Labour Party special conference secures Ed Miliband’s status as one of the great reforming leaders in Labour’s history

John Park, AGS at Community

Fourteen years ago this week I was at a small gathering in Farringdon Street to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern day Labour Party. It’s a treasured memory that has stayed with me, not because every living leader of the party was there that evening – Blair, Beckett, Kinnock, Foot and Callaghan – but mainly because it was the first time I really appreciated the history that surrounds the unique relationship between the Labour Party and the trade union movement.

 

What was also clear to me that evening was that – apart from John Smith’s introduction of one member, one vote – the formal relationship between the party and its affiliated trade unions had witnessed very little structural change in 100 years, and until Saturday that was still the case.

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The link that matters to millions

Paul Moloney is a member of the Unions21 Steering Committee and Industrial Relations Manager for the Society of Radiographers

There has been a lot of criticism of the lack of substance to the policy announcements from the Labour Party during conference week. Important announcements about abolishing the bedroom tax, freezing fuel bills and the promise to repeal the 2012 Health Act should not be underestimated and the impact these will have for working people and the working in and relying on our NHS will be immense.

 

Nevertheless the policies announced are all details and the lack of an over-riding context for them plays into the hands of those who claim there is really little difference to choose between all three main parties. This of course is further evidenced by Nick Clegg’s apparent indifference to who he will get into bed with, as long as he can get into bed.

 

So you have to go back to the Andrew Marr interview before the start of the conference to find the most important announcement made by Ed Miliband, and also to find the issue that will win the next election outright for the Labour Party if articulated correctly.

 

During the interview Ed Miliband referred to the fact that, for the first time in Britain’s post war history the link between economic growth and improving the standard of living of the majority, working people, has now been well and truly broken.  Even Thatcher was not able to do this.

 

Members of my own union, the Society of Radiographers, have not had a pay increase above RPI for 5 years. Even with annual increments their pay has failed to keep up with inflation. In addition more of their disposable income is now spent on pensions so their standard of living has decreased significantly. Pay cuts have also become more common place as highly skilled workers responsible for delivering high levels of patient care find their jobs re-banded downwards.

 

This is true of other sectors where pay freezes and even cuts have become the norm in both the public and private sectors.

 

For the last 3 years RPI, however measured, has been higher than average earnings.  But it is not the statistics but the message behind the figures that matters. If the statistics say inflation is higher than earnings then that means quite simply that any improvement in the economy is not being translated into improving standards of living for the vast majority. In the past, although the distribution was unequal, there was still an overall improvement when the economy grew. The fact that this has come to an end will be seen by those the Tories represent as the holy grail of politics and the ultimate aim of the Thatcher revolution. To the rest of us it is nothing short of the cynical use of austerity measures for political and ideological means.

 

So Ed is right to highlight the problem. But to win the election he must do two things. He must ensure his policies ensure the link between economic growth and earnings growth is restored and he must ensure the Tories and their coalition partners are held to account for exploiting the austerity measures in a way that has deliberately broken the link. If he does, and the TUC and individual unions work with him, then victory at the election is not just possible but will be meaningful.

 

So let’s not have a debate about the links between different sectors of our movement and instead start talking about the link that really matters for working people, the link between economic growth and earnings growth and in so doing expose the deeply ideological approach of this Conservative led coalition.

Ed’s superb performance at the Labour Conference, and implications for the union link

Ed Miliband’s superb performance at the Labour Conference in Brighton, has changed a few things. ’Labour’s New Energy’ (‘Guardian’),  ’Decisive shift to the Left’ (The Times’),were the typical commentators’ take on it. More significantly, all the trade union leaders, especially Len McLuskey, (the darling of delegates at this conference), were ‘over the moon’ with the Labour leader’s list of concrete pledges and the general tenor of his virtuoso hour long performance without a note.  
 
They even drew comfort from Ed’s very brief mention of their other main concern, his plans for ‘changing our politics’ viz., ‘party reform’ of the union political levy. Yet there was no hint that he is abandoning this attempt to change what he clearly sees as an outmoded form of the link. His contrast of ‘hearing the individual voices of people from call centre workers to construction workers’, with the hearing the collective voices of union leaders, could not have been more pointed. Yet there was still no detail about how he proposes to do it.  Most union and many party activists remain extremely sceptical about how his ‘mass membership’ of political-levy payers could be realised. 
 
