Posts Tagged ‘Unions’

Don’t fear technology, it could yet set us free – if we get the politics right

18/10/2017, 10:05:50 PM

by Paul Connell

I joined Labour shortly after Thatcher’s election in ‘79 so my political education was in a period dominated by slogans and chants.

‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out!’ That one worked; took 10 years, mind you.

‘The workers united will never be defeated.’ Well , that was also true; we weren’t united and we were defeated.

One I never quite got was ‘fight for the right to work.’ Work seemed an obligation, a duty, something that ate into all the other things you wanted to be doing but necessary simply to pay for all those other things. But a right? Nah.

Some people love working; they can’t wait to get in there. Good for them, but they are, I would suggest, a statistical abnormality. The best most of us can hope for is to enjoy most  of our job, to find it stimulating and challenging, to have decent colleagues and to be paid enough for a reasonable lifestyle with, perhaps, a liveable pension at the end.  At worst a job is drudgery that robs us of the time and energy that we could be using far better elsewhere. Work is, for most, a means to an end.

As driverless vehicles,  artificial intelligence and advanced robotics begin to move into areas of work long considered ‘safe’ from technology,  we are all going to have to consider our relationship to work and, together with the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), replan our work ethic and how the competing rights and duties  of the labour market are managed. Traditional working class jobs in industry and manufacturing have already been exported or mechanised out of existence in the past few generations. As traditionally white-collar, middle-class jobs begin to disappear down the same gaping maw, the casualties can expect the same level of sympathy, protection from market-economics and solidarity that working class communities were accorded in the 80’s and 90’s, bugger all.

Sympathy, and particularly protectionism, is not what’s needed. Solidarity? maybe. We should, together, be grasping this opportunity. Drudgery can, at least partly, be banished. If a machine can do most of the 3 ‘D’s – that which is dull, dirty or dangerous, then let it. What will be left is what is necessary for people to do and what they enjoy doing. A new work ethic is about sharing out and rewarding essential services and purposeful leisure.

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Burnham the healer casts himself as ‘someone people can relate to’

13/05/2015, 10:39:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Andy Burnham has become the third candidate to launch a bid for the Labour leadership in a video message released this evening.

In a noticeably slicker message than the one Chuka Ummuna used to launch his campaign earlier this week, Burnham said last week’s election result had seen Labour lose “its emotional connection with millions of people.”

“The way to get it back,” he said, “can’t possibly be to choose one group of voters over another – to speak only to people on zero-hours contracts or only to shoppers at John Lewis.”

This was a dig at potential rival Tristram Hunt who earlier this week said the party needed to appeal to people who shop at the upmarket retailer.

“Our challenge,” Burnham claimed, “is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour.”

He argued that the party needed to meet “the aspirations of everyone, speaking to them like we did in 1997.”

He defined aspiration – quickly becoming the buzz phrase de jour of this nascent campaign – as “the dream of a better life.”

He added that it was about “helping all of our businesses, small and large, to get on and grow.”

Casting himself as a unifier with broad appeal, Burnham argued that Labour wins “when it speaks to everyone and for the whole country, for Middle England but also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

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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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Party reforms hang in the balance as Collins fails to resolve the big question

05/02/2014, 10:37:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The NEC has spoken. By a vote of 28 to 2 the Collins report was accepted and will now go to the special conference next month. Much of the reception to the report has been warm, and there is much to commend it, but lurking in the detail of the report is an important unanswered question.

There are to be two separate “opt-ins” for individual trade unionists: the first to give permission for political fund contributions to be used by the union in supporting Labour, and the second for the trade unionist to join Labour as an affiliate member.

The latter would give the right to participate in Labour’s leadership election, though not parliamentary selections. Only trade unionists who have agreed to their political fund contributions being used to support Labour can then opt-in to become an affiliate member of the party.

Underpinning both opt-ins is a single requirement: consent. This is where the problem lies.

What constitutes consent should be easily defined. When Ed Miliband started this process last July, he gave a very clear statement,

”Individual Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated.”

To most people, this would mean members of trade unions signing a form to show their choice. In the context of the double opt-in, it would be a form with two boxes to tick – one to say yes to commit political fund contributions to Labour and the other to say yes to join Labour as an affiliate member.

But in the Collins report there is no such definition. Instead, it deliberately avoids clarity.

