Tag Archives: trade unions

The case for Trades Unions

There has been for some time a substantial number of Liberal Democrats who think that Trades Unions are an anachronism. They are wrong.

In the neoliberal times in which we live, one of the main neoliberal aims is to weaken wage earners so that companies can force down wages, leaving lower wage earners poorer and at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. The result is zero hours contracts and poverty wages.

Trades Unions are a block to this neoliberal aim so, starting with Thatcher, they set about weakening unions and deterring people from joining them. …

Posted in Op-eds | 59 Comments

Vince Cable co-authors anti Trade Union Bill article with TUC chief

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:

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Liberal Democrats should support a strong, member led trade union movement

Without trade unions. we wouldn’t have many of the rights we take for granted today. From parental leave to paid holidays to the right to strike, these organisations have helped build the case for better working conditions over the years. The right of workers to take action and withdraw their labour is an important one.

That’s not to say that unions always act sensibly. I grew up in the 1970s and was horrified by these mass meetings where people had to vote by raising their hands in front of everyone. If you didn’t agree with the scary leaders, would you not be terrified of what might happen to you if you voted against them? Abuse of power, wherever it happens, is offensive to the liberal mindset and what we had at that time was massive abuse of power by collectivist union leaderships. So, there were quite a few aspects of the Tory reforms of the 1980s that were helpful. Introducing secret ballots before strike action could happen was a very good thing. If Scargill had balloted the niners in 1984, the outcome might have been very different.

But now the Tories have come up with measures to completely undermine the unions. Even if we were having 1970s levels of strikes, some of these plans would not be appropriate. The requirement for 40% of those eligible to back the proposals imposes on unions alone a restriction not faced by the Government itself. Elected on just over a third of the votes of just over two thirds of the people, it is now free to impose its overall majority on all of us. Is that fair? It’s effectively questioning its own legitimacy but can’t see it.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 24 Comments

Opinion: The Trade Union and Workplace Reforms Debate

The issue of the unions and strikes is back in the political arena.

I have lost count of the number of times in recent years that the Tories have called for participation thresholds in industrial action ballots before they can be considered legal. Indeed I commented on similar Tory proposals for Lib Dem Voice back in 2011. This time the figure they are proposing is 40%.

Once again they are focusing on the public sector; this is clearly an attempt to throw some red meat to their supporters.

It is too early to say if this going to be a big issue in the coming General Election. The winter of discontent is a distant memory, and union membership has fallen dramatically since its height in the late 1970s. However all democrats should be opposed to measures that restrict the rights of working people to withdraw their labour.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 40 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats must prioritise skills development

One of the depressing facts that came out from last week’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on poverty is that only 1 in 5 of low paid employees have left low paid work completely ten years later.  Also in the news recently were reports of severe staffing shortages of skilled staff in several sectors including construction and health/social care, leading to major recruitment drives overseas.   There is a real problem with skills development in the UK.

There are several reasons for this.  Since the recession companies have cut back on investment, and that includes training.  The increase in outsourcing in our public services has had an impact; some private providers have good long term training programmes, whereas others take a much more short term approach, particularly if they are fighting to win government contracts on cost. Another cause is the rise in self-employment – 15% of the UK working population is now self-employed compared to 13% in 2008.  Many of these self-employed are rehired to their original organisations but without many of the benefits including a training budget.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 19 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats’ principled decision gives civil servants continued workplace protection they need

PCS picketOne of the announcements at Nick Clegg’s press conference on Monday was his categorical rejection of Tory ministers’ attempts to abolish check-off across government.

What’s check-off? This isn’t a Michael Gove attempt to ban a celebrated Russian playwright, it’s a mundane administrative convenience which allows members of trade unions to pay their union subscription by getting their employer to deduct it from their wage packet and send it on for them.

Union members like check-off because it’s the easiest way to keep their subs up to date. Trade unions like it because …

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Opinion: There is a place for Liberal Democrats within the trade union movement

On leaving the Labour Party last year (which I have written about here), I was asked if I was going to be leaving my trade union UNISON. I didn’t and no don’t intend to. The question confused me. I was a trade union activist in the Labour Party more than I was ever a Labour Party activist who happened to be in a trade union.

As a trade unionist I see the purpose of my membership is to be supported at work and to have the union collectively bargain on my behalf for better pay, terms and conditions at work. …

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Opinion: Ed’s made a bold move, but he absolutely needs to see it through to the end

As a Lib Dem, I obviously write as neither a Labour party member nor supporter, but I was genuinely stirred by Ed Miliband’s speech at the St Bride Foundation yesterday. It was bold, gutsy and liberal minded – qualities the Labour leader’s critics often accuse him of lacking. The announcement that Ed will push forward plans to change the current arrangements in which all union members across the country are automatically affiliated with the Labour party, to one in which union members will have to voluntarily opt in to Labour affiliation, was brave to say the least. It potentially …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 15 Comments

Nick Clegg’s offer to Ed Miliband on the political levy

Nick Clegg Q&A - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsIt was Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time today, and Nick duly stepped up to the mark.  In reply to a questions from Conservative MP, Jonathan Lord, and others, he offered the Labour Party a chance to make changes to the political levy.

