action involving 750,000 public sector workers. Unison leader Dave Prentis has already warned that his union will ballot over a million workers for industrial action if the dispute is not resolved. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, sparked anger earlier this month when he made it clear the Government would press ahead with plans for public sector workers to pay more into pensions and work longer. We have rigorous contingency plans in place to ensure that essential services are maintained during the strike action on Thursday. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “What we are looking for is some sign that the Government is prepared to move on the three central issues – paying more, working longer and getting less.” The Government has based its proposals on a report earlier this year by former Labour minister Lord Hutton, which recommended increased payments, a switch from final salary schemes to those based on career-average earnings, and rises in the pension age. But in a speech last week, Lord Hutton warned that people could be forced out of pension schemes if government reforms were too punitive. – Sky News

This week the Coalition government faces its first great trial of strength with the unions as about 750,000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants prepare to walk out over reforms to public pensions. No one can describe the forthcoming battle as unexpected. David Cameron may not espouse the same shrilly ideological grudge against unions in principle that Margaret Thatcher appeared to evince in the 1980s. But the whole thrust of Mr Cameron’s and George Osborne’s agenda, which strives towards a grand rebalancing of the economy, away from the public sector and towards private enterprise and the voluntary sector, necessarily implies a clash with the unions. When the Government talks of “the country” bearing the weight of cuts in spending, this is shorthand for cuts to the numbers, wages and pensions of civil servants. So, neither side is sleepwalking into combat; it was a question of where and when. Each side is banking on public support swinging gradually if not immediately behind it. The unions hope that this week’s industrial action will be start of rolling strikes that gather strength as summer shades into autumn, tapping into a deep vein of public discontent with the handling of the economy that has hitherto struggled to find expression. With any luck, they may calculate, the strikes will expose new strains in the Coalition, adding to the unhappiness already felt by many Liberal Democrats with Government policies and so precipitating the collapse of the Coalition. – the Independent

Hain hails to the chief

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain yesterday said Labour is on course for the biggest changes in “living memory” as the party prepares for major reforms. UK leader Ed Miliband pressed for sweeping changes when he addressed the National Policy Forum in North Wales on Saturday and called for the creation of a mass “movement”. Mr Hain, who has chaired the National Policy Forum, said: “What we are embarking on here is a really serious transformation of a political party , the biggest one undertaken in living memory, because politics has changed and we are a party – like the others are – that is stuck in the past.” A key proposal is to throw open annual conferences to non-affiliated charities and community organisations in an attempt to build a wider movement. Support for reform also came from former prime minister Tony Blair. He said: “Parties that succeed do so by constantly modernising.” – Western Mail

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We must make sure the country is with us on the union fightback, says Ruth Smeeth

14/09/2010, 05:19:39 PM

For the 18 years of the last Tory government, the trade union movement faced attacks on its legitimacy, relevance and role in society.  Most of these attacks were based either on ignorance of the role that unions play, or outright hostility to the position of organised labour in the UK.  So when we finally beat the Tories in 1997, we faced a mixture of hope and optimism as activists in the labour movement.

From 1997  unions had a clear role in both the British political establishment and the workplace.  Amongst other things, they secured the adoption of the European Social Chapter, re-instatement of the GCHQ workers, legal rights to join trade unions, the adoption of a maximum working week and new legislation for agency & temporary workers.  These incredible achievements were hard fought and necessary for the development of the kind of society that all in the labour movement both want and require.

The 13 years since 1997 should, however, have been about more than just securing changes to employment and health and safety laws in the UK.  They should have also been a period of reflection for the trade union movement.  Our leaders should have been working together to ensure that whilst the going was good under a Labour government, they prepared for the future should the situation change.


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