Early Reflections on Labour Conference 2016

p01lckhfThe portents were not good a few weeks ago – the conference was expected to expose a giant chasm and split the party; Ian McNichol was for the chop; they were struggling to find a new security company and the conference might have to be abandoned; the exhibition area was predicted to be down to a few stalls selling mugs and TShirts and delegates would be flitting down to another gig down the road. None of this happened of course.

Peace broke out and the plea by the Leader to ‘end the trench warfare’ did not fall on deaf ears. There is some way to go and no doubt there will irksome veering off message notablt with stupid things said on social media. But it was good to speak to ex-shadow team members prepared to comeback, roll their sleeves up and get stuck back in.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was relaxed, well crafted, measured and polished – lasting 60 minutes with some excellent policies – which will have to be fleshed out – but the promise to scrap the Trade Union Act and zero hours contracts, the fight against Grammer schools and John McDonnell’s proposal to introduce sectoral collective bargaining and develop an interventionist industrial and manufacturing strategy were music to my ears.

The party now has some fast rising stars: Angie Rayner at Education and MP for Ashton Under Lyne – she was born and bred in Stockport, had a tough upbringing but speaks like an ordinary person – she will be a major asset to the party. Becky Long Bailey, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and another Northern MP, born in Old Trafford she represents Salford and Eccles and like Angie speaks like an ordinary person and will be a real asset to the in the media. Clive Lewis has mastered his defense brief and not just in his speech from the podium but also an the International policy seminar where he impressed me with answers on a range of defence issues: Successor subs, procurement, accountable defense spending, helicopters and ship building. Being ex-military he will be more than a match for Tory defense spokesperson’s on the telly.

Sadiq Kahn is another major asset to the party – he over egged the pudding a little in his speech but there can be no doubting he is at the centre of the a shift of power to the regions. Andy Burnham put on a great display (miles better than his run at the leadership) and looks another prime asset when he becomes Manchester Metro Mayor as will Steve Rotherham in Merseyside.

Burnham made it clear they will hold the Tories to their promises on the Northern Powerhouse (I thought it was a complete Tory gimmick) in a effort to bring prosperity to the North after years of de-indstrialisation and service, go no where, zero hours jobs.

Ian Lavery’s ‘Workplace 2020’ will also be a winner – hitting the road, meeting ordinary workers across the country to talk about jobs, workplace rights and peoples expectations in the workplace.

Brexit will be the major issue for the next few years and there was a clear understanding of the urgent need to get a firm Labour line on key issues such as a tariff free single market, article 50, employment rights, access to skills, investment etc. The policy seminars on International and the EU I attended reflected these arguments – with Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner leading well on Brexit but they need a bigger team to ‘man for man’ mark the Three Stooges haplessly running the Brexit negotiations – on this we can take them apart. Perhaps some of the returning ‘big hitters’ would fit the bill.

Hardest workers to get people to fringe meetings? Gibraltar team – including Unite members – pressing their case on Brexit lead by First Minister Fabian Picardo.

Best delegation? Unite the Union. Disciplined, good speakers (we hardly ever over run speaking time) plus a barnstorming speech by Len McCluskey putting Industrial Strategy at the heart of the Labour programme.


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Speech at EU Life Long Learning Project Final Conference – London, 23rd September 2016

union-learning-reps-ulrs_1Unite is the biggest manufacturing union in the UK and we also have a unique relationship with our fellow trade unionists and workers in the EU. 

Unite’s elected workplace representatives represent members in some of the biggest manufacturing companies in the EU and around world, and we collaborate with workers across borders through strategically important European Works Councils.

 Unite is pleased to be involved in this project.  It gave us the opportunity for further collaboration and to share best practice on how to develop effective workplace learning strategies.

 Firstly, I would like to thank our Unite reps for participating in this TUC, European funded project.  And, of course, the reps from the five other partner countries.

I know that the study visits were a great success and through the exchange of information that took place we were able to create a useful toolkit for union reps which will help develop workplace learning strategies which are needed for our sector to thrive.

 I am always delighted to discuss skills and workplace learning.

 High quality skills are vital to ensuring that our crucial manufacturing sector can prosper in the future, meaning people will have access to good quality, sustainable employment.

