Unions21 publishes collection of articles from Labour’s leadership candidates

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The exam question Labour’s leadership candidates were posed for our new publication was set by the Unions21 steering committee: “Outline your views on fair work, particularly focusing on work quality, pay, training and productivity”. A straight forward interview question from leading trade unionists for those vying for the job of Labour leader or deputy.


But the articles submitted in response are revealing on a number of fronts, they seek also to answer some of the more fundamental questions union members might have. How deep is your connection to the trade union movement? What ability do you have to remake the case for trade unions? What future do you see for Labour and the unions?


Not only – What policy prescription do you have? But also, how will you persuade people?

And importantly: Are you an election winner?


The process, we hoped, would be a useful exercise for the candidates in organising and presenting their thoughts on ‘fair work’ directly to a union audience. The result is a rich resource for trade unions and those interested the future of the world of work.


Yvette Cooper begins the collection with a positive vision of a high value, high tech economy. She will ensure 3% of GDP is invested in science and R&D to deliver it—and 2 million more manufacturing jobs. Increased productivity and trade growth need to be national targets. Meanwhile, tribunal fees will be scrapped as will the two year qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims. Her view is that unions and Labour face a common challenge in needing to respond to a fast changing world or be left behind.


Andy Burnham also sees investing in the skills and industries of the future as key. He emphasises the need to boost pay at the low end – and will make any rises in the Minimum Wage apply to working people under 25 years of age. He will create parity between academic and technical education. And Councils will be allowed to build more homes.


Liz Kendal’s article remakes the case for trade unions, drawing on examples of their contribution to campaigns for the National Minimum Wage and their practical success in boosting training. Liz aspires to make it easier for unions to organise and deliver for members. She will bring in online balloting for industrial action, and put employees on the boards of firms.


Jeremy Corbyn describes a crisis in the labour market “not of quantity, but of quality”. He sees unions as “the most effective force for equality in our society”. He will restore national pay bargaining and above inflation pay rises in the public sector. He wants trade unions to have the right to access workplaces to recruit and organise. Jeremy’s prescription of wage councils in low paid industries and an extended remit for the gangmasters licensing authority are broadly in tune with the ideas explored in Unions21’s Fair Work Commission project of 2013.


Caroline Flint’s article begins our collection of articles from Deputy Leadership candidates. Caroline believes union recognition creates better firms – a view she has backed with organising action in her own constituency. She believes “flexibility should not equal insecurity”. Caroline’s range of policy ideas includes a duty on employers to provide employees who make a complaint a list of agencies that could represent them, to include unions.


Stella Creasy uses the lyrics of Billy Bragg’s “To Have And To Have Not” to set the scene for her article. Stella’s focus is on Labour’s regaining of momentum and winning form. “Winning is the only way we can guarantee a government that respects and appreciates trade unions”. Unions are partners to business in building a productive economy, and to Labour in providing the energy, experience and ideas for an effective alternative government.


Ben Bradshaw as Deputy Prime Minister would see the return of the union learning agenda in government. Ben wants to see it grow into a bigger and stronger programme than before 2010. High quality apprenticeships are part of the route to the high skilled jobs of the future. Ben supports workers on boards and wants to see the Equal Pay Act and Equality Act fully implemented. He wants Labour to do more work with unions to develop the next generation of political leaders.


Tom Watson identifies the Government’s “one dimensional political approach to employment” centred on private sector job quantity rather than quality, as a key issue. He believes industrial policy, more ambitious employment standards and collective bargaining are all part of the answer. Speaking as a former trade union official, he paints a picture of a workforce under pressure and his desire to work with unions from “day one” to improve the world of work.


Angela Eagle focuses on pay and training. As Deputy leader she would fight for all workers to be paid a proper living wage, champion stronger sector skills training and strengthen collective bargaining.  Of the Government’s attacks on unions Angela says “A government that was serious about representing workers and ensuring they’re treated fairly would work with trade unions, not try to use the law to weaken them”.


Three conclusions can be reassuringly drawn from this collection: The field of Labour leadership candidates see unions as crucially important to a fair economy, they believe in the role of government in creating the conditions for high quality work and training, and (whether they win or lose the contest) each have a range of credible policy prescriptions to take forward.


