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:

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.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Samuel Griffiths 11th Sep '15 - 11:53am

    Good for Vince. Here is hoping we see more strikes in the coming years. Industiral action is pretty much the only path of resistance left these days.

  • Hooray…However, that will put a few noses out of joint on here judging from the comments about the Tube problems….

  • Peter Parsons 11th Sep '15 - 12:09pm

    Samuel, I don’t think we need more strikes, what we need is a more grown up system of industrial relations, moving away from the “them and us” to just “us”. Unfortunately we have an adversarial system at present, which is unsurprising as it derives from an adversarial political system and an adversarial legal system. It needs reform, but not the reforms the Tories are proposing.

  • @Peter Parsons: “what we need is a more grown up system of industrial relations, moving away from the “them and us” to just “us”. ”

    Indeed. And a Union Leadership that sees it’s job as getting a better deal for its members rather than playing politics. Unfortunately the Tories have been given a free pass by the antics of some of the comrades.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Sep '15 - 2:03pm

    Frances O’Grady and the remaining moderate union leaders could be key allies for us now.

    This is a really important step from Vince; we need to appeal to the very many trade unionists who don’t habitually vote Labour (they might now and again) but who have historically exercised power in the Labour leadership contest and may be viewed as soft-Labour sympathisers.

    Anecdotally, these are the people I am speaking to who seem to have not voted in the Labour contest even if they did sign up because they couldn’t be bothered and not one of the candidates (partiuclarly not Corbyn) excited them.

    If we don’t pick these people up from Labour , UKIP will.

  • Matt (Bristol) 11th Sep '15 - 2:34pm

    Rethinking my comment — ‘pick these people up’ is casual, and disparaging. I think what I really mean is we need to build a relationship and show people who are politically wavering union members that we share their concerns and that they are compatible with other core LibDem principles…

  • Mary Mathewson 14th Sep '15 - 9:57pm

    Any government who chooses to side with its corporate donors against its people should have its authority removed before a greater tragedy occurs – Parliment should consider a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and his government.

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