Tag: Frances O’Grady

Prime minister phones union leaders in desperate attempt to peddle her Brexit deal

theresa may on phone

Theresa May has taken the completely unprecedented move for a Conservative PM of telephoning union leaders, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to lobby support for her Brexit plans ahead of next week’s Commons showdown. 

I think he gave her pleading a swerve.

She also called Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union. It was the first time she had spoken to either man since she became Prime Minister in 2016, indicating her desperation. Downing Street has also confirmed that she plans to call other union leaders, thought to include Unison’s Dave Prentis, in the run-up to Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” on her Brexit blueprint.

I’m sure the draconian policies designed to stifle trade union freedoms, which took our country down a dark path, will have been forgotten by now. We’ve all really valued the big move away from freedom and towards greater control for the state over our lives over the last eight years. Who could possibly object to state micromanagement and such authoritarian attacks on unions and collective bargaining, diminishing citizen freedoms that are not theirs to give away.

The EU Social Charter of Rights was intentionally excluded by May’s government from the Withdrawal Bill. Many Conservatives see Brexit as an opportunity for more deregulation and ‘cutting red tape.’ Priti Patel, for example, said: “If we could just halve the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to the economy.”

A boost for whom?

When Conservatives talk of a boost to the economy, they are usually referring a boost in private profits that comes at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Back in 1984, Margaret Thatcher reached the absurd conclusion it wasn’t possible for someone to be in a union and be loyal to their country. Consequently, GCHQ employees in Cheltenham were denied their basic rights and could no longer have the protection of a union at work. Fourteen workers who refused to give up their union membership cards were unceremoniously sacked.

In 2013, the coalition government introduced fees for taking cases to employment tribunals, claiming it would cut “weak and unnecessary cases”. This not only limited access to justice for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, it also gave some of the most unscrupulous bosses free reign exploit people, to abuse health and safety and employment law, knowing there was little chance of being called to account.  In July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tribunal fees were unlawful and the government was forced to reimburse all those who had paid them. This is a prime example of a vindictive government policy which hurt employees.

In 2015, when the Conservatives were elected with an overall majority, they attacked the trade unions and their right to organise and strike. The right to strike is a fundamental freedom in our democracy.

Now the Conservatives have the brass neck to treat worker’s rights as a mere bargaining chip to get their own way. A means to an end, nothing more. I’m pleased to say that Roache gave her a scornful rebuff to her bargaining bid. He said: “I represent 620,000 working people and it’s about time their voices were heard. After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.”

“If the deal genuinely did the the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t,” he added.

Both unions came out against her deal, saying her efforts to woo them were nowhere near enough to get their support. 

May’s approach is all the more surprising because of her previous lack of engagement with the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, revealing last year that she had only met the PM once since she came to power.

The PM has also launched an attempt to sell the merits of her withdrawal agreement to Labour backbenchers in an apparent recognition that she needs to reach out to opposition MPs to avert a very heavy defeat. The government is also preparing to back an amendment tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell to give stronger guarantees that EU workers’ rights and environmental safeguards are enshrined in British law.

Mann met the PM last night along with others, including Flint and Snell, to discuss working together.

It’s rather late in the day for the PM to suddenly declare her concern for worker’s rights. The Conservatives have spent the last eight years destroying people’s job security, and any opportunity for worker’s to exercise collective bargaining. People claiming social security, for example, are coerced into accepting any employment, regardless of pay or conditions, otherwise they face sanction – the withdrawal of their lifeline support, which is barely enough, as it is, to meet basic living costs. 

May has gone out of her way to meet small groups of Labour MPs from strongly Leave-supporting constituencies. Nandy, the MP for Wigan, told the BBC that the PM would only win backing for her agreement if she negotiated with the majority of MPs opposed to no deal or a hard Brexit.

“That’s the importance of what happened this week. Finally there seems to be a recognition from the Conservative leadership that they are going to have to do that,” she said.