Reading across the contributions there is common ground to be found on investment in skills and further education, the prescription of partnership between employees and employers to increase productivity and the need for action on low pay.


Unions21 will continue to work with these politicians, and across all political parties where we find support for a sustainable future for the trade union movement.


Unions respond to check-off attack

The government has said it is scrapping the system under which public sector workers can have trade union subscriptions deducted straight from their salaries

TUC Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“If payroll payment for union membership was outdated, it would not be popular with so many of the UK’s biggest and most successful private companies.

The public will see this for what it really is – yet another attack on union members from a government that is determined to rebalance power in the workplace so that workers lose their voice and their rights. And it goes hand-in-hand with new proposals that threaten the right to strike.

Instead of going out of their way to poison industrial relations, the government should work positively with workers and their representatives for the good of public services and the economy.”

Unions respond to the Government’s Trade Union Bill

The Government has published the Trade Union Bill and drawn criticism from across the movement, writing on the touchstone blog, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:


“The proposals will make getting a much-needed pay rise, stopping job losses or negotiating better conditions at work much more difficult. They’ll make it harder for unions to do their day-to-day job of dealing with problems in the workplace before they escalate into disputes. And they’ll stifle protests against cuts to public services, like closures of SureStart centres, libraries and care services.


It’s a strange choice for the party that wants to position itself as the workers’ champion. Not measures to tackle exploitation at work or boost productivity, but an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties.”

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Fair work commission reports

The Fair Work Commission ended in 2013. To read the report click here

Is industrial action undemocratic? Let’s bust that myth

The government’s legislative plans for the year ahead include a Trade Unions Bill that would create a 50% voting threshold for union strike ballot turnouts, and a requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote must back action in essential public services – health, education, fire and transport.


A government spokesperson said: “…we will legislate to stop undemocratic industrial action…”


But under the Trade Unions Bill a ballot in which half of those eligible to vote took part would require 80% to vote “Yes” to make action legal. A positive vote of 79.9% on a 50% turnout is undemocratic, according to the government.


So, how does this compare to the system that elected that government? 24.4% of all people eligible to vote backed the Conservatives – far less than the 40 per cent threshold it wants to impose on trade union members.


Should the government wish to legislate in a democratic way it should look to the polling. Most of the British public support the right to strike for workers. In particular, according to YouGov: Post office workers (64%), bus drivers (64%), refuse collectors (61%), railway and underground workers (60%), social workers (57%) and teachers (53%). Indeed, more people support the radical idea of a right to strike for the armed forces than voted Conservative at the election.


The TUC identifies that the Trade Unions Bill would effectively end the right to strike. A democratically minded government would be supporting the wishes of the majority – and protecting industrial action as one of the most essential checks and balances in any democracy. A modernising government would legislate to allow electronic voting in ballots for industrial action to increase the turnout and therefore the legitimacy of any vote.

John Park’s article on Rebalancing the Economy

Today Unions21 was at Scottish TUC Congress with a standing-room-only fringe event in Ayr entitled: ‘The rebalancing act: How should we tackle inequality?’ . The event was the Scottish launch of Unions21′s recent publication ‘Rebalancing the Economy’. The speakers were Mick Whelan, Drew Smith MSP, Manuel Cortes, Dave Penman and Ann Henderson.

To coincide with the event, John Park contributed the following article:


John Park, AGS of Community

It’s hard not to feel that we have spent too much time  in Scotland focusing on the differences between us and our nearest neighbours, as opposed to looking at the issues that jointly concern workers across the UK. The inequality that affects many parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland prevails in many parts of Scotland too. During the last few years in Scotland we haven’t been finding solutions for  those issues but we’ve become good at discussing where power lies (or doesn’t) and the processes that surround decision makers.


Scotland hasn’t been a policy-free zone however. There has been a different path followed by the Scottish Government since 2007. The question is though, has this path done enough to address or even consider the specific micro-economic factors that affect Scottish communities?