 Given the challenges that we face over the next couple of decades, it’s important that key stakeholders come together and identify skills strategies which will ensure that the workforce is equipped with the tools which will enable the sector to grow, providing good quality sustainable employment for millions of people.

In the UK we face a unique set of problems.

 Let me turn to Brexit

 Brexit is a hot topic in the UK.  Unite is developing a strategic response in manufacturing We are calling for:

 No trigger of Article 50 until we know what deals are possible.

There must be a union seat at the negotiating table.

Existing employment protections derived from EU law must be grandfathere

Workers should not lose their employment protections.

Access to the single market, tariff free.

Companies must not use Brexit as an excuse to declare job losses and closures.

Alongside these key steps, there should be continuing investment into infrastructure and investment in skills.

 A skill strategy is a key plank of an industrial strategy which will ensure that our manufacturing sector can thrive in the post Brexit environment.

 What are the potential impacts of Brexit?

 The UK manufacturing sector relies heavily on skilled labour from the EU and the rest of the globe.  1 in 8 manufacturing workers were not born in the UK.  A report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders shows that there are 5,000 vacancies which cannot be filled due to skills shortages.  Unite and other manufacturing organisations believe we need to attract workers from the EU and elsewhere.

 Unite agrees with EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation that the UK cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to reducing migration from the EU.  Ministers have to recognise that for the manufacturing sector, EU workers make an essential, valuable contribution and bring much needed skills to the sector, which are unlikely to be met by the UK labour market alone.

 Unite is calling for the UK government to safeguard the continuance of existing EU funding and tools which helps improve the mobility of workers and provide common standards for the quality of vocational education.

 We want to make sure that programme such as ERASMUS, EQF and EQAVET continue.  Protection of these training programmes should be included in Brexit negotiations.

Automation and wider challenges

Manufacturing faces wider challenges, notably from the speed of the digital revolution including robotics, cobots and automation.

 Interesting fact: Germany has 176,000 industrial robots compared to the UK with just 17,000 in use.  Therefore the likely increase in the use of robots, cobots, connectivity and digitalisation means that workers will need a very different skill set in the future.

The Bank of England has warned that up to 11 million jobs could lost through automation in the near future.

 Unite is now developing strategies for how we handle “industry 4.0”.  Whilst these changes will affect the whole of the economy through platforms and apps such as “Uber” but automation will have a significant impact in the manufacturing sector.  Whilst this change won’t happen overnight, as a union we have to ask the important question “What is the long term future for the next generation that will be looking for the jobs that have always been there?”

 What sort of skills will be needed in the future?  We believe that the workforce will need a more diverse skill set; skills which enable the workforce to service and maintain robots and cobots as well as the skills to manufacture the goods that companies sell.  We’ve already seen apprenticeships in this sector become a lot more diverse.

 In many companies apprentices are having to develop high level ICT skills along with electrical and engineering skills.

 New qualifications will have to be developed which reflect the changing needs of industries.  Unite is calling on the UK government to work with unions, employers and the education sector to ensure we develop a robust industrial strategy underpinned by relevant, high quality skills.

 The Apprenticeship Levy

Significantly, the UK is introducing an apprenticeship levy from April 2017.  Employers with a paybill over £3m per yearwill have to make a monthly payment of 0.5% of their total payroll costs.

 Unite and the TUC has been calling for a training levy in some sectors for decades.

 Over the past two decades employer investment in training has been in free fall and the volume of training undertaken by the workforce has declined by roughly 50%.

 Unite is familiar with the existing levy in the construction sector.  It works well and is understood by employees and employers alike.  Recent guidance has been published by the government which has provided clarification on how the levy will operate.

 It is particularly welcome that employers will be able to allocate 10% of their levy funds to employers in their supply chains, to fund apprenticeships, which will give the entire sector a boost.

 Unite is supportive of apprenticeship growth, where it provides quality opportunities for the workforce.

 We want to negotiate gold standard apprenticeships with employers, including good pay for apprentices, quality training including high level skills and apprenticeships which last a minimum of three years.  We were pleased to help the ETUC develop its recent European Quality Framework for Apprentices.

 As the levy is focussed on funding apprenticeships, there are inevitable consequences for wider training and skills in the sector.