Downing Street described May’s contact with union leaders as “constructive” and denied that the move was a sign of desperation.

A spokeswoman said: “It’s part of her ongoing engagement with leaders from across the United Kingdom.”

She added: “The PM speaks to leaders across a range of industries, business groups, and has done that consistently throughout this process and today she spoke to a couple of union leaders and there will be further engagement in the days ahead.”

The news comes as a fresh analysis from the BBC indicates that the PM could face a whopping 228 vote loss. 

 

Related

The link between Trade Unionism and equality 

 


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“Gig economy” companies exploit workers and are free-riding on the welfare state

Image result for gig economy uk

Deliveroo couriers plan legal action against the food delivery firm to claim better employment rights including the minimum wage, sick pay and holiday.

The 20 delivery riders say they are employees and not, as the company argues, self-employed contractors. In the latest challenge to employment conditions in the gig economy, they are seeking compensation for not receiving holiday pay and for being paid wages below the legal minimum for employees.

The Deliveroo worker’s move follows successful employment tribunal cases brought by cycle couriers at CitySprint, Excel and drivers for taxi app Uber. All three cases found the riders were workers, meaning they are entitled to basic employment rights including holiday pay and the minimum wage, rather than self-employed contractors with no employment rights. 

Uber claimed that its 40,000 drivers in the UK are self-employed, and therefore not entitled to pensions, holiday pay, or other basic employment rights. An employment tribunal in London disagreed, calling Uber’s argument that it was simply a technology company “ridiculous”, and they were relying on “fictions and twisted arguments.”

HMRC is investigating delivery giant Hermes for paying workers less than the minimum wage. Staff receive no holiday or sick pay, and risk losing work if they can’t make their rounds due to illness or lack of childcare.

Some 78 couriers working for Hermes, a company that describes itself as “the UK’s largest nationwide network of self employed couriers”, have subsequently made complaints to Frank Field, the chairman of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee.

It is estimated that falsely classifying workers as self-employed is costing the UK up to £314m per year in lost tax and national insurance contributions. 

A recent study has found that the average self-employed contractor is now paid less than in 1995

The Resolution Foundation – a think tank that aims to improve pay for families – partly has blamed the changing nature of the self-employed workforce. Their report says: “With the introduction and growth of the [so-called] New Living Wage, by 2020 more than 1 in 7 are expected to be paid at or only just above the legal minimum. This increases the need for employers and government to provide personal progression opportunities to get people beyond the wage floor.”

Currently, the government expects individuals to make in-work progression without support, or face financial penalties (sanctions) to their top up Universal Credit. This draconian approach forces unreasonable responsibility onto individuals and their familes, because the problem of low pay is one of exploitative employers and government policy rather than of individual behaviour.

Employers are responsible for setting pay levels and terms. The problem is more broadly one of the key features of neoliberalism, which has led to increasing employment precarity, characterised by insecure, exploitative forms of work. Meanwhile, the organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are being portrayed as “market distortions” by a government (and a party) that has legislated mercilessly to undermine the basic rights and fair levels of pay for employees.

The Labour party have pledged to reverse the Conservative’s anti-union laws if they are elected June.

The political logrolling of the profit incentive presents us with the most unedifying and hard face of neoliberalism, in which human need is profoundly devalued; the employee is merely availed of as an object of value extraction. The Conservatives certainly don’t value the idea of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, despite all their rhetoric about “making work pay”. Over the past six years, we learned that this slogan was only a semantic decoy: a cover for the dismantling of our welfare state by a creeping, unremitting stealth.

The report went on to say that many more people had taken up lower-paid jobs in the so-called “gig economy, essentially self-employed workers taking on a variety of different roles, while the proportion of self-employed business owners with their own staff had fallen. The number of hours worked by the self-employed had also declined.

The foundation said this had limited wage growth before the financial crash, but that pay had been “squeezed” in real terms more recently, falling £100 a week by 2013-14.