One of the most troubling factors as a Scot, who worked across the UK during the independence referendum, was the assertion that Scots somehow had more of a social conscience than our friends and colleagues in other parts of the UK. The reality in policy terms is about as far away from the assertion as you can get. Over the last seven or eight years, the Scottish Government has introduced a number of eye-catching universal policies which at face value appear to be progressive. But for every free bus pass, there has been a cut in elderly care services; for every free university place, there has been a cut in college places; and for every free prescription, the queue in A&E has got longer. These policies have not been redistributive; they haven’t addressed regional inequalities in any way and have arguably benefited some of the better off  – creating a bigger gap between the rich and poor.


The components are there for a better Scotland. Trade unions are involved and have played a positive role in post-devolution politics in Scotland. Unions are very much viewed as social partners – certainly in a bilateral sense – although there is still very little tripartite engagement between government, trade unions and business. Despite the potential in this relationship between trade unions and government, trade union membership in Scotland either falls faster or grows more slowly than in any other part of the UK. There could be a number of factors that feed into those figures but given the apparently sympathetic view of the role of trade unions and their involvement, it is disappointing that more progress hasn’t been made in terms of consolidating and growing trade union membership in Scotland. This means that thousands of workers in Scotland – particularly those in the private sector – are not benefiting from the safer, smarter and more rewarding workplace environment that responsible trade unionism delivers.


Perhaps there isn’t a real appetite currently for the level of engagement needed to be an influential social partner? This could be down to the reluctance of many trade unions in Scotland being seen to work in partnership (at least publicly) with employers and the business community more generally.


Notwithstanding the complications the constitutional debate has brought to Scotland over the last few years there  has also been a poor level of serious discussion about the issues facing the Scottish economy – many of which are similar to those facing other parts of the UK.


Before the financial crash in 2008, business organisations used to complain about “red tape” and the “crowding out” of the private sector by the public sector. (Read employment rights for “red tape” and public sector spending for “crowding out”.) The red tape argument still has some resonance within certain sections of society, while, ironically, the crowding out argument has morphed into the need for government to support industry through procurement.


This needs to improve. There has to be a more sensible, measured and constitution-free discussion about the future direction of Scotland. Any union that regularly engages with the issues facing its members and the companies they work for will tell you that the current economic debate in Scotland doesn’t bear any resemblance to the issues that have to be dealt with in individual workplaces, different sectors and various industries. These issues are often global, most definitely strategic and in many cases common to other parts of the UK and Europe.


Again, the components are there. The Scottish Parliament has a range of new powers on the blocks. Scotland is uniquely placed amongst the regions of England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make decisions about the specific problems we face as a country within the pooled resources of the UK.


We would hope that the constitutional question now begins to settle and we can now have a real debate about the kind of Scotland that Community’s members want to live and work in. From our perspective it’s not complicated. We want to see a Scotland that has good jobs and puts fair employment at the heart of meeting the challenge of globalisation. We want to see a growing and more relevant trade union movement – a movement that uses that growth and renewed relevance responsibly in the interests of all. Above all, we want to see a Scotland where anyone, no matter their background, can go on to fulfil their potential and play their part in Scotland’s future.

Simon Parry

Simon Parry is the founder and managing director of Infobo (please link: www.infobo.com), a website development and internet consultancy specialising in trade unions. Before this Simon was Head of Information and Website systems at Prospect.
Simon has been working with unions and technology since finishing a post graduate in Information Science, and has pioneered the use of website technologies, including the first union website to enable members to view and amend their details, and the earliest virtual branch systems. He has also instigated other developments in the way unions use the internet, such as full online joining systems, responsive website design, apps and search engine optimisation.
Simon regularly publishes his views in Labour Research magazine and is a member of the NUJ’s New Media Industrial Council.

Bob Crow 1961 – 2014

Nautilus International has paid tribute to Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime & Transport union (RMT), following his sudden death at the age of 52.


Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said he was deeply shocked by the unexpected news. ‘Bob’s drive and commitment to his members was remarkable and he was a tenacious and tireless fighter for the cause of British shipping and seafaring,’ he said.


‘He was a man of principle and passion, and we were proud to work with him on a wide range of campaigns to defend jobs and conditions, and to secure more investment in the employment and training of British seafarers.