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TSSA’s merger with Unite off

09/10/2013, 05:41:39 PM

Rumblings from within the union movement  – just four months after the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA) conference in June overwhelmingly backed a merger with Unite, the wedding is officially off.

When contacted by Uncut earlier today, TSSA formally confirmed that talks had ended without agreement. The union executive will meet in a fortnight’s time to consider a detailed report on the matter and it seems some of the findings will be of interest across the union movement.

TSSA insiders have suggested the union walked away following Unite’s refusal to agree to Manuel Cortes, general secretary of TSSA, becoming the head of a new stand alone rail division within Unite.

Although TSSA is a relatively small union with 23,000 members, it is asset rich, with £21m of assets according to the latest set of accounts filed in August this year, making it an extremely attractive merger target.

As a small, and comparatively wealthy union, TSSA officials wanted to ensure that its resources were safeguarded as part of the move into a larger union. Insiders suggest that without the current general secretary, or executive team, taking on a similar role in the new division within Unite, this would have been near impossible.

If it is the case that talks broke down over Unite’s refusal to countenance Manuel Cortes taking a lead role in the running of the new rail division, then several other union general secretaries of smaller unions, currently pondering merger with Unite, will think hard on their next steps. Merger is one thing, total assimilation another.

For TSSA, this is the second engagement to have been broken off. Between 2011 and 2012 the union was in detailed talks with Bob Crow’s RMT about a merger, but discussions broke down over TSSA’s desire to remain affiliated to the Labour party. The RMT were implacably opposed and talks floundered.

For Unite, this represents a set back to their plans to grow through merger. In April this year, in an interview with the New Statesman, Len McCluskey was clear about his approach saying, “I’m open to a merger in principle with every union…that is part of Unite’s strategy for growth.”

In the Labour party, and some of the other big unions, however, there will be quiet relief that the increasing concentration of union power in the hands of Len McCluskey has been halted, for the moment at least.

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Good results for Labour but the UKIP surge augurs ill for Ed

03/05/2013, 09:59:45 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning Ed Miliband will be luxuriating in the breathing space afforded by the local election results. After a torrid couple of weeks where the Westminster narrative has palpably shifted against him, yesterday’s gains will disrupt the flow of negative stories, temporarily at least.

Not only is Labour on track to do well but UKIP – the new ball of wool for the media kitten – has performed sufficiently strongly to occupy days’ more column inches of reflection and dissection.

The Labour leader deserves his moment of respite. Winning lots of new councillors will revitalise local constituency parties up and down the country and help rebuild a Labour campaign machine that rusted and fell apart over thirteen years in power.

But Ed Miliband should be under no illusions: as good as Labour’s results are likely to be when all the results are declared, they will accentuate  the irreconcilable conflict at the heart of his political positioning and no number of smiling photo opportunities with new Labour councillors can avert Labour’s strategic dilemma.

On one side of Ed Miliband is the public. Contrary to the self-affirming assertions within Labour’s online echo chamber of activists and wannabe MPs that the centre ground of British politics is moving left, yesterday’s elections demonstrate something very different.

Whatever is said about UKIP, one thing is clear: disillusioned voters using it as a vehicle for protest are not headed left. There are plenty of left wing options for the type of nihilistic anger harnessed by UKIP but the voters didn’t pick any of them. It wasn’t the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition that surged yesterday.

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London Labour party ignored union guidance on selection processes to fix Euro-list

29/04/2013, 02:50:10 PM

Reverberations from the London Labour party’s botched selection process for its European candidates rumble on: last week critical motions were passed at Streatham, Ilford South and Brixton Hill CLPs.

The emerging focus for unhappiness is the opaque selection criteria used by the London Labour party panel in making their decision. Calls for the regional party to explain the criteria were central to the motions passed last week.

Uncut can help out the quizzical CLPs in their quest for the criteria: there wasn’t any. Don’t take our word for it, this was the response from Joy Johnson, a senior member of the selection panel, when Uncut challenged her on how the selections were made:

“Did I discuss the criteria? That is Alan Olive’s domain and the answer is that there isn’t one…”

That’s right, to be an MEP for Labour, the London party had no preference on the type of experience a candidate should have, their track record  or any political achievements. There wasn’t even a mention that being an effective campaigner might be an asset for prospective candidates in a London-wide PR election.

