Trade Union Massacre

“What have the unions ever done for us?”

“Weekends off!”

“Well, except for weekends off, what have the unions ever done for us?!”

Life of Brian

You get the picture. Monty Python and the Life of Brian. This week saw the Tory government fire the starting pistol to strangle the last dying breaths of Trade Union resistance, by outlining a series of draconian measures not seen since the attack on trade unionism in the UK by Norman Tebbit in the 1980s under the Thatcher Government.

In an extract from the Guardian, the proposed Javid measures include:

 Require all unions, not just those affiliated to Labour, to ask each existing union member whether they wish to pay the political levy and then repeat the question every five years. The £25m annual political fund income from 4.5 million political levy payers funds a wide range of political campaigning including being a chief source of funding for Labour.

 Propose that unlawful or intimidatory picketing should become a criminal as opposed to civil offence and new protections should be available for those workers unwilling to strike. A named official will be required to be available at all times to the police to oversee the picket including the numbers on the line, currently set at six, in an existing code of conduct.

 Compel unions to renew any strike mandate with a fresh ballot within four months of the first ballot and give employers the right to hire strike-breaking agency staff as well as require a union to give the employer at least a fortnight’s notice before the industrial action starts.

 Empower the government to set a limit on the proportion of working time any public sector worker can spend on trade union duties.

 Give the government certification officer powers to fine trade unions as much as £20,000 for breaches of reporting rules including an annual audit on its protests and pickets. The certification officer will also have power to initiate investigations and will in future be funded by a joint levy of unions and employers

 Require a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for.

Ironic when you consider that the government making these demands does so on 24% of the electorate, much less than the requirement they now seek from working people protecting their families and future generations conditions of service.

Striking is the last throw of the dice when an often intransigent and belligerent management teams refuse to negotiate meaningfully with a trade union members representatives. Management, Government Ministers and employers have reaped the benefits of working and living conditions fought for and won by our parents and grandparents. Rights that we now so desperately fight to just maintain. And that is the sad fact of the trade unions in 21st Century UK, the role of a modern trade unionist has, for the most part, been reduced to the role of trying to just maintain working conditions they inherited. There is no longer a fight to improve working conditions. Perhaps this is why we are seeing more widespread bullying culture by management, dissatisfaction in the workplace and high levels of stress and depression.

Fiar Liar

If the Tory Government, or any government or employer for that matter, wants to stop strike action from occurring, they could do worse than to treat their employees with a modicum of respect. If, for example, the Tory government does not want to see firefighters going on strike to save their pension provisions, then they could start by stopping the lies spun in parliament to force through a bill that now leaves thousands of families facing an uncertain future when they have evidence that proves the proposed changes are not feasible. The government has the ability to make the trade union bill irrelevant if they just stopped bailing out banking cartels and bending over for corporations to deregulate and sell everything off. The fire sale of public services we built and paid for has to stop. Employers could do the same if they remembered that their posts exists to provide the public with a safe and reliable service and not to provide them with an opportunity to build their portfolio for their next jobs.

Unfortunately nothing that we take for granted today, the weekend, sick pay, bank holidays, safety in the workplace and some of the finest emergency services in the world, would exist if it wasn’t for the brave men and women who came before us and fought for the right to come home at the end of the day safe and sound and not strung out after a 96 hour working week.

The cold hard facts for the bosses is that workers would not strike if they listened. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason, yet the mendacious individuals continue to try to pull the wool over the publics eyes by blaming the workers for industrial action. They continue to try to drive a wedge between what Javid calls the working people and business and the unions. The number of working days lost due to strikes in the 12 months to April 2015 stood at 704,000. Significantly less than the near 13m days lost through strike action on average in the 1970s. A period called the ‘heyday of union militancy’ by The Guardian. Just another divisive phrase used to discredit people who are passionate about the caretaker role they occupy in their chosen careers in the public sector. To put this madness of ignoring workers and unions, then complaining when they kick back, into some kind of perspective, I will tell you a story about a woman name Isabel Losada.

Isabel wanted to do something to raise awareness for the plight of Tibet. She saw that the Dalai Lama had spent 50 years peacefully campaigning against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, promoting non-violence as the only legitimate form of protest against the Chinese but he had largely been ignored, not just by the Chinese but by the wider world too. Isabel realised this at the same time as the war in Iraq began to unfold. How, she thought, could we ask terrorists to stop fighting and negotiate if, when they looked up at the worlds most famous living supporter of non-violent revolution, saw he was being ignored? If non-violence was the path to being ignored, then what point in giving up the call to arms? So Isabel launched a media stunt called ‘reward the Dalai Lama’, clever in that he is seen as a terrorist by the Chinese Government but it had a dual message to the Western world that was now involved in a vicious war. Reward the non-violent advocate and call for meaning full negotiation to take place and show there is another path to peace.

reward the lama

Now, I am not likening unions, nor government or employers to terrorists (not today at any rate) but the message is the same; if you do not reward honourable people who negotiate and wait patiently in good faith for you to do the right thing, do not be surprised when they strike. What other option is left open to them? Unions are often labelled the bad guys, ‘the enemies within’ because they stand to defend hard won rights, rights we take advantage of every day. They wouldn’t strike if management and governments entered into negotiations in good faith.

The Guardian headline stated that the Tories were going to make it ‘harder for unions to take legal strike action’. History has shown that some laws were wrong and had to be broken to find true justice. The anti-trade union laws of the past 30 years are just such laws and perhaps the unions should have taken a stronger approach before now to challenge them. They now find themselves with their backs up against the wall and possibly left with no choice but to fight on the grounds of principles whether the government deems it ‘legal’ or not. What is deemed legal and moral are two very different things.