 We are concerned about some employers are offering high quality apprenticeships will be unable to recoup all of their levy contributions to fund apprenticeships, due to technicalities in the new system.

 In addition to this there is no statutory position for unions on the newly formed Institute of Apprenticeships which will be responsible for quality assurance in apprenticeships.

 This is a big mistake as we bring experience from industry and manufacturing and we can feed through the views of our members and union reps to help make things work.

 So there is work still to be done to ensure the new system delivers high quality apprenticeships.

 The role of trade unions

Union involvement in developing skills strategies is essential.  Unions can help identify the skills needs of the workforce and also play an essential role in making sure skills programmes are high quality.

 Unite have been at the forefront of negotiating good quality skills and training opportunities for the manufacturing workforce.  We’ve worked with Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and BAE Aerospace and in the science industries to develop gold standard apprenticeship programmes.  We’ve worked with the Sector Skills Councils, SEMTA and Cogent to develop high quality sector standards for training and skills.

 Unite is leading the way on making sure that underrepresented groups have equality of access to training.  We provide guidance to union reps on how to take practical steps to ensure that training programmes are inclusive and many of our young apprentice members are ambassadors in our Unite into Schools programmes.

 Finally, unionlearn and the Union Learning Fund has helped to establish a network of union learning representatives, learning centres and useful tools which help our branches;

 To negotiate with employers to offer good quality training

To identify the future needs of the business and workforce

And to provide support and gain commitment from the workforce    to complete their training.

 This useful toolkit which was published is an additional useful resource which our reps can use to develop workplace learning strategies.

 I hope you have a productive conference and that we can equip our union reps with the tools to develop effective learning strategies.

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Speech at the TUC on the Trade Union Act.

img_1789Tony Burke: Unite the Union

Composite 16  – 2016 Trade Union Act

Congress, we have been calling for repeal of anti-union laws for 30 years – a call that has continued to fall on deaf ears.

But with the change of direction in the Labour Party, we now have the opportunity to move beyond repeal and draw up a new framework of trade union rights and freedoms for workers and our unions.

And I commend the work of the Institute of Employment Rights in being steadfast in supporting our unions and for producing their excellent Manifesto for a positive reform of employment rights.

In going beyond repeal the new framework must address three fundamental issues.

Firstly, we must have a right to organise.

New organising rights must go further than the current law with its exemptions for small companies and employer defined bargaining units

The right to organise must include a right of access to workers free from the influence of an employer and more importantly US style union busters

Winning organising campaigns is important because a union presence in the workplace provides an independent ‘voice’ for workers and ensures that workplaces are more equal and safer.

Secondly, we must have a right to collective bargaining

The key impact of the anti-union laws has hastened the decline of union led collective bargaining at the sectoral level.

The loss of these bargaining rights has seen a major decline in workers’ wages in the past three decades – the share of national income going to salaries and wages has fallen from 65% in 1980 to 53% in recent times.

The restoration of sectoral bargaining will extend the benefits of a union negotiated agreement to all workers in an industry irrespective of their employment status

And no more bogus self-employment which undermine wages and conditions.

Finally, we must have an unequivocal right to strike. 

Congress, we have lost count of the number of times our unions have been served with injunctions to stop strike and dispute action, sometimes for the most trivial reasons.

You know the old story – wake up a High Court judge, give him a brandy, show him a headline from the Sun – and the injunction is granted.

Without an unambiguous right to strike, collective bargaining is reduced to collective begging.

Congress – support the right to organise! Support the right to collective bargaining! Support the right to strike!


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Trade unions must be represented in Brexit negotiations

Jon Ashworth MP

Jon Ashworth MP

By Jon Ashworth MP, Shadow Minister Without Portfolio
Many Labour politicians will head to Brighton this week to meet up with trade union colleagues and take part in the debates at this year’s annual meeting of the TUC. Brexit and what that that means for growth, workplace rights and the future prosperity of the country will no doubt feature heavily in those discussions. Rightly so.
The June result sent shockwaves through the body politic with hitherto solid certainties melting into the air. In the hours following the outcome the absence of a ‘Plan B’ became all too clear. Three months later Theresa May’s government are still like rabbits in headlights incapable of offering any certainty or reassurance. The lack of leadership is startling given Brexit will shape the decisions of every government department, set the contours of the next general election debate, and define the legacy of this prime minister and probably the next one. The lack of a plan is hugely worrying for trade union members thinking about jobs and prospects for their children and grandchildren.