At present, members of trade unions pay a political levy on their membership subscriptions, which, of course, goes to the Labour Party and helps to justify the unions’ heavy involvement in the party and their participation in leadership elections. Many members …

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Opinion: Time for a grown-up workplace partnership

The Tories hate trade unions. In the context of the Social Liberal Forum’s conference on 13 July in Manchester, with the theme “Ownership and Democracy – where does power lie?” the Tories’ policies regarding the unions have been to try to remove as much power and as many rights from them as possible, in order to free up company bosses to use their power as they see fit without the need to discuss their plans with the workforce.

The problem with strengthening corporate power while weakening trade union and individual rights is that it allows a return to working conditions …

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 30 Comments

Would-be Labour candidate attacks Unite’s “autocratic monopoly” and role in Lewisham and Haringey selections

Last night a would-be Labour Parliamentary candidate, who contested the Hornsey & Wood Green selection, hit out on Twitter at the “autocratic monopoly” produced by Unite’s influence on selections. Mandy Richards singled out selections in Hornsey & Wood Green and Lewisham, arguing that they have not been getting the media attention they deserve and that Unite’s influence is blocking a “progressive Labour agenda”.

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- complaint about Unite

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- Unite autrocratic monopoly

In Hornsey & Wood Green the selection was won by …

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Miliband vs McCluskey: 2 points that strike me about the Labour/Unite row over alleged candidate selection rigging

Looking in from the outside, albeit as a former Labour member myself, two points strike me about the Labour/Unite row over the alleged attempt by the union to rig the selection of the party’s general election candidate in Falkirk.

The first is this:

How lucky is Ed Miliband in his opponent, Len McCluskey?

Yes, you read that right. Ed is lucky in Len. The reason why is simple: Len McCluskey has gone about his attempted putsch of Labour in an extraordinarily cack-handed manner.

If you wanted to set up a comedy caricature trade union boss, you’d make sure he had a salary of £122,000, had called for a general strike, have him make threats against prominent Labour ‘Blairites’, and then protest against the lefty New Statesman when it reports accurately what you’ve said.

If you wanted to be a smart trade union leader, however, you’d operate below-the-radar. You’d do things just the same: ensure your chosen candidate was elected Labour leader (however dubiously), line up your mate to head up the party’s election campaigns, and guarantee loyal union members are installed in as many key seats as possible.

But you’d do so sotto voce.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , , and | 8 Comments

“14 out of 15 trades unions fail the transparency test”

News reaches the Voice from Unlock Democracy, who have been carrying out investigations into the practices of the 15 unions currently affiliated to the Labour party. The research shows that 14 out of 15 trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party fail to explain to their prospective new members about affiliation and inform them that they have a legal right to opt out on their membership forms and website.

The top lines from the research are as follows:

  • Just 1 union (UNISON) mentions affiliating to the Labour Party.
Posted in News | Also tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: Unions are not our enemy. Don’t make them into one.

The announcement yesterday by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) that its members would strike on Thursday 26th July – the day before the Olympic Games begin – risks turning our country into something just shy of a laughing stock and damaging Britain’s reputation and tourism industries in the short and medium term. 

Tourism is a massive industry and hundreds of thousands of people from countries across the globe will be descending on London over the next few weeks to watch the games. Tourists bring in massive amounts of money into the country, and I’m fairly sure that everybody agrees …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 28 Comments

Danny Alexander addresses the GMB – emerging liberal and successful

Yesterday Danny Alexander headed off to the annual conference of my old union, the GMB, to give a tricky speech. The GMB isn’t just a consistent critic of the government, it has also criticised Labour for not being different enough from the government in its eyes. Throw in contentious issues such as the pension reforms and merely avoiding uproar would have been a success. In fact, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury did far better than that:

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 2 Comments

Miliband moves on party funding: offers £5k cap including union donations (but what about members’ opt-in?)

Three weeks after the latest funding furore to hit politics — when Tory co-treasurer Peter Cruddas touted influence on government policy for £250k a pop — Ed Miliband has seized the initiative, proposing to limit all donations from individuals, organisations and unions to a maximum of £5,000.

Here’s the BBC report:

Labour leader Ed Miliband has offered to limit donations to his party from trade unions to £5,000, as leaders discuss how to change the system. He told the BBC this would remove the influence of “big money” on politics. The issue has been the subject of an ongoing

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 29 Comments

The trade unions could be doing Ed Miliband – and all of us – a favour

No doubt, both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, joined by a select band of Blairite survivors, would be rather chipper if the trade union chiefs currently making threatening noises about cutting Labour Party funding  turn out to really mean it.

But the real benefit could be much wider: if Labour loses a large chunk of its funding from trade unions bosses then it could unlock the long-running saga that political party funding reform.