Last year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s new generation of self-employed workers are not all the budding entrepreneurs ministers like to talk about.

“While some choose self-employment, many are forced into it because there is no alternative work. Self-employment today too often means low pay and fewer rights at work.”

The Resolution Foundation’s most recent briefing looks at the final quarter of labour market data for 2016. It says: “Most importantly, inflation has risen rapidly in recent months, weighing heavily on real pay growth – though published pay statistics will take some time to fully reflect this. Well over a third of the workforce are experiencing shrinking pay packets according to the latest figures, in sectors ranging from accommodation to finance and the public sector. Many more will join them in the coming months as inflation continues to rise, with pay across the economy as a whole set to have fallen in the first three months of 2017.

Indeed, our ‘Spotlight’ article notes that real pay in the public sector has likely now begun a fall that could well last for several years. Conversely, private sector pay growth will continue to outpace the headline average earnings figures.”

A Department for Business spokesperson said the government was “committed to building an economy that works for everyone”.

Last year, Damian Green said, in a speech at the Resolution Foundation, that the private sector and voluntary sector “should be more involved in the provision of welfare services”. Green’s endorsement of the “exciting” gig economy and the “huge potential” that it offered came just the month after an employment tribunal found that drivers for the Uber car service should in fact get the minimum wage and paid holiday. 

Green also said: “The Government is a necessary, but not sufficient provider of welfare.” 

Shadow Digital Economy minister Louise Haigh tabled an amendment to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, New Clause 24, following the tribunal ruling against Uber. 

She said there was still a danger that despite the ruling, Silicon Valley multinationals and other employers could use “loopholes” to break the rules and get around workers’ protections. 

Haigh said: “This is a landmark ruling for workers in the digital economy, and a great victory for the GMB and its members.

“The digital economy was supposed to promise choice and flexibility, but the reality for too many in the sector is that they are overworked, underpaid and exploited by bosses they never meet and who do not even fulfil their basic duties as an employer.

The Work and Pensions Committee report

In a new report the Work and Pensions Committee also concluded that the government must close the loopholes that are currently allowing “bogus” self-employment practices, which are potentially creating an extra burden on the welfare state while simultaneously reducing the tax contributions that sustain it. Increasingly, some companies are using self-employed workforces as cheap labour, excusing themselves from both responsibilities towards their workers and from substantial National Insurance liabilities, pension auto-enrolment responsibilities and the Apprenticeship Levy. 

In an inquiry that has had to be curtailed because of the election, the Committee heard from “gig economy” companies like Uber, Amazon, Hermes and Deliveroo, and from drivers who work with them. The evidence taken painted starkly contrasting pictures of the effect and impact of “self-employment” by these companies.

Companies utlilising self-employed workforces frequently promote the idea that flexible employment is contingent on self-employed status, but the Committee says this is a fiction.

The report

The Committee says:

  • The apparent freedom companies enjoy to deny workers the rights that come with “employee” or “worker” status fails to protect workers from exploitation and poor working conditions. It also leads to substantial tax losses to the public purse, and potentially places increased strain on the welfare state.
  • Designating workers as self-employed because their contract offers none of the benefits of employment puts the cart before horse. It is clear, though, that this logic has taken hold, enabling companies to propagate a myth of self-employment. This myth frequently fails to stand up in court, but individuals face huge risks in challenging their employment status that way.
  • Where there are tax advantages to both workers and businesses in opting for a self-employed contractor arrangement, there is little to stand in the way.
  • An assumption of the employment status of “worker” by default, rather than “self-employed” by default, would protect both those workers and the public purse. It would put the onus on companies to provide basic safety net standards of rights and benefits to their workers, and make the requisite contributions to the social safety net. Companies wishing to deviate from this model would need to present the case for doing so, shifting the burden of proof of employment status onto the better resourced company. 
  • Self-employed people and employees receive almost equal access to all of the services funded by National Insurance, especially with the introduction of the new state Pension, yet the self-employed contribute far less. The incoming government should set out a roadmap for equalising employee and self-employed National Insurance Contributions.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to ensure that its programmes and resources reflect the positive contribution that self-employment can make to society and the economy. This may require an expansion of specialist support in JobCentre Plus.
  • The DWP is seeking to support entrepreneurship without subsidising unprofitable self-employment. The existing Minimum Income Floor (MIF) in Universal Credit (UC) does not get this balance right and risks stifling viable new businesses. The incoming Government should urgently review the MIF with a view to improving its sensitivity to the realities of self-employment. Until this is complete, the MIF should not apply to self-employed UC claimants.