In contrast to this lack of clarity, our shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow trade secretary Barry Gardner are ensuring the Labour Party develop a progressive response to Brexit. We won’t allow Theresa May to get away with proposing a narrow Tory Brexit plan. With that in mind, I’m now calling for the government to open up the discussions about their negotiating platform to a wider audience including industry, civil society and the trade unions.

As a Midlands MP I am proud of the great manufacturing base across the region. We make goods in productive, unionised workshops and sell them to the world. Membership of the single market is vital for the prosperity of our region. Midlands industry and trade unions must be given a seat at the table and be formally consulted on our Brexit negotiations. After decades of deindustrialization, quite simply we will not tolerate a deal that doesn’t make UK manufacturing a priority.

Talking to trade union members this week, many fear the needs of the City of London through ‘passporting rights’ into Europe will be traded in exchange for tariffs or other barriers for manufacturing.  Many consider the Canadian free trade deal with the European Union as setting a precedent for such a ‘devil’s bargain.’

Crucially the government therefore needs to offer certainty. Take the automotive sector which is export reliant, mass market producers operating rolling production lines at very tight margins. They are all making decisions about production of vehicles for the future. Threats of tariffs will only lead to an investment freeze. What’s more many manufacturing firms will also be hit by an end to European investment.

For example, Nissan received £189 million from the European Investment Bank a few years ago. These firms and the thousands of workers employed by them need a clear signal from the government both on how such funding will be provided in the future and of course on tariffs. Currently Theresa May is letting down working people by leaving the question of our trade links in Europe in doubt.

Finally a cabinet made up of Boris Johnson, David Davis and the disgraced Liam Fox offers no comfort to trade unionists who have fought over many years for basic rights and standards in the workplace. EU laws on Protection of Employment (TUPE), the Working Time Directive, parental leave, European works councils all underpin employee rights in the UK. Brexit must not be an excuse to diminish any of them.

A government that now tries to boast it is on the side of ‘ordinary working class people’ (while ignoring the explosion of zero hours contracts and the snail’s pace of wage growth these last six years – but let’s leave for that now) should seriously engage with those trade unions such as Unite calling for all existing standards and labour laws to be ‘grandfathered’ across into UK law at the point of Brexit.

So with the TUC meeting in Brighton this week it would be a good opportunity for the government to indicate they will fully engage with trade unions in a proper discussion on how we negotiate withdrawal. Given the divisions in the country, what happens next cannot just be in the hands of Theresa May, Liam Fox and David Davis

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1st Congress – International Workingmen’s Association – Sept. 3rd, 1866.

Karl-Marx-Peace150 years ago today – on September 3rd, 1866 – the First Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association convened in Geneva, Switzerland. Karl Marx, who was unable to attend, wrote the following lines on the future of the trade union movement in his instructions for the delegates:

“Apart from their original purposes, [the trade unions] must now learn to act deliberately as organising centres of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation. They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as the champions and representatives of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist the non-society men into their ranks.

“They must look carefully after the interests of the worst paid trades, such as the agricultural labourers, rendered powerless by exceptional circumstances.

“They must convince the world at large that their efforts, far from being narrow — and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.”

Still words to live by.

Thanks to Ben Davis of the United Steelworkers.

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Why TTIP & CETA Are Running Into Trouble In Germany

By  Hans Von Der Burchard, Politico Europe

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel

The fate of EU trade policy hangs on the next four weeks in German politics. The European Commission can only look on anxiously from the sidelines as its most prestigious core competency — the right to negotiate trade terms for the 28 member countries — risks falling victim to a turf war within the German socialist party.

Germany’s Economy Minister and Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel faces the battle of his political life to rally the unions and his divided party behind a landmark EU trade agreement with Canada. To win the day at a party convention on September 19th, he will probably have to face down the strongest headwinds against free trade anywhere in Europe.

For the EU, the stakes could hardly be higher. Jean-Luc Demarty, director general for trade at the Commission, has warned that EU trade policy would be “close to death” if the bloc failed to ratify the Canada accord.

