Friday, 30 October 2015

Get Off Your Knees!

Image result for get off your knees + images

This year's annual TUC conference in Brighton passed off rather quietly, I thought.

Apart from the usual sabre-rattling about strikes, which are ever made in relation too equal pay of course, the highlights appears to have been a rather rambling speech from Jeremy Corbyn.

Jezza received rave reviews for mouthing empty platitudes like this:

"I and delighted to be here today because I am, and always will be, an active trade unionist. That is in my body."  

Next thing you know, Jeremy will be claiming that trade unionism is in his DNA.

TUC, Get Off Your Knees! (04/09/15)

Once a year, newspapers like The Guardian and Observer give the TUC a chance to say how it would put the world to rights and someone, normally from the research department, is then called upon to write an article for the general secretary setting out its stall on the eve of the TUC's annual congress, which this year is being held in Liverpool.

Thirty one years ago I was in Brighton for 1983 TUC Congress and, amongst other things down on the south coast, I was presented with the TUC's Youth Award which by the then general secretary, Len Murray, and president of congress that year, Franck Chapple, boss of the EETPU trade union which is now part of the Unite.

So when I read Frances O'Grady's thoughts in The Observer my heart sank, I have to admit, because if the trade union movement had put a fraction of its energy into the fight for equal pay over the past ten or fifteen years, then this 'living wage' business would be completely unnecessary - because low paid council workers would have been earning over £9.00 an hour long ago.

Money, or the lack of it, has never been the problem of course because in Scotland, for example, the Scottish Government (back in the year 2000) decided to spend £800 million a year on a new (McCrone) pay deal for Scottish teachers, but reneged on a landmark Single  Status (Equal Pay) Agreement for the lowest paid council which had been signed the previous year in 1999.

Now I believe that Frances O'Grady is a sincere person and is probably the best TUC leader in the past thirty years, but until the trade unions, collectively and individually, face up to their fact that their priorities in recent years have been wrong and 'out of whack' then they are going precisely nowhere.

After all, the Equal Pay Act has been the law of the land for over forty years since 1970 and during that period the Labour Party has been in government at Westminster (on its own) for roughly half of that time.

Why Britain needs a pay rise

Too many low-pay, low-skill and low-productivity jobs in low-investment workplaces are hampering the chances of a recovery we can all share in, writes the TUC general secretary

By Frances O'Grady - The Observer

'We need to rebalance the economy': Frances O'Grady. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

The statistics may tell us that growth has returned and that we are in the middle of a recovery, but it doesn't feel like that. Across the workforce – except at the top – wages still lag behind the cost of living. Unemployment may be relatively low, but job quality is too.

After the crash everyone agreed that we needed to rebalance the economy. But it has not happened. So far, growth has more to do with consumer spending on the back of house-price inflation than investment, exports and wealth creation. Instead we seem to be rebalancing the workforce. The good jobs that went in the crash have been joined by the victims of austerity economics as public servants have got the boot or not been replaced, even while their pay is driven down. No wonder NHS staff have joined local government workers and teachers in industrial action ballots.

For sure, some decent jobs have been created, but far too few. Insecurity and low pay are the new normal. Many want full-time work but are stuck part-time. Others live hand to mouth on zero-hours contracts or agency work. Many work in jobs that fail to use their skills and talents. Others work very long hours to make ends meet. Self-employment has grown, some fulfilling but some bogus – and much poorly paid.

Some economists and business leaders talk of a productivity puzzle – they cannot work out why we are not producing more, given our high employment levels. But there is no great mystery. It is the obvious result of too many low-pay, low-skill and low-productivity jobs in low-investment workplaces. The same business leaders talk up what they call labour-market flexibility, but it drives a vicious circle of a low-commitment economy that fails to put decent wages into consumer wallets or a good tax take into government coffers.

To tackle this we need action for both short and longer term. To start, we need to use the power of government to boost incomes and reduce insecurity. The minimum wage should rise, the public sector pay cap should go, and the state should do more to spread the living wage through procurement. In sectors that can do better than the minimum wage, new institutions involving unions and employers should set not just minimum pay but boost productivity through skills and investment. We need new rules to tackle the employment abuses, whether using zero hours, bogus self-employment or other loopholes.

And in the longer term we need to genuinely rebalance the economy using industrial policy, skills, infrastructure and low carbon-investment, and regional policy. And, as the TUC will say at our congress, Britain needs a pay rise, not just to bring relief to hard-pressed workers but to drive a sustainable economic recovery.

Independence and Equal Pay (2 April 2014)

I went along to a Yes Scotland meeting in Glasgow the other night and quite enjoyed my evening even though most of the audience were already in favour of Scottish independence.

But the turnout was impressive, especially on a cold and windy night, and I came away convinced of one thing - the momentum is clearly with the Yes campaign.

Lots of issues came up including equal pay and, of course, everyone supported equal pay (as they always do) although what I couldn't quite understand is why so many people are still fighting for equal pay in 2014? 

Especially the original Equal Pay Act dates back to 1970 which means that employers, politicians, government (local and national) and trade unions have all known what is expected of them for well over 40 years.

If you ask me we don't need more legislation (Scottish or UK) to enforce equal pay,  what we need are people who 'say what they mean and mean what they say' on these issues - instead of saying one things and then doing another. 

Will things be different if Scotland becomes an independent country?

I don't know to be honest, but I find it very interesting that it was a Scottish equal pay agreement that the Scottish employers turned their backs on for years - the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

And it was the Scottish trade unions who stood on the sidelines doing nothing about the situation for years - without any big campaigns or threats of industrial action to get equal pay back on track.

Very few Scottish politicians (MSPs, MPs or councillors) have had much to say about the issue all this time - yet all of them, publicly at least, will say they are firm supporters of equal pay.

Yet when push came to shove the Scottish Government (in the year 2000) and Scottish council employers funded a major new pay agreement for teachers (McCrone Agreement) costing £800 million a year - while renting on a 199 Equal Pay Agreement for low paid workers which had a price tag of £400 to £500 million a year.

Who Gets What and Why? (1 April 2014)

The Sunday Times reported the other day that if Labour wins the next year's general election, the Party will cut university tuition fees in England by at least £3,000 and as much as £5,000 a year - which will cost the public purse between £1.7 billion and £3 billion a year.

Now I think this is what Ed Miliband calls standing up for the 'squeezed middle'.

But what I'd like to know is how Labour can find all this money for middle income families - when party leaders show none of the same conviction when it comes to delivering equal pay for low council paid workers?