Thursday, September 19, 2013

Breaking News: Ray Collins is an idiot

So Ray Collins has published a relatively anodyne "interim report" for Party Conference (http://www.labouremail.org.uk/files/uploads/7fa1c556-861c-fe04-a177-ac80dcda0929.pdf?utm_source=taomail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=11706+NEWS+FROM+LABOUR%3A+++Lord+Collins%27+interim+report+on+Building+a+One+Nation+Labour+Party&tmtid=50104-11706-2-15-621274).

I won't rush to comment on what it recommends.

Not least since it says nothing much of substance - though it clearly threatens the link between the Party and the unions.

But I will say this.

Ray Collins is an idiot.

Ray Collins knows less about Labour history than my boot.

No one should take Ray Collins seriously on this topic ever again.

His interim report, to be presented to Party Conference and published by the Labour Party, makes an elementary (and stupid) error about the history of the relationship between the trade unions and the Party.

On page 6 of the report sent today to members of the Labour Party NEC (and presumably proofread by someone in the Leader's Office) Ray Collins (or whoever wrote on his behalf) says (in reference to union members paying a political levy to their trade union); "Margaret Thatcher's government established a legal right for all trade unionists to contract out of paying that levy."

This is utter rubbish.

"Contracting out" was established in the Trade Union Act 1913. After the defeat of the General Strike it was replaced by "contracting in" by Baldwin's Conservative Government in 1927. This change was reversed in the 1940s by the Attlee Labour Government.

The change which the Thatcher Government introduced had nothing to do with "contracting out" and everything to do with introducing the requirement for decennial ballots of the membership of a trade union to retain our political funds.

I am a pedant.

I care deeply about Labour history.

Maybe I should lighten up about the error made by the work experience ghost writer of the report to which Ray Collins has shamelessly put his (little known) name?

Or not.

This crass error reveals a contempt for the topic about which the author was writing.

This stupid error reveals a breathtaking ignorance of the subject of the author's concern.

The nature of this error says a lot about the attitude to the Thatcher Government of those in our Labour Party still in her thrall.

Ray Collins must have (at the least) signed off the text published in his name.

Ed Miliband (or at least his office) must also have seen this document before it was sent to the Labour Party NEC.

No one who missed this breathtakingly embarrassing piece of stupidity can be taken seriously on this question ever again.

And those trade union delegates who preferred sycophancy to the Labour Leader to the interests of our class at this week's Labour Party NEC need to consider their position.

I will happily publish any comment from a UNITE member who wants to justify their support for the Special Conference now we know that the whole thing is a slapdash job undertaken with neither knowledge of, nor respect for, the relationship between the Party and the unions.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

A trade union response to the attack on equality law?

The snappily titled Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (Commencement No. 3, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2013
(http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/2227/article/2/made) brings s65 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 into force from next month.

This wipes out the statutory provisions in the Equality Act 2010 which placed upon employers some liability for "third party harassment" of employees (as for example when Council staff face racist abuse from a member of the public).

This takes the law back to where it was in 2003 when the House of Lords decided the case of Pearce v Mayfield, overturning the previous precedent of Burton v De Vere Hotels (the legendary "Bernard Manning" case). (For a contemporary analysis of what this meant at the time you could do a lot worse than read what Thompsons had to say about it - http://www.thompsons.law.co.uk/ltext/l1250004.htm).

What it amounts to is that there is no effective remedy in discrimination law against an employer failing to protect staff from racist (or any other) harassment from third parties (for whose conduct the employer cannot be held to be vicariously liable).

As trade unionists we need to be clear that this doesn't take the pressure off our employers to do all that they reasonably can to prevent such harassment - which will include responding to it when it occurs.

The employer's general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act, and the duty to carry out risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations are both relevant here - and for public sector employers the steps they take to comply with these duties are themselves subject to the public sector equality duty.

The Coalition's deliberate step backward on individual rights in equality law ought to prompt us to step forward with a collective response to the problem of harassment of our members.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Don't let's shoot ourselves in the foot!

Those of us who believe that an institutional link between trade unions and the Labour Party, founded upon collective affiliation, is essential to the health of our democracy face numerous challenges and opposition on all sides.

Trade union affiliation is the rock upon which the Labour Party is founded as a voice for, by and of the organised working class, the only force capable of leading and achieving fundamental social change.

As well as those who want to rescue Labour from this embarrassing heritage and make it safe for SPADs from Oxbridge, there are those in the trade unions so frustrated by events that they want to give up on party politics.

The suggestion from UNITE's Scottish Committee that the largest affiliate should boycott Party Conference (http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/politics/political-news/after-falkirk-unite-plans-to-boycott-labour-conference.22024576?_=0bc1c1892eb176d759fcd45e2c7a5b6f14ddc266) amounts to a considered plan to shoot ourselves in both feet at once.

By comparison, the decision of the GMB Executive to reduce it's affiliation to the Party (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23955577) seems almost skillful.

Since the GMB's delegation to this year's Conference will already have been set, based upon it's current affiliation, and since delegations to a Special Labour Party Conference mirror those at the previous Annual Conference, this is plainly a negotiating position.

However, those who want to dissolve the relationship between the unions and the Party into a relationship between atomised individuals and a political elite will clearly seize upon this tactic to make their own dishonest case.

Their case is dishonest because they don't admit their true goal, which is to secure adequate state funding to permit the perpetuation of our party system into a future in which mass membership parties wither away because they cease to offer us a meaningful choice.

Trade unionists need to rally to the cause of defending our right to a collective political voice - by supporting the Tolpuddle statement to defend the link (http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/).


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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Time to Defend Trade Union Rights

Yesterday in Parliament MPs gave a second reading to the Lobbying Bill, which seeks to gag trade unions and other voluntary organisations in an election year (http://www.theguardian.com/p/3tfe7/tf).



Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, 70 trade unionists and Labour Party members met (http://l-r-c.org.uk/events/detail/defend-the-link/) to launch the "Defend the Link" statement which seeks to defend the rights of trade unions in relation to Labour Party affiliation (http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/).



Caught in a pincer movement between a Government seeking to neutralise opposition to austerity and a Labour Leader seemingly engaged in a futile quest for a "Clause Four moment" our unions are in a bind.



As Keith Ewing said at the meeting, it falls to the current generation of General Secretaries to try to save the Labour Party as a party of the organised working class.



Keith acknowledged that this means looking to today's leaders to remedy the errors made by their predecessors, as it was the trade unions who let New Labour have its way in the Party for so long.



Roger McKenzie, UNISON Assistant General Secretary made the point which others also made, that in defending the link we are not saying that the status quo was satisfactory.



We need to defend a link which delivers for trade union members - and we need to defend the rights of trade unions (and other voluntary organisations) even to engage in effective political campaigning.

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