Without the Social Democratic Party’s support in a Bundestag vote expected by the end of September, it is highly unlikely that Chancellor Angela Merkel would be able to mobilize her Grand Coalition to back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Ottawa.

For Gabriel himself, CETA has sparked a bruising internecine conflict that could burn up his political capital just as he wants to build momentum for a challenge to Merkel at next year’s parliamentary elections. The SDP’s support has plunged to a dismal 22 percent, down from about 30 percent three years ago.

“We can only hope that the SPD approves,” said Joachim Pfeiffer, a lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “A ‘no’ would be fatal. We’re not only talking about huge chances for our economy that are tied to this agreement, but also our aspiration to shape the course of globalization.”

The threat to Gabriel is being watched closely in Canada. In a visit to Europe in April, Ottawa’s Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland identified Gabriel’s support as the most significant factor in securing ratification from the EU.

Gabriel has run into a tide of opposition on free trade. Germany’s main bogeyman is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the U.S. rather than CETA. Some 150,000 people demonstrated against TTIP in Berlin last October, and popular backing for that deal has dropped to 17 percent.

Given this surging hostility to trade in Germany, Gabriel has to tread a tightrope by opposing TTIP while simultaneously backing CETA. One of his main political tactics is to try to persuade the electorate that CETA is not a trailblazer for TTIP, and over the weekend he made that more explicit than ever before.

“The debate has been very difficult,” Gabriel told public broadcaster ZDF Sunday. “That has much to do with the fact that the agreement with Canada gets mixed up with the one with the United States.”

In some of his strongest remarks, Gabriel said that TTIP negotiations “have de facto failed, because we cannot bow down to the demands of the Americans.”

In contrast, he cast CETA as a “good and important agreement,” arguing “it would prevent us from concluding a bad agreement with the United States or other partners.” Two weeks earlier, he told the Frankfurter Rundschau: “Anyone who reads [the CETA text] can’t be seriously against adopting it.”

Dissent in his own party is growing before the party convention in Wolfsburg next month. In a bid to ramp up the pressure, NGOs, unions and environmental and social groups will organize a massive anti-CETA rally on September 17th, just two days ahead of the meeting. People will hit the streets in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich, Leipzig and Stuttgart to denounce CETA as “TTIP through the backdoor.”

Matthias Miersch, spokesperson for the SPD’s parliamentary left wing, has also laid out his concerns in a seven-page paper. “I have analyzed and compared the CETA text with the red lines our party has set at an earlier convention, and I’m telling you, this trade agreement is not acceptable in its current status,” he said. “Gabriel always says CETA is a good agreement, but I haven’t read any detailed, substantial analysis by him to prove his point.”

Miersch is calling on his colleagues from regional party organizations all over Germany to reject the Canada deal. The lawmaker told POLITICO he was not against the agreement as such, but demanded improvements to core elements.

Miersch’s demands are echoed by SPD delegations in the federal states of Bremen and Bavaria, which decided earlier this summer to reject the current CETA text. Michael Müller, the SPD mayor of Berlin, also said Saturday that he had “huge concerns” with CETA. Other regional party associations are still considering whether to vote for or against the trade pact.

Worryingly for Gabriel, major labor unions such as DGB and ver.di, which have a strong influence within the party, have become implacable opponents to the trade deal.

Ver.di chief Frank Bsirske said CETA would jeopardize Germany’s democracy and the rights of workers, while criticizing special rights for foreign investors under an arbitration court system. “This is not North Korea,” Bsirske said.

Gabriel has responded by saying that he is still optimistic about winning the party convention. He says that senior party members such as Hannelore Kraft, minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Olaf Scholz, the SPD leader in Hamburg, and Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, will all throw their weight behind CETA.

The next weeks will prove essential for Gabriel to win a stable majority inside his party. A public hearing in the German parliament’s economic committee on September 5th, could help him to seize back initiative in the debate, as supporters and opponents as well as legal experts will discuss the agreement and face questions from the lawmakers.

Gabriel’s party friend Bernd Lange, who heads the international trade committee in the European Parliament, also stepped into the breach by sending a 21-page analysis of CETA to his party colleagues, mapping out how the agreement is in line with SPD criteria.