Yet his new status as a substantial Labour Leader in the more conventional social democratic tradition, means that many will suspend judgement until we see more flesh on the bones of Lord Ray Collin’s surprisingly slim interim report to this conference. In it he stated that ‘Ed does not want this individual relationship with trade union membership to damage the collective relationship and the institutional links between the party and the union organisations. Ed wants to mend  - not end – the link.’ But, as unions say, ‘the devil is in the detail’. 
 
The Collin’s statement also said, ‘we do not believe there is any need to change the laws around the right of trade unions to hold political funds’. The Labour Opposition may not intend to go there, but the government party leaders, especially Clegg, seem intent on it. My fear would be that they would do that ‘dirty work’ whilst in government. At the Unions 21 conference fringe on ‘Thatcherism’, the Tory ‘envoy’ to the union movement, [now] Lord Balfe, said just that.  
 
I suspect, therefore, that the genie is now well and truly ‘out of the bottle’ and will never go back to where it was. It seems that the Labour leadership chose their ‘Falkirk moment’ to challenge what they saw as undue mega-union political power, in their Party policy and structures. Their concerns seem also to have arisen in the context of their discussions with the Liberal Democrats, and the unions fear some unprincipled deal for a Lab-Lib Dem coalition. 
 
There will therefore be some real heart searching from now until the proposed special Spring conference and the Collins’ report will be the subject of close attention.  
 
The History & Policy Trade Union Forum has been looking at the whole relationship of the unions with all the parties historically in a series of seminars involving senior union figures (such as Billy Hayes of the CWU). Each one has been written up on our website (http://www.bit.ly/tuforum). In November, we will be pulling the threads together and drawing some conclusions as to the future policy options for unions and the parties, and this will be of interest as a historical context of this whole debate.

Labour and the unions

Unions21 is politically non-affiliated and impartial, here’s Gregor Gall’s view of the unions and Labour post-Falkirk, post your view below.

 

Unite has welcomed the opportunity of Ed Miliband’s proposals for reforming the union-Labour link for debating the issues at hand. But is it in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

 

The union has argued that – in line with its political strategy document agreed at its executive in December 2011 – that its desire to reinvigorate Labour through the influx of union members (especially its own) can come about through the opt-in proposal.

 

Unions like the GMB, Unison and the CWU have disagreed and both GMB and Unison will reduce their number of affiliated members from 2014 in response to what they see as the attack on the remaining amount of union influence within Labour.

 

Let’s look at Unite’s key argument. It says that the status quo cannot be defended as it is not working for union members. So it argues that the current arrangements by which unions attempt to exert influence on Labour and the Parliamentary party did not stop the then Labour government going to war in Iraq and neither did it stop the neo-liberal takeover of Labour.

 

It would be difficult to argue against that. But it does not follow that not defending the status quo means supporting, however tacitly, Miliband’s proposals or anything that will come out of the Lord Collins’ commission.

 

After this year’s TUC, no one can surely argue that Miliband should be taken at face value when he says that he wants to see a mass Labour party again. This is because, on the one hand, he is dead set against any substantial input from unions simply because it is a stick the Tories will use to beat him with. On the other hand, he rejects the very social democratic politics that are absolutely essential to provide a party with the policies that would be attractive to workers.

 

Instead, Miliband’s goal through his proposals is a party free floating from unions and any other organised body of opinion – apart from his, of course. This is a centralised, top down organisation, not a democratic, participative and discursive organisation. The closest political cousin of the outcome of the Miliband project is the Democratic Party in the United States.

 

Just as logically, Unite could call and work for a return to the so-called ‘bad’ old days before one member one vote and before the diminution of the bloc vote or something else entirely.  The problem is that Unite has not come up with an alternative to Miliband’s proposals. This makes its implicit criticism of those that wish to defend the link less than convincing.