Back in December I wrote:

The strong historical links between trade unions and the Labour Party means that any proposals which would curb the amount unions can give to Labour are

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 1 Comment

Opinion: troubling times in the jobs market

Despite uncertainty over the statistics (don’t worry, this isn’t a post about p-values and standard deviations), we can say with some confidence (say, 95%) that the UK jobs market remains in a volatile state with many people out of work or underemployed. With public sector jobs being shed rapidly as a result of austerity measures, and the private sector unable or unwilling to create more jobs than it sheds due to falling demand (going against Chancellor George Osborne’s  expectations), the net result is a devastating lack of work for millions of people, …

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LDVideo: Nick Clegg – “It is time we knew whether the Labour party can think for itself.”

Lib Dem Voice contributor Paul Walter noted here Nick Clegg’s strong response in this week’s Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions to the Labour party’s aim of protecting its cosy financial relationship with the trade unions — but for those who missed it here’s that exchange in full:

Posted in Parliament and YouTube | Also tagged , and | 10 Comments

The Independent View: Labour is a puppet of the unions – Lib Dems must stand up for non-unionised workers

As a member of the Dutch liberal party the VVD who was studying in the UK during the last election, I was pleased that the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservatives. Yet I feel that a strategy that distinguishes the party from Labour is just as important as one that distinguishes the Lib Dems from the Tories.

Instead of stressing coalition differences, the Lib Dems have the opportunity to show that they are a true alternative to Labour. The Lib Dems should stress that, unlike Labour, they protect ordinary workers by deregulating the labour market, and do not …

Posted in The Independent View | Also tagged , , and | 95 Comments

Cable and Alexander on union strike threats: there’s got to be pensions reform, but we want to negotiate

With trade unions threatening “sustained and indefinite” strike action if the Coalition goes ahead with its aims to reform public sector pensions in line with Labour peer Lord Hutton’s recommendations, Lib Dem cabinet ministers have been sticking to a simple message to calm the situation: there has to be reform, but we’re very hapy to engage in constructive negotiation.

Here’s Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable speaking today:

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LibLink | Danny Alexander: Make no mistake: we will reform public sector pensions

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander writes in the Telegraph today on public sector pensions reform, calling the Government’s offer “by far the best that is likely to be on the table for years to come”:

This debate is often polarised between two extremes. There are some trade unions who seem to believe that pensions for public service workers should not change. Then there are those equally misguided voices who seem to think that the public services should be the front-runner in a race to the bottom.

Between these two, I believe there is an indisputable case for reforming public

Posted in LibLink | Also tagged , and | 53 Comments

Opinion: further curbs on unions are wrong and counterproductive

As someone who has been a trade union member since the age of 16 and a representative for almost as long I follow with interest any new developments in industrial relations in our country.

Employment law has been transformed over the past 25 years to the extent that is now very difficult for unions to organise lawful industrial action.

I believe Britain now has the most restrictive labour laws in Western Europe.

Not content with the status quo the Tory right are now agitating for even more restrictions, the principle one being that any ballot for action has to have at least a …

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 30 Comments

Are the unions a bigger threat to the Lib Dems than Ashcroft was?

A Guardian headline today reads, Unions focus on Lib Dem seats in battle to save jobs. The story makes clear how trade unions will mobilise their resources to fight the budget cuts unveiled this by George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review — and in particular focus on Lib Dems:

The campaign is expected to focus on constituencies held by Liberal Democrat MPs who, unions believe, will be vulnerable to local pressure as many of the people who supported them did not vote for cuts on the scale revealed this week.

Nowt wrong with unions mobilising to protect their members’ interests: that, after …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 99 Comments

Opinion: Time for Lib Dem members to unite against UNITE’s Labour propaganda

The Guardian reported last Friday that the uber-union UNITE is to get its members canvassing one another on behalf of the Labour Party.

In spite of justified criticism of the Government throughout the parliamentary cycle, UNITE always comes out for Labour when an election’s nigh – it never learns! Its members’ publication (paid for out of the political levy, or not?) is full of pro-Labour propaganda.

I believe it behoves a trade union to campaign for policies that would help its members, not nail its colours to the mast of just one political party, regardless of whether …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

#ldconf podcast: Vince’s speech

There are now many ways of getting your brain around Vince Cable’s keynote speech. Read it on the party website. Hear our podcast below. See what ePolitix thinks – or the Guardian, for that matter.

vince-speech

There was much that was really important that jumped out at me from the speech – here are my favourite bits:

We should not be taken in by the hysterical nonsense about the country being bankrupt. It isn’t.

The Tories are currently getting a free rein to slash budgets. Tories like …

Play
Posted in Conference and Podcasts | Also tagged , , , and | 17 Comments

Opinion: Angry Union Men – whose fault are the Lincolnshire strikes?

As Britain stares down a 1970s-style Spring of Discontent, with the Credit Crunch now being supplemented by industrial strife and wildcat strikes, who is to blame for the crisis on the Humber, and how can it be resolved?

First of all, these workers have every right to feel angry. We all do. Like the rest of the country, they were told that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, they were even promised ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, and yet here they are again, back to picketing and strikes. Now, that isn’t to say that companies like Total shouldn’t be able …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 11 Comments
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