A reaction has to be made, what that reaction is only time will tell. In the mean time the TUC and the unions should ask themselves the question, what would Bob do?

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Standing up for education: Teachers our children’s guardians

Today teachers across the UK took strike action over the attacks by our government and their puppet Michael Gove.  They are standing up for education and so I went to a rally where I was invited to tell them why I am standing up for education with them.

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I have just been on my first ever strike on Wednesday last week, over the attacks on the firefighters pension scheme, as this government and the fire minister Brandon Lewis refuse to listen to studies and reports that THEY themselves have paid for and commissioned into the appropriate pension age for a firefighter. Their reports state 66% of the workforce are unfit at the age 55 rising up towards 90% potentially by the age of 60. This is dangerous for the public and dangerous for firefighters. Everyone in the fire service knows that 60-year-old firefighters is dangerous and politicians too will admit this behind closed doors. This is why strike action had to be called.

Firefighters could not continue to participate in their lies and neither should the teachers.

68 for a teacher is too late and equally disgusting, in both the fire service and the world of teaching, people and their families are being priced out of being in a pension scheme, a scandal considering the Queen said this year her government would help people to save for their futures. One story I heard today was of a young teacher who had to choose between running their car or paying into a pension. Is this the big society Cameron was talking about I wonder? The one other thing missing from all the government rhetoric and debates about pension age is the effect these creeping pension ages have on youth unemployment and aspiration!

Curiously I was quizzed by someone from the radio the other day and off air he made a statement: “Teachers, Royal Mail, Bakers union and now firefighters. It’s like going back to the 70’s again isn’t it?”

Well aside from the fact I was not even a thought in the 70’s (let alone able to remember it) I did remind him that the BBC had also been on strike, so let’s name them all and reminded him that none of these groups are asking for more of anything, they are just fighting to protect what they have and to protect what the people who came before us fought for and won. Employment rights, health and safety – the right to be able to come home to our families after work, a livable wage and pension. We are custodians of these jobs and we do not have the right to stand by idly whilst these attacks continue to erode and degrade the conditions of employment we inherited.

Like teachers, firefighters face other fights around the corner; cuts and privatisation to name two and like teachers we have a minister responsible for these so-called negotiations who seems to understand and know nothing about what it is we do.

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Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world, they quite literally are responsible with shaping our future with their everyday engagements with our children. Teachers lay the foundation for which we strive for a better world than the one we’ve inherited, Michael Gove and co would have them only responsible for teaching them what to think but teachers know they are charged with something more important; teaching children HOW to think.

Gove picket

But teaching and education is under threat from a man who knows nothing about it – Michael Gove – a man intent on crushing the young by testing them to failure.

I have had discussions with teachers and a man I am proud to call a friend, Dave Mingay and I cannot believe what I am hearing about in the world of education and teaching. I get mad and then I get annoyed that it has made me angry.

Then I remember the 1976 film Network when Peter Finch says: “First you’ve got to get MAD!”, and then I settle. Getting mad is not enough, we have to get active and we have to get involved and get engaged, not just with our own issues and disputes but with others too and this is why I am today, standing up for education.

get mad goddamnit

To this end some firefighters have decided to start standing up against this austerity and provide a voice for those without one and for those waiting to find their voice. Their message to the government and any subsequent government is this; WE SAVE PEOPLE NOT BANKS.

The under pinning reason for all these attacks is the ideological austerity of our politicians to solve a financial crises created by fraudulent banking practices and corrupt politicians. Not by us. Not by you and I. But by them.

But they are making us pay for it and using it as a smoke screen to push through what they started in the 80’s.

They are pushing through everything they can ahead of the next election just in case they do not get back in and they know that once done, Labour will not undo the mess they are creating.

These politicians know what they are doing is outrageous but they are counting on the fact they we will do nothing about it. This is why they are prepared to accept pay rises of £10,000 and claim £39 breakfasts on expenses just after they have told us we can live on £53 a week! If we do not start offering a resistance now there will be no end to what they will take from us.

We are already seeing the attacks on our terms and conditions and contracts and I found out last week that schools and colleges have VTs – visiting teachers? Working on zero-hour contracts?! So we will expect to not get something for nothing but Sports Direct, Academy schools, McDonald’s the Queen and probably Mickey Mouse can get slave labour for nothing??

You couldn’t make it up.

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We are seeing our NHS sold off and now our Royal Mail, the Queens head is for sale, before our very eyes and If we do not start making a collective resistance to all these attacks soon, they’ll take it all back and siphon off the profits of public money into the pockets of their privateer friends.

Together we are stronger than we are divided – we have more in common with each other than we do with the likes of Gove, Lewis, Pickles and Duncan-Smith. I know it’s difficult to take strike action, particular in today’s society. The Media will of course be talking about the disruption it causes families and the loss of a days education. If Michael Gove and his cronies are allowed to push through their agenda unchallenged then it will be more than a days education our children will be losing, it will quite literally be their future and ours with it.

We have to be smarter and utilise the social media to get across our arguments. The majority of people will still get their news from Rupert Murdoch and the BBC but this is about creating ripples. If you drop a pebble in a pond, soon those ripples cross the entire pond. This is what we must do, create ripples and perhaps one day they will become tidal waves.

A wise man once told me that if you’re right you’ve got the right to fight and if you fight you can win. The teachers arguments against Gove’s attacks on education are sound.

Rise

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