Unions, Lies And The Need For Change

About a month ago we covered the Communication Workers Union’s efforts in balloting its members about the possibility of industrial action. This came as a result of the Royal Mail group failing to live up to its commitments laid out in “The Four Pillars” agreement that would mean a number of protections for the workers and an introduction of a 35-hour, full time work week.

Since covering this it has transpired that the Royal Mail Group took the matter to the high courts, asking for an injunction on any industrial action, claiming that it was simply politically motivated and that there was evidence of “irregularities” in the balloting process. The injunction was ultimately granted, despite the 97% vote in favour of the strike and the CWU refuting the claims of tampering. Although the CWU has stated that the fight is not over, it looks very unlikely that they will have time to re-ballot the 100,000 union members in time for December, a time in which they would have the most leverage to ensure meaningful and positive assurances to their working conditions.

This comes at the same time that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers were similarly denied the right to strike in the high courts despite over 98% support for action, with General Secretary Mick Cash stating on the RMT website:

Despite an overwhelming vote for action we have failed to meet the arbitrary thresholds set by the Government and the fact that the tube cleaners will now be denied the right to strike is wholly down to the toxic combination of the Tory anti-union laws and a bullying and hostile environment created by ABM.

The Conservative Party has a long history of anti-union sentiment. One of the most recent examples of this was the announcement of the Trade Union Bill in 2015, just 20 days after the Conservative Party took power. The contents of this bill are as follows:

  • A 50 percent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts
  • An additional 40 percent yes vote requirement in ‘core public services’ (health, education, transport and fire services)
  • New time limitations on ballot mandates
  • Proposals to prevent alleged intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike
  • Tightening regulations on picketing and the introduction of new criminal sanctions.
  • Removal of the ban on using Agency Staff to replace striking workers. (A ban that was in place since 1973)
  • Changes to the operation of the political fund element of trade union subscriptions
  • Further restrictions on check-off facilities for trade union subscription collection
  • Threats to facility time for trade union representatives

These restrictions were put in place on top of already existing restrictions which makes Britain one of the most anti-union countries in the western world. In January of 2015 a European Committee on Social Rights criticised the UK for being in excessive breach of workers rights. They concluded that the government failed in its duty to protect workers from unpaid overtime, unpaid holidays and inadequate rest periods.

David Cameron constantly disguised many damaging decisions and policies with the pretence that his Tory government was the real party for working class people. In a statement to his first cabinet he said:

I call it being the real party of working people, giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family. And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.

Quite the rhetoric, but with the benefit of hindsight it becomes obvious that these were just more empty platitudes from elitist, greedy, career politicians. Not convinced? Let’s compare the statement to the statistics over the past 4 years.

“I call it being the real party of working people…” – While many of the poorest people in the country had to face the brunt of austerity, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne reduced the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, saving the richest in the country roughly £554,000 each a year. Between the tax years of 2013/14 to 2017/18 this cost the British taxpayer £8.6 Billion. Money that could easily have went to the horribly underfunded NHS, schools or local governments. Not that this mattered to those that can afford private healthcare and private education.

“giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a paycheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family…” – Where to start with this one. Around 1 in 40 people in employment in the UK are on zero-hour contracts. These workers have no stability and no guarantee of enough to get by on. Many workers are employed on a contractor basis so that employers can exploit them with no guarantee of holiday entitlement or sick pay. A lot of people can’t afford to own their own homes either. People born in the late 70’s had a 43% rate of home ownership by the age of 27. In contrast, people born in the late 80’s/ early 90’s have a rate of just 25% of home ownership. There are more than 4 million people living in deep poverty, with 7 million people affected with persistent poverty. 73% of children in poverty live in a family in which an adult worked for a living. Not even a secure job can assure you the basic need of taking care of your family.

“And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.” – This might just be one of the most blatant and malicious lies quoted. Disabled people are looking at losing £50 a week by 2020 while the wealthiest people fund Boris Johnson and receive tax breaks in return. Many people were deemed ‘fit to work’ and shunted on to jobseekers allowance and told to find a job. This was announced as an incentive by the Tories to get disabled people back to work- because it’s not their disability that’s stopping them from working, it’s just lack of motivation.

More than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died in this country while waiting for welfare benefits.

So, what chance do the trade unions have in helping their members, when faced with a government so cruel and self-serving? One that has done everything in its power to strangle the unions and steal from the poor to give to the rich. We can continue to listen to the lies of the current government that has spent years dismantling this country with money in their pockets and blood on their hands- or we can choose to be rid of them.