 

It seems that approach of Unite is a product of its rather schizophrenic relationship with Miliband. From helping secure his election, the union has gone back and forth where one minute Miliband is a sinner and the next he is a saint. After Miliband’s TUC speech, he is currently accorded the status of saint.

 

If we turn back the so-called ‘bad’ old days, the reason why affiliated unions did not exert anything like the influence they could have and should over because they were divided. Even after the election of the ‘awkward squad’ leaders to the major unions, they were still sufficient differences that prevented the three or four biggest unions from blocking together. By the time the necessary alliances were made around the time of the Warwick I and II agreements, it was a case of too little too late.

 

Again, just because unity was not achieved then does not mean it could not be achieved in the future. And, it certainly does not mean that the mechanism by which affiliated unions work is faulty.

 

If unions can be criticised for small groups of people making decisions for their wider memberships without consulting or involving those members, then the problem lies on the side of the unions and it is they that must sort this out. It, therefore, does not follow that the actual current mechanism of the union-Labour link needs reforming.

 

So Unite as the biggest affiliated union – as well as all the other affiliated unions – need to get their thinking caps on in order to put up proposals that can combine the means and ends of mass membership participation for social democratic policies. Crucially, the proposals must address how to make the Labour leadership and the parliamentary party accountable to members so that if and when the right kind policies are taken up, they are actually implemented in opposition and in government. While Unite’s current attempt to get its activists selected as prospective MPs is to be welcomed, it is not up to the scale of the task of influencing the parliamentary party.

 

It is difficult to see how achieving such social democratic aims can be done without union members acting collectively. The individual opt in system will atomise and de-collectivise them.  Unions as the embodiment of the collective will are essential to having anything approximating to a decent Labour Party.

 

Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford (g.gall@bradford.ac.uk)

For information about Unions21′s events at Labour Pary Conference click here

The Labour Party should pay more attention to the needs of people in non-affiliated unions

Hugh Lanning was deputy general secretary of PCS until June 2013, below is his article from the most recent edition of the Unions21 journal Forefront, which can be downloaded here.

 

ALL THE publicity in the wake of the selection row in Falkirk has focused on Unite, trade unions and money. Although an important debate, it ignores the reality that most of the trade union movement is not affiliated to the Labour Party.

 

As, until recently, a senior official in PCS — a major non-affiliated union — and an ‘out’ Labour Party member, I had occasion to raise with the party its relations with non-affiliated unions — or rather the lack of them.

 

Of the 58 unions in the TUC, 28 have political funds and just 14 are party affiliated. Most of these decisions are historical rather than political. The affiliated unions are primarily those with traditional blue-collar origins, which established the party or affiliated before World War II. The non-affiliated unions, in the main, are the professional and public sector unions that emerged after the war. Many have created political funds in response to legislative pressure, but use this resource to carry out campaigning rather than to affiliate.

 

Other political organisations target and focus resources on organising within these unions, but the Labour Party does not. In fact, the party has never had a strategy about its relations with what is now the largest part of the trade union movement. Yet these non-affiliates number among their membership many Labour Party members, activists and supporters.

 

People in unions such as NUT, UCU, PCS and Prospect represent upwards of 25% of the identifiable individual union members within the Labour Party and, in reality, probably more. Non-affiliates also represent millions of voters who work and believe in public services. Many are low paid, women and a significant proportion are black. Others are professional public servants. Given the nature of the work they do, many are also active in civil society organisations. Put this way, it is strange that they have not become a target group for Labour.

 

Why not? Obviously the Labour Party is mindful of the relationship with Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO) unions. What is the point of affiliating if you can get the service and access for free? Further, there are no organised structures for developing a relationship with non-affiliated unions, except through the TUC.

 

Non-affiliated unions will, of necessity, have a more distant relationship with the party. But they have much to contribute and are keen to influence. This is a well organised constituency that any potential Labour government can ill-afford to ignore.

 

Given the changes in the trade union movement and the growth of broader social movements, the Labour Party will have to learn to work with organisations not tied by loyalty or affiliation. Whatever happens in the future about the funding of political parties, the number of identifiable affiliated members within unions is likely to continue to decline.