Lange also hinted at an opportunity to appease the growing concerns on the party’s left. “In my analysis I agree that at some points the CETA text can be improved, because the legal wording is unclear,” he said. “We can solve this during the ratification process,” he continued, raising the possibility of a joint declaration between the European and Canadian parliament to resolve any ambiguities.

While Gabriel is politically tarnished by the trade debate, SPD politicians stress there is no movement to unseat him as party chief. Miersch said: “We need to separate leadership debates from questions of content.”
Jürgen Hardt, a Christian Democrat lawmaker and coordinator for transatlantic cooperation, said there was little room to question the legitimacy of CETA, given that the Bundestag would vote at the end of September to give political backing to Germany’s position at the Council.

“Moreover, the agreement will need to be approved by the European Parliament, and since it is a mixed agreement, once more by the Bundestag,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine how there could be any greater legitimization by parliaments.”

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Automation And The Workforce

rtx1iu75-1Click here to download ‘Automation and the Workforce’

This is a short paper setting out future developments in Robotics/Cobotics and their application in UK industry and services.

Interesting facts: Germany has 176,000 industrial robots compared to the UK with just 17,000 in use; Japanese robot manufacturer FANUC uses production lines that can operate without human assistance for ‘several weeks’; Adidas is planning to open its first automated factory in Germany in 2016; Ocado is trialling a warehouse where robots pack and move good autonomously; SEW-Eurodrive who build power transmission systems with the assiatance of robotic arms that help load machines and pick up componants.

A survey of ‘experts’ found that only 50% beilved this technology would create employment at a similar or faster rate than it displaces them. A study by Frey and Osborne estimated that 35% of UK jobs had a greater than 66% chance of of being automated – the Bank Of England similarly warned that 15 million jobs could be automated over a similar period – but both come with a “health warning” – these figures maybe over estimated as this depsneds on what jobs could actually be automated technoloically rather than economically.

Jobs with the following requirements which it is anticpated will be difficult to automate: social skills; artistic and intellectual; digital skills; perception.

Jobs in transport; sales; logisitcs; and adminsistration were particularly likely to be effected by automation.

A follow up study in changes of employment between 2001 and 2015 shows 800,000 jobs displaced but 3.5 million new jobs created over the same period.

Certainly worth reading in more detail.

Thanks to Joseph Ennis who interviewed me as part of the prepartion of the document.

More reading: Trade Unions And The Coming Digital Revolution

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The Future Of Trade Unions – September 3rd

eabf1d405e232a73aa6ea5b16bcf9082Notwithstanding a truce during the EU Referendum campaign, the Government’s relationship with trade unions has reached rock bottom with more restrictions aimed against them through the new Trade Union Bill 2016.  Trade union membership has remained fairly static over recent years and the changing face of work presents new challenges.

With this in mind, History & Policy’s Trade Union Forum will be hosting a half-day conference The Future of Trade Unions, where eminent speakers from both academia and trade unions will take stock of how trade unions’ relationship with government has evolved over time, and hypothesise as to where unions should go from here.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Communication Worker’s Union – on the his union’s future in the now-privatised sector.
  • Dr. Alastair Reid, Life Fellow, Girton College, Cambridge & author of United We Stand: A History of Britain’s Trade Unions – on how out of favour traditional union policies might fare in future union thinking
  • Siobhan Endean, National Officer for Equalities at Unite the Union – on what effect mergers and the role of “mega unions” can have in best promoting equalities in the entire trade union movement
Unite The Union – 128 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8TN – View Map
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Brexit is a warning shot: time to abandon ‘business as usual’ in trade talks and we should start with CETA

JS35920755-1By Jude Kirton Darling

26 August 2016

After the intensity of the EU referendum campaign with all its highs and lows, and a proper summer break to recharge empty batteries, the UK’s MEPs will be heading back into the European Parliament next week. Many questions remain over how the vote to leave the EU will be dealt with by the UK government and Westminster, as the vote on the 23 June was only the start of a long process not the end.

In the meantime, the world around us keeps turning and our work representing the UK’s interests within the EU continues. For me, as a member of the International Trade committee, this autumn will be particularly challenging as key decisions will be taken on a series of concluded EU free trade and investment deals (e.g. with Canada, Vietnam and several African regions).