Chair’s comments

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said;

“Companies in the gig economy are free-riding on the welfare state, avoiding all their responsibilities to profit from this bogus “self-employed” designation while ordinary tax-payers pick up the tab. This inquiry has convinced me of the need to offer “worker” status to the drivers who work with those companies as the default option. This status would be a much fairer reflection of the work they undertake which seems to fall between what most of us would think of as “self-employed” or “employed”. 

It would also protect them from some of the appalling practices that have been reported to the Committee in this inquiry. Uber’s recent announcement that it will soon charge its drivers for sickness cover is just another way of pushing costs onto the workforce, to reinforce the impression that those workers are self-employed.

Self-employment can be genuinely flexible and rewarding for many, but “workers” and “employees” can and do work flexibly. Flexibility is not the preserve of poorly paid, unstable contractors, nor does the brand of “flexibility” on offer from these gig economy companies seem reciprocal. It is clearly profit and profit only that is the motive for designating workers as self-employed. The companies get all the benefits, while workers take on all the risks and the state will be expected to pick up the tab, with little contribution from the companies involved.

It is up to Government to close the loopholes that are currently being exploited by these companies, as part of a necessary and wide ranging reform to the regulation of corporate behaviour.”

Uber


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David Cameron promised a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor

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I wrote an article last year – Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor – which outlines Coalition policies that have widened inequalities and increased poverty by handing out public money to the wealthy that has been taken from the poorest. I pointed out that this Government have raided our tax-funded welfare provision and used it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107,000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax break for millionaires, amongst other things.

And what does our imperturbable chancellor promise if this disgrace of a government is re-elected? True to Tory form, more of the same: austerity for the poor and public services cuts, and tax breaks for the wealthiest.

But further cuts to lifeline benefits and public services is surely untenable. Absolute poverty has risen dramatically, this past four years, heralding the return of Victorian illnesses that are associated with malnutrition. People have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms”. Supporting the wealthy has already cost the poorest so very much, yet this callous, indifferent, morally nihilistic  government are casually discussing taking even more from those with the very least.

This isn’t anything to do with economic necessity: it’s all about Tory ideology. Under the guise of austerity, the Tory-led Coalition have stripped our welfare and public services down to the bare bones. Any further cuts will destroy what remains of our post-war settlement.

Despite facing a global recession, the Labour Government invested in our public services, and borrowed substantially less in thirteen years than the Coalition have in just three years. UK citizens were sheltered very well from the worst of the global bank-induced crash.

Gordon Brown got it right in his championing of the G20 fiscal stimulus, agreed at the London summit of early April 2010, which was a continuation of his policies that had served to steer the UK economy out of the consequences of a global recession, and to protect citizens from the consequences of cuts to services and welfare.

Osborne’s policy of imposing austerity and budget cuts on an economy that was actually recovering was a catastrophic error. The austerity propelled the economy backwards and into depression; and, far from using public spending as a countervailing force against the cutbacks in private sector investment, the Coalition’s budget cuts served to aggravate the crisis. Many people are suffering terribly as a consequence, reduced to a struggle for survival.