 

The challenge for the Labour Party is to develop new ways of communicating and organising within this climate.

 

It will be critical to identify issues on which it can campaign together with, or at least in parallel to, trade unionists. This can best be done by trying to identify common areas of concern — growth, jobs and tax justice are obvious examples of areas of overlap, if not total agreement.

 

In both private and public sector workplaces there is a climate of fear and insecurity.

 

The pressure during the political conference season will be the demand to repeal all antitrade union laws. A better framework would be to focus on the workplace and identify how the rights and lives of all workers can be improved.

 

Ironically, identifying solutions that will work for all unions, not just a ‘Warwick 3’ deal with those that are affiliated, could produce better results for everybody.

 

Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down?

As we wind down the political theatre that is Westminster and as the MP’s go on their well earned hols (no doubt dreaming of what they will do with their extra cash) we are left to ponder what the autumn will bring.

 

The spring/ early summer had its fair share of madness and drama (no doubt a result of the high temps) with Labour and the Tories slogging it out in the house over the NHS; Labour slogging it out with the unions and the liberals wondering why they are being left out.

 

Then we have u turns over ciggies, booze; grandstanding over immigration, the conflict in Syria, the NHS to name but a few.

 

Some readers may see a common theme developing as I list the key issues. Yep, the NHS has consistently been in the news and on the political agenda for some time; but unfortunately not in a good way.

 

We have had the Francis report, the Keogh report, the crisis looming in A and E, the future of the 111 service, the problems of health care in Wales and questions by select committees over who is actually responsible for what in the NHS. This is despite the statement from Jeremy Hunt that ‘the buck stops with me.’  [Now this is odd, as I do have a recollection that the new health arrangements were designed to distance the politicians from decision making!]

 

If you are a visitor from abroad and turned on your telly in your hotel room and heard the news  you could be forgiven for praying that you did not get sick during your vacation.

 

But we all know that there is a gulf between what we hear and see and reality. NHS staff still work tirelessly despite cuts to budgets, increasing workloads and threats to job security. Patients still value the NHS and so do we.  And despite the political and journalistic rhetoric we still treat patients and diagnose their illness. Despite what we see in the news and read in the paper and on twitter feeds, we still treat them with respect and we still keep them safe.

 

It would be nice to see, just once, a story that is used by the media, politicians and others to show the real worth of the NHS and why we should not see this service as a political football but something that is worth keeping and supporting and that  any failures are an exception and not the norm.

 

Just once can we celebrate the NHS and not put it down or dissect its innards to gain column inches or political capital.

 

Whether we work in the NHS or we work for the NHS we know that it is a service that we cannot afford to lose because once it is gone we will never see it return.

An outrageous attack on the largest democratic movement in this country

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Thompsons Solicitors Weekly Blog

 

The government’s targeting of trade unions by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill is, as Frances O’Grady of the TUC said at last weekend’s Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival, an outrageous attack on the largest democratic movement in this country.

 

Listening to Norman Tebbit being interviewed by Peter Hennessey on the Radio Four programme Reflections, I was struck – not for the first time – by how David Cameron is seeking to go further than Tebbit and Thatcher for completely unformed and incoherent ideological reasons.

 

I don’t seek to excuse or support Tebbit’s anti-union sentiments and the pride with which he looks back on his industrial relations and trade union law reforms. But at least he put them in a hard, political context. Union leaders had, as he saw it, overthrown two government’s before Thatcher’s and he wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. His predecessor at employment, Jim Prior, had taken a conciliatory approach and everything Tebbit did was, he said, constructed around the belief that this wasn’t the right tactic.

 

By comparison, Cameron’s proposed reforms to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 are just vindictive.

 

Their purpose is to give “the general public” (as if trade union members are not members of the public) confidence that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members “so that they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to exercise it”.

 

This is despite the fact that section 24(1) of the Act already requires unions to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses that is, so far as reasonably practicable, accurate and up-to-date.

 

The detail of the proposed reforms is complex – annual membership audits, new Certification Officer powers, enforcement orders, a requirement for unions with over 10,000 members to appoint an assurer, self-certification for smaller unions and exemption for new unions. It’s the very opposite of the Red Tape Challenge.