Parliamentary recesses are useful times to catch up and reflect. Talking with constituents over recent years about their views on the EU, and inevitably their perceptions of what is wrong and right with it, is a key means of gauging public opinion. My home region is an export region, with a trade surplus and proud manufacturing and services base. Trade is part of our DNA. However, in my personal experience of discussions on thousands of North East English doorsteps, for many people the referendum offered a means to address a deep malaise about the impact of globalisation locally, and resentment that its benefits are unevenly shared.

Others abroad cannot watch complacently. The UK’s Brexit vote is not as a unique phenomenon but a symptom. This social unease is finding voice in political populism across Europe and around the world, most clearly in the rise of politicians calling for the brakes to be applied to economic and social change, and EU cooperation. All politicians should be reflecting on what this means for global economic relations, and I believe that ‘business as usual’ is impossible in the current circumstances particularly in the case of EU trade policy.

We potentially face an impasse if trade negotiators do not change tack. Global trade urgently needs effective rules. Balanced and fair trade agreements at multilateral and bilateral levels are a means to reregulate globalisation. Rules can make the difference between competition and cooperation globally which supports good jobs, innovation and quality, or supply chains that increase human and environmental exploitation. Rules matter. However, public trust is rock bottom levels making this necessary rule-making politically very difficult.

Greater democratic scrutiny of trade negotiations is now a necessity. Trust will only be gained through a change in substance and transparency. Ultimately, today MEPs have a rather blunt power to accept or reject EU trade deals, but this has been used effectively to create greater leverage during recent trade negotiations. Greater parliamentary scrutiny at EU and national level may make life difficult for negotiators, but is the only means of guaranteeing their efforts are not futile and opposed by public opinion.

Reform of trade policy is possible. Concerns about negative economic competition motivated the inclusion of social cooperation both in intra-EU treaties and through social clauses in EU external trade deals from the 1990s onwards. The latter were set out as a ‘red-line’ for EU external trade negotiators in 2006 by the ‘Global Europe’ strategy. Sustainable development (through labour rights and environmental protection) was set to be made enforceable not just aspirational, with efficient monitoring and credible deterrents. However, this concrete commitment has gradually been downgraded to an aspiration with few binding conditions nor adequate monitoring and enforcement in EU trade deals.

There is a striking difference between the lack of enforcement of minimum binding labour standards in recent EU trade deals, notably with Canada, and the inclusion of controversial and opaque legal systems to privilege and protect corporate investors.

In the case of the Canadian Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), following MEP criticism and public opposition to the controversial system of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), the European Commission asked the Canadians to reopen closed negotiations to amend these provisions. The renegotiated CETA text is better than the original CETA but still proposes a reformed ISDS system which still offers greater rights for multinational companies over domestic players. Meanwhile, MEPs have also consistently called for binding and enforceable labour rights but even in a supposed ‘gold standard’ agreement with a progressive country and advanced economy, this is lacking with no appetite for revision. What signal is sent to other partner countries? If the EU and Canadians are not willing to offer gold standard protections for their own workforces, how can such commitments be leveraged from those who violate these basic rights. Nothing shows the inequity of our current trade deals as clearly as the rights bestowed to workers versus those granted to international capital.

This autumn’s political decisions pose a particular vantage point for UK MEPs, as an ‘insider-outsider’ perspective creeps into the mix. UK MEPs are deeply conscious that other countries MEPs will scrutinise and have a final say over a future UK-EU trade agreement, while at the same time we must undertake the parliamentary scrutiny of ongoing EU trade negotiations for which we are elected. However, it is also important opportunity to send political signals about what a future UK trade policy should look like.

The public will remain distrustful of trade policy whether negotiated in Brussels or Westminster until fairness and transparency is engrained. This must now be the priority for all negotiators and parliamentarians alike.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.


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Posted in Blogs, Economics, Employment Rights, Labour Party, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union | Leave a comment

Why the British labour movement should care about the coup in Brazil

UntitledPreviously published in the Morning Star August 9th

As world attention turns to Brazil for the Olympic Games, we need to shine a light on that country’s dismantling of democracy

A coup is taking place in Brazil. On first glance, a president impeached for “fiscal irregularities” in a country experiencing large-scale political corruption would seem like progress. But the wider picture is a lot darker.