And in these socio-economic circumstances, the Tories have pledged a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich. The funding for the tax cuts will come from further catastrophic “savings” made at the expense of the poorest yet again – £25 billion more to be sliced from welfare, Local Authorities,  education, police and other vital services.

Three things are immediately clear. Firstly, without the ramping up of VAT in 2010, to 20%, Osborne would be in even more dire financial straits than he is.

Secondly, income tax has, despite allegedly rising employment, failed to increase.

Thirdly, corporation tax, targeted for cuts, year after year, has slumped. The tax system is increasingly veering toward very regressive – biased in favour of the wealthy – consumption taxes, which affects the poorest, most, and failing to deliver fairer taxes on income.

This is the result of government policy: increasing VAT but cutting corporation tax, and the engineered kind of “recovery” we have ended up with. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) reminded us in October of the extent of the Coalition’s failure to reduce the deficit.

Public sector net borrowing in 2013-14 was originally expected to be £60 billion; the out-turn for borrowing was £108 billion (on a comparable basis). This amounts to a shortfall of nearly £50 billion, with borrowing approaching double the original predictions made when the government’s austerity policies were announced in 2010.

Much of this shortfall is accounted for by the current earnings crisis. UK workers are suffering the longest and most severe decline in real earnings since records began in Victorian times, according to an analysis published by the TUC. But Tories always lower wages, and hike up the cost of living. And whilst workers are struggling to make ends meet, private business owners/Tory donors are raking in millions of pounds. But this is exactly how Tories like to run society in a nutshell.

It’s their imposition of a feudalist schemata for social relationships. Cognitively, Tories are the equivalent of historical egocentric toddlers: they are stuck at this painful stage of arrested development.

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement” – stated in the Coalition Agreement.

For a government whose raison d’etre is deficit reduction, the Coalition really isn’t very good at all. But austerity reflects the triumph of discriminatory Tory ideology over needs-led, evidenced-based policy making.

The OBR said the forecast from 2010 was over-optimistic because it did not take into consideration the effect of lower wages as well as a higher levels of tax-free personal allowance on the upper brackets of income tax. National Insurance contributions were also £7.4 billion below forecast.

Which brings us back to the issue of further tax cuts for the wealthy, with no mention of raising wages for the poorer work-force, and of course there is the promise of more cuts to come for those relying on lifeline benefits. I don’t think that the Coalition cares that their policies don’t balance the books, as it were, or mend the economy. Nor do they care what the consequences are for the wider public.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

The government’s failure to get wages growing again has not only left families far worse off than in 2010, it’s put the public finances in a mess too. The economy has become very good at creating low-paid jobs, but not the better paid work that brings in income tax. The Chancellor’s sums just don’t add up – he can’t make the tax cuts for the better off that he is promising and meet his deficit reduction target without making cuts to public services.

His cuts would be so deep that no government could deliver them without doing damage to both the economy and the fabric of our society. We can’t cut our way out of this problem any more than we can dig ourselves out of a hole. More austerity would only keep us stuck in a downward spiral. The Chancellor should use next week’s Autumn Statement to invest in growth and to put a wages recovery at the top of the agenda.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said:

Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from. Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?

Cameron has also announced the basic rate before we start paying tax would rise from £10,500 to £12,500. While a worker on £12,500 would save £500 a year, someone earning £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra.

Those earning up to £123,000 would be £484 richer. Someone on £12,500 would save £500 a year, while someone on up to £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra. And the £500 tax cut for basic rate earners will be almost wiped out by George Osborne’s raid on in-work benefits.

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank says it was:

very difficult to see how the £7billion tax giveaway could be paid for.

We’re looking at promises of £7billion of tax giveaways in the context of an overall plan to get the deficit down but even without tax giveaways that requires pretty extraordinary levels of spending cuts such that most government departments will see their spending cut by a third by 2020.

How are you going to afford this? Even more dramatic spending cuts?