 

Oh what a laugh they must have had in Cabinet with that one.

 

At the most recent Unions21 steering committee (Tuesday), a new work stream on union influence on politics was initiated. Watch this space.

A Coalition Health Check

With the machinations within the Labour party and the relationship with unions taking centre stage, you can be forgiven for failing to see a small article that briefly graced the BBC website about redundancies in the NHS.

 

The headline read that ‘NHS redundancies have cost £435millon since April’. The cost in terms of bodies is 10,000 but this disguises the amounts that are paid in real terms.

 

According to the National Audit Office [NAO] 44 very senior managers have been laid off at a cost of £578,470 with the average payout at £277,273; the lowest was £33,771.

 

We do have to balance this against the implementation of the reforms in the NHS [England] that were designed to reduce the administrative infrastructure and the numbers of managers to make health more patient need focused. Well they seem to have managed the former but what of the latter?

 

So what we see is that so far the cost of re-managing the NHS is £1.1 billion, but set not to exceed £1.7 billion.  [We shall see if they can manage to achieve this or will simply fudge the figures in the hope we do not notice!]

 

But the transition has seen 170 organisations close and 240 created. Unless I am mistaken that means that so far 70 new bodies have been established which we assume need admin, premises, IT, staff and all the other paraphernalia to operate. With the mantra from the coalition that we need to be leaner and fitter you cannot help but wonder how creating more than you started with makes sense.

 

Ahh, but the coalition has a cunning plan! The changes they have and will introduce to health care in England will, in the long term, be good for patients and good for health. The problem with rhetoric is that it should be backed by some science or evidence. Unless you are the coalition in which case neither applies as the NAO has found that ‘some of the clinical commissioning groups, led by GP’s, lacked credible financial plans’ which ‘raises concerns about their ability to make savings and remain financially sustainable in coming years.’  So, if the whole idea of introducing competition in the NHS is to save money and the groups that are designed to do this could not organise the proverbial in a brewery, exactly where are we going with this new structure?

 

Maybe the answer lies elsewhere.

 

Since the passing of the legislation 3 months ago to open up the NHS in England to outsourcing, an estimated £1.5 million worth of contracts have been signed.  So far outsourcing has been fastest in diagnostics [not specified], mental health, domiciliary care and pharmacy.

 

Even more disturbing is that of the numbers of contracts awarded [16] since April only two were awarded to the NHS, with all others to private companies or enterprises. Since one of the key elements of the changes was some assurance from the Ministers that the NHS would be an equal partner you either assume that the NHS has failed to be competitive or that private industry has cut its cloth to beat the NHS price. What appear to be missing from the information on tendering are the quality, maintenance and long term viability for any of the services that are listed for tender.

 

Bitter experience in the past has shown that when a company takes over a service, it is often quickly reorganised or merged with another provider or they up sticks and go back overseas or that cuts are made to staff and pay to remain competitive and any promises of protection forgotten.

 

With only three months into the transition only time will tell if the failures of the past come back to haunt us in the future. Mind you by then we will be into another election cycle, with ministers from all persuasions promising us the sky and the earth and a brighter future.

 

So as we all consider where we will be sunning ourselves over our summer hols, ponder if you will where we will be in the autumn. Will we be in clover – or up the creek without the paddle?

Unions respond to the Chancellor’s public spending announcement

Ed Balls MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, responding in the House of Commons to the Spending Review statement, said:

The Chancellor spoke for over 50 minutes – but not once did he mention the real reason for this Spending Review today: his comprehensive failure on living standards, growth and on the deficit too.

Prices rising faster than wages. Families worse off. Long-term unemployment up.
Welfare spending soaring.  The economy flatlining. The slowest recovery for over 100 years. And the result of this failure? For all the Budget boasts, borrowing last year not down but up. Not balancing the books as he promised, but in 2015 a deficit of £96 billion. More borrowing to pay for his economic failure.

That is why this Chancellor has been forced to come to the House today and to make more cuts to our public services.

