Politics Magazine

Conservatives Stuck In 80′s Anti-Union Mindset

Posted on the 23 February 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

As featured on ThePoliticalWriter.co.uk
With the Conservative Party deprived of a majority in the House of Commons, there are a few policies of theirs which they are unable to implement in full, as they are too radical for the Liberal Democrats to support. One policy instinct that the Conservatives are having to suppress, though only partly, is the wish to curtail worker’s rights and limit even further the powers of democratic trade unions. There is already extensive discussion within the party about the pledges they would wish to put in their 2015 manifesto.

The Prime Minister, Chancellor and Education Secretary (and the Mayor of London, though his seniority is a debatable matter) are understood to support a new turnout threshold for strike ballots, rendering industrial action illegal unless 50% have voted on it. In addition to this, the number of hours an elected union representative may take off work to attend to union business is likely to be curbed.

It seems surprising that, after having so effectively weakened the influence of employees, unionised or otherwise, the Conservatives intend to continue with their 40 year crusade of union-bashing despite the consequences this will have, particularly on the lower earners. A cynic might suggest that the Tories’ vision for the relationship between businesses and their workforces is not dissimilar to the American system, in which multinationals instantly close factories and shops where any attempts at unionisation take place, wages for the working poor have been flat since the 1970s, and pension provision is virtually non-existent.

The overwhelming majority of Britons would today agree that the Thatcher government was right to end closed shop, the calling of strikes without a ballot, secondary action and therefore the grip of the far-left on the nation’s economy. Put simply, the unions had become too successful at doing their job: GDP that should have been going towards investment was ending up in employees’ pay packets, undermining economic growth and increasing inflation. So yes, demands for double-digit pay rises could no longer be met. But in true Thatcherite style, the nation was dragged from one extreme to the other. Even today, millions are suffering with the effects of the industrial gap that was created; most workers have been denied their fair share of increasing national wealth; and fear of unemployment has led to inflexibility of labor.

We now face a structural economic problem caused by serious inequality in the distribution of wealth, and by extension a base of consumers who have diminishing spending power. In many ways, it is the polar reverse of the 1970s. To correct the situation, we obviously need action from government to control living costs and redistribute funds through the tax system. Ed Miliband’s latest policy announcement, pledging to reintroduce the 10p Income Tax band with proceeds from a Mansion Tax is exactly the category of measure that is required. However, structural reforms to the industrial relations: the ability to strike is essential, but better employee representation should ensure that this power need not be used. A balance in which depressed pay levels can be disputed, but a less confrontational approach is the norm is the aim that should be achieved. We could start with the following ideas:
· Trade Unions must be recognised by employers, and any attempts to block unionisation should be illegal
· Employees would elect representatives to company boards, giving them an independent voice
· A broader legal understanding of “softer” industrial action should be in place
· Employers would have to give longer notice periods for redundancies
· Substantial tax breaks for businesses which grant a 10%+ shareholding to employee co-operatives

Under Tony Blair, the Labour Party was too afraid to improve worker rights for fear of being seen to be in the pocket of extremist trade unionists. If it were to present a package of reforms similar to those outlined above, it would show a progressive and modern approach to industrial relations- one that puts people, not representatives first. It would be the Tories who would be seen to be stuck in the 1970s class warfare mindset.

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