Lib Dems defending trade union rights

An article by Newshound from Lib Dem Voice

Well, there’s a turn-up for the books. A former Business Secretary teams up with the head of the TUC to warn about the draconian effects of the Trade Union Bill introduced by the Government.

In an article for the Guardian, Vince Cable and Frances O’Grady say that the Bill is trying to resolve a problem that doesn’t exist. Anyone who was brought up in the 70s would surely find it hard to argue that today is even remotely as bad as it was then. They say:

“Strikes, when they happen, are not always popular. The public, and business, face disruption. Strikers themselves lose pay. But the right to withdraw labour as a last resort in industrial disputes is fundamental to free societies, as the European Convention on Human Rights recognises.”

“Moreover, it is far from obvious that Britain has a “strike problem”. There have been periods in 20th-century history of intense industrial strife. But in the 1990s and 2000s strikes accounted for well under a million days a year. The trend continued under the coalition, despite strong disagreements over pay, pensions and redundancies. The 6.5 million British people who belong to a union – just over a quarter of the labour force and over half of public sector workers – withdrew their labour, on average, for one day in 15 years.”

Of course, the Tories wanted to bring in this Bill during the coalition years, but the Liberal Democrats stopped them:

“Several major changes are envisaged, all of which were considered by the coalition and rejected on their merits by Lib Dem ministers (who had absolutely no self-interest in defending trade unions that sometimes seemed as angry with them as the Conservatives, if not more). But the Lib Dems simply regarded the proposals as ideologically driven, unnecessary and bad policy.”

After looking at the proposals in detail, they conclude that there is a much better way to prevent strikes – constructive dialogue:

“The Conservative proposals are ideological rather than practical and have a weak evidential and legal basis. An opportunity is being missed to work with unions on a positive and forward-looking basis. Unions represent a substantial and, now, growing proportion of the workforce. Many good employers, private and public sector, work constructively with unions to raise productivity, and thence pay. As the TUC has argued, we should be seeking to strengthen industrial democracy, involving the workforce in genuine consultation around the transition to a digital age, in training and worker education and – yes – in pay differentials from top to bottom.”

The Tories should not forget that GB is the land of free speech

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34017423

For Government to even suggest that trade unions should be restricted in their use of social media is very alarming. The Tories should remember that they often say this is a free county, yet their actions via this pathetic excuse for a present Government indicate that what they want to do is to restrict freedom for those they disapprove of.

Removing rights by chucking out the Human Rights Act, snooping on our e-mails (as Labour was also keen on during their appalling identity card phase) and now suggesting that trade unions may need to give notice of social media use during industrial action is more like the actions of despots than an elected government.

Vince Cable condemns Tory strike ballot plans

vcphoto

Vince Cable has criticised Conservative proposals to make it harder to call industrial action affecting health services, transport, fire or schools. Under the plans, the backing of 40% of eligible union members would be required for strike action to go ahead. The Liberal Democrat MP said: “Setting a mandatory 40% level of support for strike action seems odd when MPs do not need to reach such a high hurdle to get elected… Industrial relations in the UK are good and the Conservatives would do well to turn their attention to creating a fairer society.”

Cable: Strike law change “potty”

Vince Cable has described David Cameron’s plans to change strike laws as “simply potty”. It is understood that the Conservatives are considering plans to legislate that strikes can only be held if a threshold of 50% of the membership is reached in any ballot.

Don’t you just love it when politicians say what they really mean rather than communicating with us in ‘Westminster’ speak. A potty Tory policy indeed!

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.

Tories stir up union trouble in Civil Service

Liberal Democrats have described a move by Conservative ministers to stop Whitehall departments deducting trade union subscriptions from civil servants’ pay packets as a “vindictive attack.” Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has written to departments urging them to end the “check-off” system of deducting union subs through Whitehall’s payroll system, but his request is set to be ignored in ministries headed by Lib Dems. A leading advocate of ending “check-off” is Eric Pickles, who last year lost a court case when he tried to scrap the system in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Today’s Press:- i, Page: 4 The Independent, Page: 15 Daily Mirror, Page: 11

As someone who spent many years working for the trade union movement in the Civil Service I understand what this ‘check-off’ system is about. For generations Civil Servants have paid their union subscriptions via direct deductions from their monthly salaries/wages by the Government Dep’t they work for. The money is then paid over to the appropriate trade union they belong to.

Also for generations, despite the odd Thatcher type blip, Governments have encouraged Civil Servants to join trade unions. This, in general, has enabled the Civil Service to have fairly reasonable industrial relations.

Why on earth the Tories want to cause industrial strife in the Civil Service via this petty idea of stopping the collection of union subs baffles me. It can only be driven by that infamous ‘them and us’ approach to industrial relations that has bedeviled the UK for so many years. A good employer embraces good industrial relations; the success of the German economy since the Second World War proves that.

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.

Grangemouth refinery – A real worry that Unite nearly lost its own member’s jobs.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-24671184

The BBC web site has a detailed report on the ‘saving’ of the refinery today.

As a former trade union officer I really do worry that the crisis at Grangemouth was one that was brought on by oil/gas market circumstances, a long-running internal industrial relations dispute and probably Unite, in trying not to blink first, almost ensuring that its own members lost their jobs.

Falkirk and Unite ring a bell as well over the huge Miliband/Unite dispute over the section of Labour’s parliamentary candidate recently so a heady brew of trouble was inevitable.

We British don’t do industrial relations well; it seems to be in our make up to do all we can to ensure that we don’t do industrial harmony! Of course, it is our ‘us and them approach’ that is fundamental to this industrial relations dysfunction.

But what if Unite was in effect making things worse? What I mean is were the Unite leaders more concerned with beating the Grangemouth management than they were about preserving as many jobs as possible? Sadly, this has to be a worry because British trade unions are more than capable of not seeing or ignoring the big issues in a dispute especially if they are being driven by socialist idealism.

Independent analysts seem to be pointing to the non-viable nature of the refinery in its present form and that fundamental restructuring of the oil refining business is required not only at Grangemouth but across the whole industry. On that basis were Unite simply unwilling to negotiate on the reality of that situation? If they were they were very wrong and they seem to have had to climb down a long way. They must have lost a lot of credibility with their own members but will they learn from this damaging dispute?

I do despair at times with the trade union movement as it can often be its own worst enemy.