 

Commenting on the spending review, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said:

“Today’s spending review reveals the true extent of the Government’s failure.  The Chancellor has got it horribly wrong – despite all the promises, the austerity measures and cuts, he still hasn’t got the country out of recession.  We are still in the slowest economic recovery in 100 years and yet all we get from this Chancellor is more of the same.

“The Government is losing grip on economic reality if they continue travelling down the same path, expecting to arrive at a different destination.  They need a plan B and they need it now.

“The idea that the NHS is being ring-fenced would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.  We’ve all paid into the NHS and we expect it to be there to deliver when we need it.

“How can anyone believe the Chancellor on unemployment because the figures do not add up. Despite the best efforts of the private sector any jobs being created are part-time, low wage and do not replace the hundreds and thousands of public sector jobs that have been lost. There are 2.5m people out of work, 1m are young and that is a shocking statistic.

“Instead of more cuts and austerity what the country desperately needs is an economic boost to stimulate jobs, growth and spending.“

 

Dave Penman, FDA General Secretary, said: “The scale of cuts announced today for 2015/16, on top of those already being delivered in this Parliament, will result in many departmental budgets having been cut by a third.

 

“Additionally, removing pay progression without ensuring civil servants get the real rate for the job will end up causing lower morale and a faster exodus of talent.  This cannot be a viable approach for a Government focusing on reform, fairness and growth.

 

“Many public servants have seen their incomes fall by around 20% under this Government and the widening pay gap between the civil service and private sector is already making it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the best people, as was recognised by last week’s National Audit Office report.

 

“For the Government to have reform, growth and fairness in its policy delivery, civil servants need reform, growth and fairness in their employment.  This means a new approach to reward instead of arbitrary caps and cuts; resourcing that matches civil service jobs and training to the priorities the Government wants to deliver; and recognition of the role the civil service plays at the heart of society, rather than simply as a means to reduce the deficit.

 

“The Chancellor’s announcement today does nothing to address these long-standing problems and simplistically tries to portray public sector pay as a burden to be cut, rather than a means to motivate and recruit those that are tasked with delivering ever greater reform with ever reducing resources.”

 

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Services, said “I predict another 70,000 local council jobs will go in these cuts on top of the 420,000 that have already gone. This will take total number of jobs lost in local government to nearly half a million since the election in 2010.

 

This is more than half of the entire public sector job losses. This has coincided with a three year pay freeze. It really has been a dire time for local government under the coalition.

 

Council services have already been decimated as a result 26% cuts to local authority budgets and the freeze on council tax.

 

This further reduction will mean the average council having to find another £30m in savings at a time when local communities need more support than ever. Councils are coping by cutting services but they should really be saying ‘enough is enough’. Transferring money from other budgets to local councils is a “smoke and mirrors” exercised and does no change these cuts which are down 10% on a like for like basis.

 

Things like the £10bn backlog of pothole repairs blighting our roads and the £20bn funding gap for care for the elderly. This means the elderly are left to struggle isolated at home with fewer services or put in chronically underfunded care homes. These are the legacy of council cuts and there are many more examples.

 

The Chancellors sideswipe at public sector workers by questioning their pay progression also reveals a lack of understanding about pay systems.

 

People begin at a starter rate of pay and through experience progress to the rate for the job, typically after five years. If anything, public sector workers are actually underpaid for too long and should accelerate much more quickly to the rate for the job. Furthermore, performance related pay systems have been widely shown not to work.

 

This is just another unpleasant dig at public sector workers who have already been made scapegoats for problems they had nothing to do with.”

Kicking somebody, anybody, to gain votes

The more you look at, or delve into politics today the more you begin to despair  that democracy is no longer the principle that underpins our society, but is being used as the means to destroy the welfare state; a system that we rely on to support and protect us when we are at our most vulnerable.

 

Politics has always been a popularity contest but until recent times voting for a political party has been based on party policies and not in response to populist rhetoric.

 

The latest scrabble by the mainstream parties to head off UKIP in the popularity stakes has emphasised the total lack of coherent direction in politics in favour of kicking somebody, anybody, to gain votes.

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