Strange, you might think. For most jobs there is a specific set of criteria against which candidates are scored. Otherwise, where there are several candidates – say, 98 in the case of the London Euro-list selection – how would the panel be able to make a systematic comparison and select the best qualified applicants?

There certainly are detailed criteria for the parliamentary selection process with guidance for constituency selection panels on how to apply them and administer a fair process.

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Confusion reigns over London Labour Euro-list selection as candidates dispute senior official’s story

19/04/2013, 10:59:31 AM

The fiasco over London Labour’s Euro-list selection descended into chaos  this week with candidates querying a senior official’s version of events.

On Monday, Uncut ran a piece on the grassroots revolt in London over the selection process for Labour’s European election candidates. In the article, Joy Johnson was identified as one of the key officials on the London selection panel.

She contacted Uncut to complain that her position in the process had been misrepresented. To be absolutely clear on her role in the overall selection procedure we put a question to her:

“Did you discuss the selection criteria, process or any prospective candidates with any of the other members of the panel?”

Her response was posted in the comments to the piece, “You asked did I discuss the short list the answer is NO.”

It seemed an oddly specific response. The question didn’t even mention short lists and was much broader in it’s ambit.

Subsequently, over the course of this week, Uncut has been contacted by several candidates interviewed to get onto Labour’s European short list, perplexed at Joy’s response.

Each of the candidates Uncut has spoken to has been clear: Joy Johnson did attend their short listing  meeting and took an active part in the interviews.

Speaking to Labour’s London candidates, it has emerged that the party decided its short list of European candidates at two meetings before Easter on Saturday 23rd March and Sunday 24th March. The title of the mail sent out by head office to candidates was very clear: “European Parliament selections Short Listing Interview.”

Last night, we contacted Joy Johnson with this information and her stance appears to have evolved.

“There was a meeting to decide on candidates who were to go forward for interview. I wasn’t at that meeting. I didn’t discuss the list that went forward for interviews. As for the weekend you mentioned…I was at that meetingAs part of the interview process there were discussions to get to the final list that would then go out to party members” (emphasis added)

The new position is that Joy Johnson did attend short listing meetings, she did interview candidates and then did discuss with her colleagues on the panel which candidates would be on Labour’s European short list .

Confused? Many are.

It seems that when faced with the initial question from Uncut, rather than simply give a full answer, Joy Johnson opted to parse. But she got confused between the long listing (sifting candidates before interview) and short listing (interviewing candidates to make Labour’s short list of European candidates).

For someone who was Ken Livingstone’s former director of communications, it’s an astonishing way to deal with the media.

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New unionism, not at all like New Labour

20/11/2012, 03:30:32 PM

Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal continue their look at the development of the unions and their role in founding the Labour party

By the mid-1880s, the establishment had got over the initial panic stirred by the emergence of unions. Civilisation had not collapsed and revolution, like coffee in tiny, tiny cups and the ability to pass a football for more than 30 seconds before launching it into orbit, remained strictly a continental phenomenon.

Even the arrival of a couple of actual, real live working class people in Parliament in 1874 hadn’t been too traumatic. From the vantage point of the Tory benches, the Lib-Labbers’, Alexander Macdonald and Thomas Burt, looked respectable enough and it made a nice change to have someone around who could do something about that squeaky door in the lobby.

The calm was not to last.

A new, angry, voice was about to make itself heard on behalf of the unskilled workers. This new unionism was exemplified by three significant groups: the match girls, the gas workers and the dockers

At the Bryant and May factory in Bow, East London, the workers were largely young women who were casual workers. This did not mean that every day was a dress-down Friday. It meant they worked 14 hour days for less than five shillings a week, and had even fewer rights than most other workers.  So less fun even than dress down Friday, then.

On the other hand, they did get to experience one of the period’s most advanced motivational programmes – a range of harsh, arbitrary fines for tiny infractions. For example, turning up late for work meant a fine of a half day’s pay.

On top of all this, the work itself was unusually hazardous. The phosphorous used to make the matches caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss. Worse still was phossy jaw, which may sound like a popular hip hop artist, but is actually a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face would turn green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus. And then you died.

Even by Victorian standards, this was a bit much.

Annie Beasant and the match girls strike committee. Yes, they are judging you

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