At the Tory Conference, Cameron promised to expand the National Citizen Service youth project for every teenager in the country, have the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major economy.

There was also a pledge to abolish youth unemployment by the end of the decade. But the Tory faithful gave the loudest applause for his pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act.

This is a truly terrifying pledge, because human rights were originally formulated as an international response to the atrocities of the 2nd World war, and to ensure that citizens are protected from abuses of their government.

A Labour Party analysis found the proposed tax break would hand David Cameron and other Cabinet ministers an extra £132 a year. But a family with two children with one earner on £25,000 a year would lose £495 by 2017-17 due to the benefits freeze announced by Mr Osborne.

The Tory plan is based solely on spending cuts, mainly directed at the working age poor. And the Conservative plan to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000 means that  working-age poor people are to fund a tax cut that is four times greater for higher rate tax payers than for basic rate taxpayers.

Ed Balls said in response:

David Cameron’s speech showed no recognition that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories nor that the NHS is going backwards on their watch. The only concrete pledge we’ve had from the Tories this week is a promise to cut tax credits by hundreds of pounds for millions of hard working people while keeping a £3 billion tax cut for the richest one per cent.

TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady added:

No amount of dressing up can hide the fact that the policies in this speech pass by those who need the most help to reward richer voters.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

What was missing in the PM’s speech was any recognition that independent projections show that child poverty rates are set to soar. We know that raising the personal tax allowance is an ineffective way of supporting low paid families.Independent analysis shows that just 15% of the £12 billion required to raise the PTA to £12,500 would go to working families in the lowest-income half of the population.

Many simply don’t earn enough to benefit from this policy, and those that do just see their benefits and tax credits withdrawn as their incomes rise.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies showed in their Green Budget publication this year that just 15% of the gains from increasing the personal allowance would benefit the poorest half of Britons, concluding:

There are better ways to help the low paid via the tax and benefit system.

Ex-Treasury official James Meadway,  now a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said Cameron’s changes were:

irresponsible, expensive gimmicks that scarcely affect the poorest workers.

They imply swingeing public sector cuts and mean handing over more cash to the already rich.

Ed Miliband will respond tomorrow (Monday), declaring that the Tories’ failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis has helped cost the Exchequer £116.5 billion – leading to higher borrowing and broken promises on the deficit. The price tag, equivalent to almost £4,000 for every taxpayer, is based on new research from the House of Commons Library being published by the Labour Party.

This shows that low pay and stagnant salaries, combined with soaring housing costs and the failure to tackle root causes of increased welfare bills, means that over the course of this Parliament:

  • Income tax receipts have fallen short of forecasts by more than £66 billion.
  • National Insurance Contributions are £25.5 billion lower than expected.
  • Spending on social security is £25 billion higher than planned [despite brutal cuts to lifeline benefits]

Mr Miliband is expected to say the test for George Osborne in this week’s Autumn Statement will be to set out a plan to build a recovery for working people – one which recognises the link between the living standards and Britain’s ability get the deficit down.

He is expected to say:

For a very long time, our country has worked well for a few people, but not for everyday people. “We live in a country where opportunities are too skewed to those at the top, where too many people work hard for little reward, where too many young people can’t find a job or apprenticeship worthy of their talents, and where families can’t afford to buy a home of their own.

For all the Government’s boasts about a belated economic recovery, there are millions of families still caught in the most prolonged cost-of-living crisis for a century.  For them this is a joy-less and pay-less recovery.

My priority as Prime Minister will be tackling that cost-of-living crisis so that hard work is properly rewarded again, so that our children can dream of a better future, so that our public services including the NHS are safe.

Building a recovery that works for everyday people is the real test of the Autumn Statement.

But that isn’t a different priority to tackling the deficit. Building a recovery that works for most people is an essential part of balancing the books.