‘Behind Bob’s public persona was a really decent bloke – someone who I came to respect as a man of deep principle and determination. He was a formidable negotiator,’ Mr Dickinson added. ‘He will be missed and my sincere condolences are extended to his friends, family colleagues, and his partner, Nicola.’


Mr Crow, who became leader of the RMT in 2002, left school at the age of 16 and his first job was with the London underground, as an apprentice track worker. He became a local representative for the then National Union of Railwaymen at the age of 20.


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Unions21 unions and the Lobbying Bill

Unions21 is a trade union network that shares best practice and new ideas between its members.  For the first time, its steering committee have decided that Unions21 should put forward a position on a government bill.


The legislation in question is the ‘Transparency of lobbying, non party campaigning and trade union administration’ – aka the Lobbying Bill.  The Bill has been has been highly controversial and drawn criticism from voluntary groups and charities as well as trade unions.


The case against the bill centres around it’s restriction on campaigning in the run up to an election and a new administrative burden on trade unions which over-rides the right to privacy of their members.
It is perhaps a mark of how far the government has deviated from moderation in its approach to legislation in this case that professional unions, not affiliated to the Labour Party, have put their case to the Government individually, through the TUC and for the first time via Unions21.


Views on the “chilling” effect of the bill are covered below  in the submission from the Royal College of Midwives. Issues around the requirement for unions to hand-over membership records and private correspondence  are set out below in a submission from the FDA.


Dan Whittle, Director, Unions21

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Helen Goodman MP: “All culture isn’t within the M25″

Helen Goodman MP’s speech to our joint Musicians’ Union, BECTU and Equity fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference: Britiain Entertaining the World


It’s very nice to be here and thank you for inviting me. I feel slightly terrified actually, I don’t normally feel terrified in meetings, but having heard John, Jean and Gerry and they’re all so eloquent, and all so clear, and they’ve all made such passionate cases, that I hope my response can live up to it.


As far as the National Union of Musicians is concerned, I just want to say I’m really grateful to you because you gave me the first nomination I ever had for a Parliamentary seat. Actually, I wasn’t selected but we won’t go into that…


You’re all absolutely right about the vitality of the creative sector and the economic contribution. And I want to divide what I say into two parts. I want to say something about the economic aspect and then I want to say a little bit also about the intrinsic aspect. Because I think missing the intrinsic aspect is the thing that politicians most frequently do that really winds up people in the sector. I don’t know whether you saw there was a great essay by David Edgar in the Guardian a few months ago that was about this.


It really came home to me, so we’re very good at the numbers but maybe we’re not so good at the messages.


Support and training


Now, I won’t repeat the financial contribution, but I will tell you that we’ve done quite a lot of work on having an economic strategy for the arts. It has 6 elements:


Obviously, in what all of you have described the people are essential to the success of the creative sector. This is true in your sector in a way which is quite different from, let’s say the car industry where technology’s very important, or banking, where let’s say money is very important. In this sector the individual, and what the individual brings to it, is the most important thing.


So the first thing that we need to look at it is whether we are equipping young people properly. And one of the things that we have been campaigning for is to prevent Michael Gove from narrowing the school curriculum and from only measuring Maths and English grammar and those things, and further trying to push to one side drama and painting.


We’re also, as you know, very keen to make sure that young people get the proper support which they need in further and higher education, because brilliant as I’m sure [the Musicians' Union’s] members are, they did need professional training and we do need to make sure that we’ve got a continued stream of people coming through.




The next thing that you’ve spoken about is money. Now there are issues around public money and the cuts, but there’s also the issue, and I guess this might affect the BECTU and the Musicians slightly more, but it’s the issue of access to finance for private firms and for private companies.


And it’s quite clear that we do need to get the City and the banks to concentrate on this. Because it’s a specialist field with particular kinds of risk and this needs to be understood so that people can set up successful companies which can grow and develop over time. So that’s the second part of what we want to do.


Intellectual property


The next thing that we’re very hot on is a proper intellectual property regime, which I think you’re all concerned about and we’ve had the conversations with the Googles of this world and we are keen to look at a way to implement the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the last Labour government fell.


