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Posts Tagged ‘strikes’

To November 30 #nov30

November 30, 2011 2 comments

Joking or not, the jibes heard by Jeremy Clarkson tonight are not unlike the sort of jibes I, and I am sure many of you, will have heard on the trains and buses, in the workplace and on social networks tonight.

Clarkson said:

I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.

He might be trying to wind us up, but he’s also a hard-wired twat who says things that he knows will tap into popular or unsure sentiment.

Recently Owen Jones published a blog on LabourList blowing these accusations right out of the water:

the average pension of a civil servant is about £4,000 a year; more than 100,000 earn less than £2,000 a year … Public sector workers do the equivalent of 120 million hours of unpaid overtime a year … [average pension of] 346 directors from 102 of the UK’s top companies … was worth £201,700: about 25 times higher than the average worker.

Though this is not to say the private sector has never had it so good. A recent TUC report entitled A Race to the Bottom noted that two out of three private sector workers get no employer support for their pensions, whilst also saying that rather than being vengeful, private sector workers should be angry about the higher rate of tax relief on pension contributions that wealthier people are entitled to.

Talking up the Dutch model for pension schemes, David Pitt-Watson said in 2010:

Today our pensions, particularly those in the private sector, are provided in individual accounts, with no employer guarantee. Again, the employer and employee both contribute to the scheme, but the benefit is unknown. So they are known as defined contribution schemes.

It is not that public sector pensions shouldn’t be raised through general taxation, but that employers should feel duty bound to ensure pension contributions are guaranteed – because after all employers depend on those employees for their company to function, and that gratitude should be felt through retirement.

The opinion that public sector workers are lazy is one that the government has made no efforts to hide. That is until strike action reminded them just how necessary their work is. But consider to what extent this hard work is rewarded today.

As Duncan Weldon said today, “Over the course of 2010 to 2015 the average growth in real household disposable income (RHDI) will have been just 0.5% per annum.”

Furthermore according to figures by HM Revenue & Customs, reminded by Richard Murphy, in his new book The Courageous State, between 1976 (the end of the “Keynesian era”) and 2003 (the last year which HMRC publish data) the top 10% wealthiest increased its share by 29% to 34% while the top 1% increased its share from 57% to 71%.

The bottom 50%, however, saw its share fall from 12% to 1%.

Incomes and wealth of half the country has seen massive falls over the years, while the top strata have seen rises. Of the former, there exists both public and private sector workers, for whom a shared sense of anger should be directed, not each other, but, towards the rich.

They, after all, are the ones with real gilt-edged pensions.

To many more November 30s.

Don’t be deterred by Osborne’s trap – strike today!

Today will see schools, prisons and courts employees, represented by trade unions, take strike action against the government on the grounds that public sector workers will work longer while contributing more towards their pension pots.

Union leaders have responded ahead of today explaining their positions. Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has called the action “regrettable” but “due to the position that the government has taken, unavoidable”. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber pointed out that pay has been frozen for two years despite high inflation, and that the feeling is public sector workers are being punished for a poor economic outlook they had no part in creating.

Strike

It is beyond despair that Ed Miliband has dismissed the strike out of hand, given that he is the leader of the Labour party. More depressing is he’ll gain nothing for it; David Cameron will continue accusing him of being in the pockets of the unions, while the laughing tabloid press continue running headlines to suit.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has hardly pledged undivided support for mass action, but what he has said is of interest. Commenting on Osborne’s strategy, he called on public sector workers not to fall into the chancellor’s trap. The trap being laid out is one, not too dissimilar from the bad snow episode – where if recovery appears slow, Osborne can raise the alarm that public sector workers are the cause.

It would seem that if Balls is saying this he knows it to be dishonest – therefore him and his party should not be giving undue credence to Osborne’s trap by withdrawing strike support.

To be sure Balls knows, and opposes, Osborne’s plans (he calls Osborne joining the Treasury another “fork in the road moment”). At a speech given at the LSE earlier this month (seen to counter the chancellor’s speech at Mansion House the day before) Balls noted that Britain’s slow recovery could cost families £3,300 by 2015, as well as leaving Britain £58bn worse off. The economies in America, France and Germany have all returned to pre-crisis levels, whereas Britain is still below that by 4%.

Commenting on recent ONS figures for growth, Balls said “These final figures confirm that in the six months since George Osborne’s spending review and VAT rise the economy has flatlined and the recovery has been choked off.”

The former children’s minister can see the risks, has been keen to point out that this is ideological (or what William Keegan calls Osborne’s “political straitjacket”) and so should respond in turn by supporting strike action, while preparing to brush aside excuses given by the chancellor for possible poor economic recovery.

What Recovery?

Esther Armstrong writing for Interactive Investor yesterday said “This was supposed to be the year economies the world over got back on track.” In fact George Osborne was hoping the whole mess would be sorted by now, but his inability to change tack through fear of looking weak has meant the British economy is shooting below target (indeed Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the cabinet office, was reported saying “you do not gain credibility by sticking to a strategy that isn’t working”).

