Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

Ed Balls lunges for the GMB vote

Sunday 6 June 2010

Ed Balls’ Observer piece, in which he says Labour should look at the issue of migraiton within the EU with a view to tightening the rules, has caused a bit of a media flurry, as I’m sure it was meant to. But it was meant to do a bit more than that.

Crucially, Balls says that free movement of workers through the EU should not ve allowed to undermine terms and conditions of employment in this country:

“And it means debating what labour protections and restrictions on unskilled labour mobility are needed in an enlarging Europe, for the benefit of all European peoples. The Tory-Liberal government should be pushing to protect the pay, terms and conditions of British workers, not seeking to undermine them by taking Britain out of the social chapter. I make these arguments in the spirit of pro-European realism.”

This is exactly – and I mean exactly – what unions, notably the GMB and Unite, have been complaining about for years now, and what led to all those wildcat strikes at power station sites: that free movement of labour from the EU allows nationally agreed terms and conditions to be undermined. For the GMB it’s an article of faith that this is so. And sometimes it has been proven.

So it’s not altogether surprising that this article has appeared on the eve of the GMB congress, where they will tomorrow (Monday) be hosting Labour leadership hustings. Before GMB members vote in the Labour leadership election. Not that there’s anything wrong about this, or that I don’t think Balls is sincere. But it is a pro-union propaganda hit calculated to spike his opponents’ guns. And it could well work. Sam Coates at The Times reports that Unite is already backing Ball’s stance.

Incidentally, Balls isn’t attending the hustings due to other commitments. He will be at the congress on Tuesday though.

For the record, it was the government of which Ed Balls was a member which allowed Andrew Miller’s agency workers bill to be killed off in parliament, and as well as delaying implementation of the agency workers directive till 2011 – the “failure” he seems to refer to towards the end – it doubled the EU’s qualifying period from six weeks to 12.


Unions ‘n’ strikes: looking ahead to 2010

Thursday 24 December 2009

Asked recently if the TUC was going to organise a general strike after more government talk of pay restraint, a trade unionist replied : “I think the TUC might go and organise a general panic”. They were joking of course, but next year is not likely to bring mass strikes.

Even if next year’s Budget brings in pay and job cuts for the public sector, unions concerned will not have the luxury of concentrating their energy on fighting for jobs and pay. The PCS, with over 200,000 civil service members, is busy plotting legal and industrial action over cuts to Whitehall redundancy pay, which is expected to form its main campaign at the start of next year.

Unison, Unite and the GMB have public sector members too, notably in local government and health, where pay deals are due to be thrashed out in about four months. But they also have a Labour Party to support and fund, and a general election in three to five months. I’m not saying there won’t be any public sector strikes – that would be a bit rude, it’s down to the members who vote in the end, But Unite is wary of the political implications, and I’d be surprised if the other big unions weren’t.

Two places you can expect strikes in are British Airways, where the cabin crew still want their strike, and… pubs. The GMB is confident that its newly acquired pub landlord members will vote for industrial action against their pubco overlords in a ballot due to be held next month. Incidentally, the GMB, unlike many unions, gained members last year instead of losing them like many others.

Speaking of British Airways, if we’re very lucky we might see the European Court of Justice deliver a verdict on unions’ right to strike vs. free movement of goods and services in the EU. Pilots’ union BALPA, whose members in BA wanted to strike last year but were prevented from doing so in the High Court, is awaiting the outcome.

Oh and did someone mention Royal Mail…?

Right, that’s enough, it’s Christmas Eve already. What do you mean what about the Conservatives. Go and read a proper blog why don’t you. I’ve got presents to wrap. Meanwhile here’s some Christmas cheer as we wait to come out of recession. Good night. This blog will return in the New Year. Probably.