We’re keen to have am intellectual property regime which works. Now, I’m not going to stand here and say that I’m totally confident that the clauses in the Digital Economy Act as they stand would work, because they’re a bit OTT really. Cutting somebody’s broadband off because their child once illegally downloads some pop music does seem to be a bit sledgehammer and nut.


So, we’re very keen to have a workable solution, and if we look at what’s happened, we’re also keen that the industry itself looks at ways of monetising its product. I think music industry unfortunately has been less successful on this issue than the publishing industry looks as if it’s going to be, but it’s important that we learn from the bad experience that the music industry had on that.


Local authorities and the regions


Now, I’m not going to make a commitment about local authority financing today. That would be an extraordinarily foolish thing to do when I haven’t discussed it with my colleagues in my Communities and Local Government team and Treasury team, but I will take your idea away.


We could also use the Creative Councillors’ Network to take a regional approach. Because there’s another thing we’re keen on: that all culture isn’t within the M25. I mean, I represent a seat in County Durham and it’s just completely impossible.


I did a survey in the summer of my constituents and my party members to ask them what things they would like to do in this area and what things they couldn’t do and what the barriers were. And one of the things that was very interesting was that everybody, virtually everybody, who answered had bought a book. And virtually everybody who answered had been to the cinema, but people would really like to go to the theatre more but they can’t afford the tickets. It’s no good if we add on to the cost of this ticket, a train ticket half way across the country.


British culture


Plainly, we have to be doing things in peoples’ communities. And we have to be doing things which, as you were saying, relate to their life experience and their social issues and their particular heritage. I’m a 1000% opposed to the commercialisation and constant Americanisation of our culture.


And we went to see the French Ambassador because the French are actually much more energetic  in protecting the French film industry, than we have been traditionally. I went to talk to him to see if we could actually say to them ‘well if we win we’ll buddy up with you’ [to exclude cultural products from the proposed US-EU trade deal]. I think they make a good point because plainly Shakespeare is not like hamburgers and we all know it.


Exporting the arts


Then, there’s the whole issue of pursuing an international strategy to promote Britain overseas but also to get inward investment. The man who invented Downton Abbey who Tories have put into the House of Lords [‘Julian Fellowes!’, yelled the audience], he did actually go on a trade mission but this is a new thing and I think we really want to see the arts and culture taking their place alongside the other industries when we do have overseas trade missions because, it is a very successful industry. One of our big, big, big international strategic competitive advantages is the English language. We are incredibly lucky.


We want to have that as a special strand, the international mileage. We’re absolutely clear that we want to do something about that.


Equality and representation


Also, we’re very concerned about equality of access and opportunity. Harriet [Harman]’s been saying a lot about having middle aged women on telly. As a middle aged women, you know, I think she’s absolutely right.


But there is also a party issue about who is getting access, who is it who can afford for their children to do a three month internship  and find somewhere for them to live and all of that? We all know that this is not the way to open up the arts.


And that moves me into the second issue, which is about the intrinsic nature and what we want, because we must have a vibrant sector that is saying something to people about the world in which they live and which is challenging them and which is experimenting and which is doing these things. And the fact of the matter is that if everybody comes from a very comfortable life experience, they are much less likely to be challenging and to be critical, and that we will be a great loss to our national culture, and that’s true in the performing arts, but it’s actually also true in literature, it’s also true in novels. If all that’s ever happened to you is that you’ve been to a very good school, you’ve been very successful and then you’ve been to a university and got a top degree, you haven’t got the same material, have you, for doing things?


The future of change


So, I think this issue about equality of access and opportunity is important… What [New Labour Culture Secretary] Chris Smith managed to do was make free museums such a central part of British cultural life that the Tories have not been able to attack it, and that was a great achievement. That is really significant. So sometimes we really can make progress and root things down, bolt them down so hard, that it is much more difficult for anyone to try and uproot them.


Now it seems to me, that access is good, open access is good, but I think maybe we should be moving. The next thing we should be thinking about is participation because I imagine that the participation bit will be a stronger experience and will be a more transforming experience for people and that the more people and the more possibilities we have to enable people to participate in lots of different ways – the better it will be and the more satisfying their lives will be.


So, that’s really like us to do. Now, I don’t think that’s a very easy thing to do, but that is where I would like us to go after the 2015 election.