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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The Choice, or the illusion of one? General Election 2015

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I was invited today to attend a Labour speech featuring the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, who was there to discuss ‘the choice’ facing UK voters in next years general election, a Labour future versus the Tory threat.

 

Surrounded by banners reaffirming the Labour position of One Nation ahead of Scotland’s bid for freedom and independence, the gallery of Labour supporters took their seats and awaited the Shadow Chancellor’s arrival. His speech (which can be found in full here) focused heavily on debunking Tory claims on their recovery plan. In his speech he states: “Last Friday we learned that our economy has, at long last, got back to the size it was before the global financial crisis. The fact that Conservative strategists are desperate to persuade us all that this is a significant moment for celebration is revealing. Not only is it two years later than the Chancellor’s original plan said, and three years after the US reached the same point, it’s also the case that, as our population has grown, GDP per head won’t recover to where it was for around another three years – in other words, a lost decade for living standards.” Quite why or how any politician can be crowing about an economic recovery when we have; food banks, 1 in 4 now described as working poor, 1 million children in poverty, zero hour contracts, low pay or no pay workfare slave labour camps in Tesco and all in the sixth largest economy in the world? Balls made the startling claim that wealth trickles down. It doesn’t, it bubbles up. This is reinforced later in the speech when he states: “And new analysis today from the House of Commons Library shows that under David Cameron working people will have seen the biggest fall in wages of any Parliament since 1874. It’s set to be the first time since the 1920s that people are worse off at the end of the Parliament than they were at the beginning.” This comes at a time not long after the UK received the largest orders of private jets anywhere in Europe. The recession has not been bad for everyone, for some it has been an opportunity to makes significant financial gains, not least those private firms circling around the NHS for a slice of the billion pound industry that is the sickness and health of the very people who built it in the first place.

The biggest thing to come out of today’s talk was a commitment to abolish the bedroom tax during hastily finished question and answer (cut short on purpose for his obvious delay), though my particular question was reserved for closed doors and off the record. The Shadow Chancellor kindly reminded us at this point (as if we did not already know) that it was not the fault of teachers, doctors, nurses or police for the economic recession (like most politicians omitting the fire and rescue service), but due to the poor regulation of the banks. He didn’t, however, go so far as to apologise for the Labour party bailing out the banks in 2008 whilst crying out ‘too big to fail’ and condemning the children he spoke of aiding in the future this morning, to a life time of austerity and cuts to pay for it, nor did he say that the problems the NHS are suffering are nothing to do with immigration.  No, I guess that may have been too much to ask for but then we should always be mindful that whilst the largest transference of wealth from the poor to the rich took place on Labours watch with the banking bailouts, Ed Balls was busy the morning 1 million people marched against austerity in 2011, telling us all on the BBC that the cuts were too quick and too deep. He did not call for a position of no cuts. This rhetoric was backed up by Ed Milliband on the stage at Hyde Park when he repeated the same tired message. You couldn’t make it up. 

The problem with Labour is best summed up by John Pilger, who wrote after Thatcher’s death that her greatest achievement was not in changing the philosophy of one party but of two, meaning that on Labours return in 1997, her political ideology was accepted as the way things had to be; PFI’s, academies, NHS privatisation, Fire service privatisation – NPA 60 – cuts, ambulance service decimation, ATOS and a whole list of other stuff all started or took place on Labours watch last time around. What is their position now? More austerity, more cuts and likely more bailouts when this mini bubble bursts. Where is this choice and what is it exactly? How can anyone be expected to re-affiliate or support a party that left half the world burning on a 21st century crusade led by war criminal Tony Blair, a party that gave our NHS away to vultures in the private sector, a party that gave our children’s future away to the banking cartels, a party that says: “Don’t look at me, let’s talk about immigration, the EU and anything else other than what we’ve done and will do!” Even though these things are as irrelevant to the issues society has as the public services he commended today (minus the fire and rescue service of course) This is not the Labour Party of the people, like the Conservatives, it is one that is mired by big business and corporations, it’s biggest backer not the unions that formed it, but the media moguls and military interests that shape our world.