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBS) has downgraded UK growth projections for 2011 three times now, while we also face a wave of what Duncan Weldon has called “consumer recession”.

Osborne himself admitted that recovery will take longer than he expected, but this has also been compounded with the flatlining of many low and middle income earners. In fact real wages have fallen for the last 17 months and are likely to do so until 2013 – earnings falling below inflation does nothing for consumer confidence, and as Chris Dillow noted (as one of the differences between 1981 and 2010) the ability for people to run up personal debt through loans, in turn offsetting the decline in public spending, is a privilege (if you can call it that) we cannot enjoy today while banks are reluctant to lend.

If Osborne wasn’t so stubborn about saving face, he might have listened to Ed Balls’ idea for a temporary cut to VAT, which would instantly lower inflation, increase real wages, be as easy to implement as to reverse while the cost to do so is way under borrowing forecasts (the former being around £12-13bn versus the latter of £40bn). But alas the horrible show must go on.

What do we have to lose in striking?

In spite of proper Labour support, strike action is necessary. Unions are the only bargaining chip available to the workforce, and the government have been very clear they are not listening.

The damage being done by the cabinet of millionaires (whose pensions, along with other MPs, even after changes “will be among the most generous in the country“) must be challenged. As a Labour party member I’m loathe to say this; but we cannot wait for the opposition any longer – this fight will come from the bottom up, from those most affected by Tory/LibDem bullying, and it is high time this battle was won. This country will no longer be walked all over by the undeserving rich.

Employers gear up for attack on workers’ rights

August 7, 2010 6 comments

"You want me to what now?"

All through this year and last year, as strike after strike was brought down by employers’ opportunistic legal attacks – on any grounds they could possibly muster, whether those grounds had any material effect on the situation or not – I said that laws governing strike ballots were draconian and poorly constructed, failing to fulfil their stated aim of protecting the democratic rights of workers in trades unions.

Employers’ group, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, have underlined my point with a recent demand that the government tighten laws on strike ballots, and consider banning strikes altogether and introduce compulsory arbitration in “key” industries. There’s no pretence that tightening laws will respect the democratic rights of workers now, it’s simply naked aggression towards anyone who disagrees with the cuts and will act to stop them.

Naturally the CBI, the Confederation of British Industry, is not far behind. In a document with a title that would make Orwell worry, they’ve announced that the government should impose a 40% quorum for strike action on the balloted workforce. Making Britain the Place to Work also, ironically, proposes to shorten the statutory consultation period for firms making more than 100 people redundant from 90 days to 30 days.

Here, of course, there is the usual pretence at defending the interests of ordinary people – as John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General stated when launching the document, “Strikes cause misery. They prevent ordinary people going about their daily lives, whether it’s getting to work or getting the kids to school.” To which the obvious answer should be, guess what? Mass unemployment and encroachment into the terms and conditions of a workforce cause misery too.

The CBI document contains a lot of other worrying ideas as well. A key one is the attack on TUPE – the transfer of undertaking (protection of employment) regulations, which essentially protect workers’ terms and conditions if a company is transfered from one owner to another. The CBI want any new owner to be able to ‘harmonise’ a newly acquired business with a previous one, paying workers the same; i.e. less.

Contained in the document is also a demand for the American system of workforce voting for union recognition instead of the Central Arbitration Committee having the power to simply grant workplace recognition to a union, if that union has gained over 50% of the members of the workplace. This takes place in the context of businesses which simply refuse to negotiate with unions, even when their whole shop is unionised, provoking strikes simply to get recognition – which is not in the interest of workers, who lose pay.

Ballots introduce a plethora of questions. Would it only be held once? Could it be forced any time employers were having difficulty negotiating with a particular union? Would there be a particular threshold to trigger union recognition? In the US, these laws are used to stymie union recognition – even to the point of employers creating and promoting their own unions for workers to join, just to screw with the recognition of other unions.

The CBI document states:

“People at work should always be empowered to decide for themselves if they want to be represented by a union or take the opportunity to use other routes to communicate with their employer. The law should be amended so ballots should always be held to enable employees to demonstrate whether or not they support recognition of a trade union to speak on their behalf.”

People at work are always empowered to decide for themselves if they want to be represented by a union; they can join one or not. The problem here is not with the accurate representation of workers, it’s with the voluntary nature of union recognition. And I don’t see the CBI bemoaning the failure of businesses to accept the decision of their workers to be represented by unions.

This leads me to suspect that the CBI have other motives than empowering workers.

With the (half-) victory of a Conservative government, it would be surprising if employers’ groups weren’t gearing up to attack unions and further impose regulations on the one area of employment law where regulations seem tolerable to bosses; that area where the worker gets to give force to his opinion. We need to be aware that a victory in this field will make life all the harder later on, when unions are finally forced into action against the cuts.

We should also recognise that these are only opening salvoes from bosses’ organisations. As with Thatcher’s government, once they know they can get away with this, they will try and take away much more.

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