The Government’s failure to build a recovery that works for every-day people and tackle the cost-of-living crisis isn’t just bad for every person affected, it also hampers our ability to pay down the deficit.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by a Tory-led Government overseeing stagnant wages which keep tax revenues low.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by Tory policies which focus on low paid, low skilled, insecure jobs – often part-time or temporary – because they do not raise as much revenue as the high skill, high wage opportunities we need to be creating.

And our public finances have been weakened by higher social security bills to subsidise low paid jobs and the chronic shortage of homes.   

The result has been David Cameron and George Osborne missing every single target they set themselves on clearing the deficit and balancing the books by the end of this parliament.

Their broken promises, their abject failure, are not an accident. They are the direct result of an outdated ideology which says all a Government has to do is look after a privileged few at the top and everyone else will follow.

That is why this Government has done a great job of squeezing the middle, but a bad job of squeezing the deficit.

The test this week for David Cameron and George Osborne is whether they recognise that Britain will only succeed and prosper for the long term by tackling the cost-of-living crisis and building a recovery which works for the many, not just for a few.

Or whether they will just offer more of the same old ideas that have failed them, failed everyday working people, and failed Britain over the past four years.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the brilliant memes

The link between Trade Unionism and equality

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In an article I wrote earlier this year – Conservatism in a nutshell – I outlined some basic themes of New Right Conservative ideology. I said:

Conservatives don’t like social spending or welfare – our safety net. That’s because when you’re unemployed and desperate, companies can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, the Tories want you in a position to work for next to nothing or starve, so their business buddies can focus on feeding their profits, which is their only priority. Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. These policies undo all of their efforts to keep you desperate. They don’t like European Union labour laws and directives either, for the same reason.

Conservatives prioritise handing out our money to their big business partners, no matter what it costs us as a society. For example, a spending breakdown reveals how NHS funding has flowed to private firms, much of that money has gone to companies with corrupt ties to the Tories, whilst health care is being rationed, care standards have plummeted, services are cut, and by the end of the next financial year, health service workers will have had their pay capped for six years, prompting fully justified strike action.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on trade unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. And there are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

We have witnessed a dramatic increase in levels of economic inequality this past four years, reflected in the fact that income differences between top earners and those on the lowest wages are now higher than at any time since records began. The UK now ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, even more unequal than the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism. Our current levels of inequality have far exceeded the point at which campaigners need any further proof to show how socially corrosive and life-limiting the subsequent deepening poverty is.

Despite the legislative framework of Labour’s Equality Act, passed in 2010, there is a growing gender-based pay gap, continued abuse of agency workers, the problem of the two-tier work force and the contracting out of public servicesStrong trade unions improve public services, too.

Speaking at a press conference on the first day of the 2014 TUC Congress, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The key message of this year’s congress is Britain needs a pay rise and I also expect many of the debates on the floor to focus on the importance of the coming general election for people at work.

Today, I want to highlight the threat posed by the Conservative Party’s promised manifesto proposals on strike ballots.

Because these proposals are designed to make unions weaker. And if unions become weaker, then the chances of people winning a pay rise, improving living standards and tackling inequality in Britain today will become a good deal harder.

The Conservative Party is not just proposing a few more bureaucratic obstacles that will make life a bit more difficult for trade unions.

Taken together, they would effectively ban strikes by the back door. And, on top of that, they would open up elected union leaders to increased surveillance by the state.

They are not just an attack on fundamental liberties. They will act to lower living standards for the majority of working people – whether or not they are union members.”

One half of the British population owns 9% of household wealth whilst the other half owns 91% of the wealth; and the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the poorest 20% of the entire population.

Conservatives are always obsessed with “economic growth”, but we know from history that economic expansion in itself does not promote equality: it is the types of employment, the rules and structure of the economy and policies that matter most. Conservative governments always create high levels of inequality.  Furthermore, they rarely manage to bring about the economic growth they promise. But recession due to reduced public spending is an inbuilt feature of neoliberalism, as we witnessed during the Thatcher era.