Unions love the G20 (is the party line)

Tuesday 7 April 2009

The British press gave the G20 summit a pretty good press on their front pages last week, with words like ‘historic’, ‘hail’ and of course ‘trillion’. Avid readers of this blog will probably have also come across more sober analyses (like this one) dissecting what was agreed, questioning how firm the agreements really were and stripping away the money that had already been promised or given (most of it) from that $1.1 trillion headline figure.

No such reticence from the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, which acts as a conduit for political discussions between the party and its 15 affiliated unions and is based in an office inside Labour HQ. On their recently revamped Web 2.0-enabled website it gives the summit a jaunty high-five: “JOB DONE – now let’s get to work”.

“Gordon Brown’s $1.1 trillion G20 deal looks set to kickstart the worldwide economy,” it continues. No ambiguity about which world leader was responsible for what part of the deal then.

You’d expect TULO to support the Labour Party, and encourage its members to join and vote Labour – which it does; there’s a link to joining the party on its site. But supporting the Labour Government is another matter – just ask the CWU which is threatening to disaffiliate over Royal Mail part-privatisation.

And it’s hard to see anything on the website which diverges from the government line. In the news section, there’s a press release praising Labour MEPs and attacking Tory MEPs for their stance on anti-discrimination measures.

But interestingly, there’s no mention of how – that very same day – talks in the European Parliament on the Working Time Directive, which limits workers to a 48-hour working week, collapsed after Pat McFadden, Labour’s employment affairs minister, refused to budge. The UK’s opt-out is opposed by trade unions and not a few Labour MEPs.

TULO’s line will surely chime with what the more government-friendly union bosses say. Plenty of rank-and-file trade unionists won’t like it, such as Jon Rogers here. He raises the question of how such trumpeting advances the cause of unions fighting for their members’ rights, like those sacked Visteon workers.

This isn’t to say TULO is Gordon Brown’s plaything. It isn’t, and it does seek to lobby the government with union-friendly policies. But you may ask whether it should also appear to campaign on behalf of the same government.

P.S. The new TULO website is built by Blue Sky Digital, whose London bureau chief Matthew McGregor used to be TULO’s communications man (and Jon Cruddas’ assistant before that). BSD are also helping the CWU run their “Keep the Post Public” campaign against the government’s Royal Mail plans. McGregor himself is a loyal Unite T&G member. For now, the firm seems happy riding those two horses.

Hat-tip: Jon Rogers

The work is there… and it’ll stay there

Monday 2 February 2009

In my last post but one, I suggested that one reason for the wildcat strikes was that there is work to go round and money to be had – it’s just not being offered to British workers.

I’ve just had a look at the pay claim submitted last October to the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry, which represents employers and trade unions and which sets nationally binding pay and conditions for engineering and construction workers. This is what it says:

“The current economic climate, widely publicised as the credit crunch, has caused some economic and industry commentators to question whether the robust growth that the UK construction industry has enjoyed in recent years will continue.

“In considering this we should be mindful of a number of objective facts. For example, it is worth noting that whilst the total volume of construction output fell by 0.5% between the first and second quarter of 2008, new infrastructure output grew by 7% over the same period. In addition it is worth noting that the latest Construction Skills Network Report forecasts that the infrastructure sector will experience the largest growth through to 2012, averaging 5.8% each year from 2008 to 2012.


“Whilst it is true that no one is currently in a situation to predict the medium term effect that the current economic slowdown will have on the UK construction industry as a whole, there a number of infrastructure projects and policy decisions that will ensure long term growth in the engineering construction sector.

“Even the most casual observer of UK economic and political debate cannot fail to appreciate the increasing importance that the UK energy production industry will have going forward into the future. Progressive Governments will have tough choices to make as they seek to balance targets for reducing carbon emissions with providing a stable foundation for economic growth, whilst at the same time reducing energy price inflation.”

Further proof, then, that the jobs are not only there, but they’ll stay there. In the circumstances, this dispute could run into next year in some shape or form. If the government is minded to take action in support of B****** j*bs for B***** workers, it will probably require European legislation, which would take years to draft, agree and enact. And if not, expect more trouble ahead.