Sports Direct – Their workforce needs to be organised

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37284114

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

This saga says to me that it is vital for workers to be organised via trade unions in any business because this is what happens when a workforce isn’t organised!

And how on earth can a large company like this justify a casualised workforce employed via agencies?

It seems as a society we are sitting back and allowing the movement back to the employment practices of mill owners of generations ago. Government is meant to ensure basic rights and trade unions are there to keep on the government’s (and employers) back to make them do it. If we don’t take action to ensure that all employees have access to proper contracts, pensions and the right to belong to a trade union (and to be treated as valued human beings) what kind of society are we building?

The Trade Union Movement is dying & needs urgent reform

The trade union movement is, I fear, slowly slipping away and becoming irrelevant to modern day life and I say that as a committed trade unionist. It was taken into a nursing home a few years ago but is now slowly day by day slipping away.

The modern world is all about individual freedoms far more than it is about collectivism. It probably started in the 1980’s and Thatcher probably started it. But the mistake trade unions make is to assume that individual freedoms are always trumped by collectivism – they aren’t and until unions can really grasp this they will continue to be on the slide.

As a Liberal who understands why collective action can be vital for the common good but who also sees why individual freedoms are just if not more vital this is not a concern but a change that has to be addressed by a trade union movement that does not cope with change at all well. Indeed, it is that inability to modernise, until it is too late, that has bedeviled unions for years.

Just cast your mind back to the 1970’s and 80’s, trade unions were headline news day in day out, maybe not always for the right reasons, but they were a force to be reckoned with. Now trade unions are in the news far less often because they are becoming less relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

Trade unions are also in financial difficulty too. Falling membership, feeling that they can’t charge the level of membership fees they would like to/need to and having to merge with other unions are all big issues driven by money worries. My own union, PCS, has even cancelled democracy recently by deferring internal elections to save money.

But why post this piece now? Well it came to mind because of a number of unrelated conversations and newspaper/internet articles that I had read in recent months. They seemed to form a common thread for me and that thread was that UK unions seem to struggle these days to back individual members who are in difficulty. One of those conversations was with my old chum Roy Connell, a committed trade unionist all his working life.

I must have heard and read about half a dozen cases where members with difficulties were not backed by their union and either had to fight their case on their own or were not able fight at all. A common issue seems to be ‘the union will not fund the legal battle’ and this is often down to a risk assessment by union bean counters of how much money a case may cost. Again, the tightness of money means that unions are far more picky these days about which legal cases they will back.

But now it is getting out that unions are effectively backing out of backing their members when they are in trouble can only make folk less inclined to join a union. A vicious circle indeed.

Fighting high profile social justice campaigns is of course bread and butter to trade unions. However, if they are channeling scare resources into this collective/political work whilst leaving their members high and dry when they need legal backing then the wrong balance is surely being struck.

Many of the freedoms that we all take for granted these days (even by those who vote Tory/UKIP) were gained for us by the trade union movement but as society has changed our unions have been slow to react and at times unwilling to react.

It’s no use union executive committees and general secretaries being up for the next internal fight for the Labour Party’s soul whilst their members see them (and the Labour Party) as being out of touch with their world, because I fear that is what’s happening. Collectivism is not now king and maybe it is only on a par with if not behind the individual issues that folks join trade unions for. They want their union to back them when they are in difficulty above all else. Fighting the political battles of the day usually passes them by whether union leaders like it or not.

So the challenge for trade unionists is to reinvent a trade union movement that is very much stuck in a rut and has found the rut a comfortable place to be except for the lack of money flowing into it of course!

Vince Cable condemns Tory strike ballot plans

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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.”

Another new teaching union!

A new trade union aimed at teachers in primary and secondary schools who have become uncomfortable with the National Union of Teachers is to be launched. The new union, NAHT Edge aims to recruit 5,000 members within two or three years and will act as a sister union to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which represents about 28,000 heads.

I have always looked upon the Teaching profession as having too many trade unions already yet I can understand why a new one is being created.

It all goes back to the way public sector trade unions, in particular, operate and the fact that they can often be led by people who have a bigger political agenda than the terms and conditions of their members.

Active trade unionists and particularly trade union leaders have always seen a wider picture than their ordinary members have. This means that at times the members of trade unions get used to fight big social and political battles that mean so much to trade union executive committees but are of little, if any, interest to their members.

I would not be surprised if some of the wider political and indeed party political objectives of the NUT’s leaders are beyond what some of its members want to be a part of fighting for.

Such battles and rivalries are a long tradition of the trade union movement, which I worked for for 30 odd years, but when the members are being taken where they do not want to go the cause of the activists is already lost. Sticking to the real issues, as seen by the ordinary members of a trade union, is the key but the activists are all too keen to pull away from these to bash the Government of the day. When that goes too far the members simply turn off and potentially walk away.

With thanks to the LGiU

Bob Crow – Doing the trade union movement a favour?

www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/07/bob-crow-interview-nothing-to-defend

The Guardian has the story surrounding this hugely controversial trade union Barron and his recent troubles.

As a long-time trade unionist who worked for PCS Trade Union for many years as a lay official I think I understand what true socialists are all about but I must say Mr Crow makes me scratch my head.

Yes he lives in a house that belongs to a social landlord so that fits with his beliefs, I assume, about common ownership of property. But he earns an arm and a leg as a trade union leader which puts him in an income category that his embers can only dream of. Yes, but hang on, surely a socialist, representing the working classes, should not be earning such huge wages – £145,000 (according to the Guardian newspaper)? How can you truly represent the interests of the workers if you can afford a lifestyle very different from theirs?

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.