To say we have #TheChoice would actually be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. We have greater choice of coffee than in our political spectrum. Firefighters in Spain and the UK say ‘Rescue people, not banks.’ Can or will the Labour party say the same come 2015?

Fascism: a very, very short introduction

boot stamping on a human face forever

This week confirmed what many had known for a long time; that the perpetual message of hatred, fear and mistrust by the media and our politicians has seeped into the psyche of the wider public. Tell the lie often enough and keep it simple enough and eventually we will believe it.

The local elections and European Parliament elections this week have been preceded by endless debate around the viability and validity of UKIP as a party political group. Our state broadcaster has given wall to wall coverage for one group, one individual over all others and have a history of favouring one type of speech over another. Why has there been no comparative in-depth look at the relative surge in support for the Green Party? UKIP have been championed for their earthquake victory and we watch as the last remnants of a broken democracy is washed down the gutter to the sound of thunderous applause.

There has been much written about the history of fascism and politics but one book on both aspects, ‘A Very Short Introduction to Fascism’ by Kevin Passmore, hits the nail on the head when it said:

“It was held that when pressure from the proletariat for the destruction of capitalism rose to extreme proportions, capitalists resorted to terror to defend their control over the means of production. For the Communist International, the current crisis of capitalism was so serious that a conventional dictatorship was inadequate, therefore capitalists used the mass fascist movement to destroy socialism. According to 1935 definition, fascism was not the creation of the capitalists, for it recruited from the petty bourgeoisie (lower middle-class), which had real grievances against the big capital. Nevertheless, capitalists were able to persuade the perpetually perplexed petty bourgeoisie that it’s interests lay in defending the property against socialism. Once fascism was in power and the labour movement destroyed, capitalists no longer needed the fascist party and so it was again suppressed or marginalised.”

The past 6 years, following the recession and general election in 2010, has seen much unrest from the ‘left’ with strikes, endless marches and the like and we have witnessed an equal and opposite rise of the right in relation to this, first through the English Defence League and now UKIP. This is being replicated across Europe with Marie Le Pen leading a resurgent Front National in France. The worrying thing for us should be that the famously fascist BNP have seen their number of voters dwindle at the same time as the UKIP vote has risen. Farage won’t have it but his interview on LBC radio with James O’Brien recently exposed him for the intolerant hypocrite he really is and what UKIP is really all about.

We will now sit and see the rest of the mainstream parties rally further around this message of the far right to appease the middle ground, the firing gun started before these elections with one Tory MP agreeing with Farage’s comments about Romanian’s on trains and since the election George Osborne has said that he ‘respects’ Farage.

Finally from ‘A Very Short Introduction to Fascism’: 

“Fascism contends that a nationality should restore its domination or become dominant within a given state, and perhaps internationally too. Frequently fascists nationalism is that of the dominant ethnic group, or rather of a part of the dominant nationality which perceives itself, rightly or wrongly, to be neglected.

French thinker, Gustave Le Bon argued that irrational crowds were manipulated by charismatic leaders. Georges Sorel argued likewise that the masses were motivated by myths.”

The last two points reflect poorly on our current society. I think it was Noam Chomsky who said that the people you elect reflect upon the state of your society. We have had a buffoon in Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, a war criminal in Tony Blair as Prime Minister and now we have a fascist group gaining prominence that will now shape the future of the general election in 2015, as if the current parties were not fascist enough already. I had it argued against me recently that the current government were not fascist, which I would disagree with, if you look at some of the legislation that is being passed such as the Crime and Anti Social Behaviour Act, Tpims, the authorisation of water cannons and the GCHQ scandal etc but I could be wrong.

Some of us have said for a while that the next general election will be fought on immigration, fear, hatred and the EU, with results like this that much seems certain. Whoever gets in, we lose.

Malc-X-Democracy