The shady circumstances surrounding the impeachment; the mountain of evidence of corruption by the coup-plotters and the regressive measures taken by interim President Michel Temer mean the labour movement in Britain and around the world must stand behind impeached president Dilma Rousseff and support democracy at this critical time for the people of Brazil.

When the “car-wash” corruption scandal — a money laundering investigation expanded to include allegations of corruption in the state-owned oil company Petrobras — escalated last year, seemingly leaving no element of government untouched, anger at the government was at an all-time high.

Stories of funds being siphoned out of Petrobras and into the pockets and campaign funds of state officials appeared, followed by allegations of embezzlement, money-laundering and bribery.

As this anger at the political elite surfaced, members of Brazil’s right-wing opposition in parliament put into place a political manoeuvre that would turn Brazil’s president into a scapegoat and remove the Brazilian Workers’ Party from office for the first time since former President Lula was elected in 2002.

President Rousseff was impeached on terms of budgetary manipulation and removed from office, replaced by Temer of the PMDB party.

The lower house that first voted to impeach Rousseff contains 513 members. Of these, 303 are being investigated for serious corruption charges, while Rousseff herself has never been implicated in the Petrobras scandal and has now been cleared of budget manipulation in a recent senate report.

The leader of the house and one of key instigators of the impeachment, Eduardo Cunha, faces investigations over alleged perjury, money-laundering and bribery. The national anger at corruption had been severely misplaced.

Rousseff received 52 million votes at the last election — a huge mandate for progressive change.

But Temer’s coup government has shown its complete disregard for democracy — initiating large-scale privatisations and effectively rolling back many of the progressive reforms of workers’, women’s and indigenous rights the Workers’ Party carried out in the previous decade.

As Temer himself is barred from running in the 2018 election due to previous electoral violations, he is dismantling democracy and imposing austerity and privatisation without fear of electoral repercussions.

From the outset, Temer’s coup government has been visibly reactionary. With the initial appointment of an all-white, all-male cabinet in one of the most diverse countries in the world, Temer set the tone for his interim presidency, presenting a cabinet that seriously under-represents women, LGBT people and the indigenous peoples of Brazil.

Within a month of being appointed, three of Temer’s new ministers had to step down after allegations that they were attempting to obstruct the “operation car-wash” corruption investigation.

One minister, Romero Juca, was caught in a secret recording implying that the removal of president Rousseff was the only way to combat the expanding corruption probe.

Senate leader Renan Calheiros is facing seven investigations, including allegations he was paid $600,000 to stop a senate probe of corruption in Petrobras.

Even the anti-corruption minister Fabiano Silveira had to resign in response to allegations he was trying to weaken the “car-wash” probe.

Temer himself is also facing allegations of political corruption. A plea-bargain testimony claims that in 2012 he asked the then head of the transport unit of Petroleo Brasileiro to arrange illegal campaign contributions to his party. The very extent of these allegations against the political current trying to overthrow Rousseff explains their desperation in trying to hold on to power and prevent Rousseff from carrying out her mandate.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Brazil and we cannot let it go unnoticed here in Britain.

As Temer’s illegitimate term started and his reactionary cabinet, policies and cutbacks were implemented, the Brazilian trade union movement was quick to back Rousseff and the Workers’ Party because of their record in tackling exploitation and promoting workers’ rights.

In fact, both the main Trade Union Confederation of Brazil and the British TUC have come together in condemning Temer’s reign as illegitimate.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The British trade union movement has pledged to our sisters and brothers in Brazil that we will not stay silent as their rights are attacked, their democracy dismantled, their social advances rolled back.”

In this time of crisis, with a corruption scandal sweeping the country and a dangerous austerity agenda on the cards, the people of Brazil, making up half the population of Latin America, are facing a serious reversal in their living standards as a result of the cuts.

And the enormous gains in social progress and democracy in Latin America are now under threat from an undemocratic, conservative cabal in charge of by far the largest and most powerful country in the region.

The British trade union movement has backed Rousseff against this coup. It is now time for the labour movement to get on board.

Whether a member, supporter, councillor or MP, the Labour Party needs to speak out against corruption, stand up for democracy and demand the reinstatement of President Rousseff.

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Posted in International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | 1 Comment