Inequality hinders growth in another important way: it fuels social conflict. However, social diversity has no negative impact on economic growth, despite what those on the blame-mongering Right would try and have us believe. It is economic policies that shape inequalities, not minority groups: they are the casualities of inequality not its creators.

Economic inequality is also about discrimination. Black and ethnic minority workers are disadvantaged in finding employment. Dismissal of pregnant workers is a widespread practice. Last year, the wage gap between men and women’s earnings increased and the progress previously made towards equal pay has been reversed.

Cameron’s government has mobilised resentment and fear on the part of relatively privileged social groups in relation to other subordinate or putatively threatening groups of politically defined Others – immigrants, unemployed people, disabled people, unionised workers, single mothers and so on.

Social inequalities and hierarchies are defended by Conservatives and secured in several ways. The defence of power, wealth and property, when threatened, tends to be micro-managed via rigid authoritarianism, through systems of mobilised prejudice and through free-market policies (the predictable effects of which are to transfer wealth upwards). All Conservative politics pivot on a fundamental commitment – the defence of privilege, status, and thus sustaining social inequality.

But it is only by shifting money from the high-hoarding rich to the high-spending rest of us, and not the other way around, that investment and growth may be stimulated and sustainable.

The Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecasts that the Coalition are facing a £17BILLION blackhole after the low pay  that their own policies have strongly encouraged have caused a slump in tax payments to the treasury.

It is very clear that austerity is not an economic necessity, but rather, it is an ideological preference, used as a justification for “shrinking the State” whilst defending power, wealth and privilege.

The Coalition have introduced trade union laws which inhibit trade union recruitment, activity and collective bargaining. Employment rights are being removed, at a time when policies have reduced access to unfair dismissal protection and access to employment tribunals.

Trade unions are most effective when all workers are represented and therefore trade unionism encourages social inclusion. Collective bargaining and representational support will not work in the long term if some workers have substantially less to gain from the process than others.

For this reason, trade unions and the Labour Party have worked at eliminating sex, race and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. This has taken time, given how deeply ingrained inequalities have been in our society. We know that where trade unions are active, employers are more likely to have equal opportunities policies.

But for proper support of economic equality, trade unions need legal protection for their activities so they may operate freely and build effective social solidarity and promote egalitarianism.  Trade unions seek increased participation by working people in the decisions that influence their lives and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth. That is the antithesis of Conservatism.

Freedom to speak out against injustice, to campaign for economic equality and to work together through trade unions are underpinned by rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It’s no surprise that Cameron has pledged to exit the ECHR and to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act.

To tackle economic inequality and build a fairer society, it is essential that trade-unions can operate freely and that collective bargaining is renewed. The impoverishment and exploitation of any one group of workers is a threat to the well-being and livelihood of everyone.

Building a future economy where the benefits of work and profit are shared requires legal reform in support of effective trade unions.

Lydia Hayes and Tonia Novitz from the Centre For Labour and Social Studies have written  the following proposals, designed to change public policy, so that trade unions are better able to represent their members, by  simplifying the statutory procedure for trade union recognition, and putting in place arrangements for sector-wide collective bargaining:

1. Introduce a legal framework through which trade unions can freely organise and engage in collective action to build economic equality.

2. Amend trade union recognition legislation so that all workers who choose to join a union can be represented in collective bargaining and other workplace matters.

3. Ensure the law provides for sectoral bargaining which can set minimum terms and conditions across an industry or a service sector.

4. Defend human rights which protect the functioning of trade unions (including rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association).

5. Give trade unions access to workers and workplaces, so that they can advise on the benefits of membership and collective bargaining.

6. Enable workers to have access to information about trade unions at their workplace so that they can make an informed choice and easily join a trade union if they want to.

None of this will happen during the current government’s term, because Conservatism is in diametric opposition to trade unionism, equality, human rights and egalitarianism.

Related
The Institute of employment Rights

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the graphics.


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