'Axe' public sector union rights, say business leaders

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Kronstadt_Kid's picture
Kronstadt_Kid
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Feb 11 2011 22:01
'Axe' public sector union rights, say business leaders

BBC News.

Not seen this on here, the article quite surprised me actually.

I was wondering if there were some people on LibCom who think that we shouldn't defend 'trade union rights' and those who think we should.

Sorry I am not really contributing anything.

RedHughs
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Feb 11 2011 23:21

I recall the Economist declaring war on public sector unions a while ago.

I think we should support the public sector workers.

Struggles involve defending "rights" to lots of things that aren't in themselves revolutionary or radical. I'd be against, say, the State Of California stealing money from Calpers, the California Public Employees fund. But as huge investment fund, Calpers has done a wide of unfortunate things, like other large investment funds.

This doesn't mean that unions aren't capitalist institutions and ready to defend capitalism in the last instance. Sometimes unions actually spearhead drives for austerity and sometimes drives for austerity are about tossing out the unions. It's a complex and nasty system we have.

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Steven.
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Feb 12 2011 01:31

I had a look at that article, and despite the headline I don't really think it is as simple as an attack on "union rights".

For example, making workers pay to put in a tribunal is not ending a union right, just a workers' right. And ending flexible working rights aren't "union" rights either.

Collective bargaining over pay… I suppose that could be described as a union right of a sort. But in any case, attacking national agreements on pay would be so that local employers could cut pay, so breaking up a national agreement is clearly an attack on all the workers currently covered by it. So even if you held the most ultra-left anti-union line you would still not be in favour of it because it is an attack on the workers.

I ask this question specifically about union facilities, following a few struggles over them here:
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/attacks-union-facilities-03062009

Basically just asking this very question.

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 12 2011 02:25

my general rule of thumb is if capital/the state are proposing something, it's probably not in our interests. the collective bargaining system as-is is shit, but it's only going to get better if superseded by direct action breaking out of its legalistic framework, not by bosses dividing and ruling through local /individual pay awards.

of course if these proposed changes we're implemented it would probably require strike action to stop it. which the unions wouldn't do. they'd probably mount a legal challenge, maybe win on a technicality, then the gov't would change the law and do it anyway.

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Steven.
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Feb 12 2011 10:51

Joseph, that may be true in the NHS, but I think the NUT and maybe other teachers' unions would probably strike if they tried to do it.

Of course, what is happening with teachers though is that national collective bargaining over pay is being broken up by the use of academies anyway (and you are correct that there has been no national response from the unions on this)

martinh
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Feb 12 2011 11:48

In the industry I work in individual bargaining is the norm. One of my colleagues has had one pay rise in the last ten years. Any collective bargaining is a lot better than that.

IIRC the last time Unison/Nalgo seriously fought anything in local govt it was in 1990 or 91 and was connected to the govt proposing the end of national bargaining. I think some of the unions will move on this sort of thing if it is seriously threatened, but only because it affects their own existence.

Regards,

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Choccy
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Feb 12 2011 11:59
Steven. wrote:
Joseph, that may be true in the NHS, but I think the NUT and maybe other teachers' unions would probably strike if they tried to do it.

Of course, what is happening with teachers though is that national collective bargaining over pay is being broken up by the use of academies anyway (and you are correct that there has been no national response from the unions on this)

Yep no national response whatsoever, beyond some anti-academy information and whatnot. The response I do know of have all been localised, eg the 3 remaining non-academy schools in Hackney all having preliminary strike ballots should they be turned into academies.

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Steven.
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Feb 12 2011 13:09
martinh wrote:
In the industry I work in individual bargaining is the norm. One of my colleagues has had one pay rise in the last ten years. Any collective bargaining is a lot better than that.

IIRC the last time Unison/Nalgo seriously fought anything in local govt it was in 1990 or 91 and was connected to the govt proposing the end of national bargaining. I think some of the unions will move on this sort of thing if it is seriously threatened, but only because it affects their own existence.

Regards,

exactly. The only reason in local government, and the NHS, to be in a national union is for the national pay bargaining. If that was ended, there would be very little to stop local branches disaffiliating from the national union - and there would be big advantages for local branches in that they would have much more freedom to act as they wanted, and they would get to keep 100% of membership dues instead of only 25% as they do currently.

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Duds4u
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Feb 12 2011 23:30
Steven. wrote:
The only reason in local government, and the NHS, to be in a national union is for the national pay bargaining.

Not entirely true as those workers who aren't in a union whose pay is linked to pay spines negotiated nationally benefit from the results too - even if these benefits have been somewhat 'piss poor' in recent years!

Out of curiosity I recently worked out how the pay of a local government worker earning £21k FT in March 2007 - linked to the NJC Pay Spine - had fared against inflation. For the purposes of my investigation I assumed that the staff side (min) £250 per FT employee pay claim for 2011-12 would be unsuccessful (quite likely what with the current and upcoming mass redundances). Anyway I worked out that over a 5-year period (April 07-Mar 12) the pay of that worker would have been devalued by 11.5% when measured against RPI and 9.1% against CPI. Conclusion: Unison, Unite etc haven't served their members well. Unions keep trying to entice us to join/renew with 'special discounts' on home insurance etc - but you can always get better deals using comparison sites.

Local government workers also started the public sector 'pay freeze' a year early (April 2010) and their NHS counterparts' pay has outstripped theirs by 7.5% since 1998.

Many district and borough councils in SE England have opted out of national pay bargaining precisely because the unions have done such a crap job obtaining decent - or any! - cost of living pay increases - creating recruitment problems. The big downside of local pay bargaining in local government is that there is no guarantee that Councillors will approach it in an informed and objective manner. When I first started work for my council the outcome of cost of living increase 'debates' often depended on Councillors' prejudices or something as simple as who turned up at a meeting.

For the last 10 years the pay of most of us has been linked to the NJC pay spine.

One bit of good news: I wrote a paper for the Council explaining how poorly local government workers had fared over the years and the result was that all of us on the NJC pay spine have been put up one increment point (a way of doing this was found which wouldn't increase Council Tax)! Given the mania for cuts, Council Tax freezes and public sector bashing: a satisfying result!

martinh
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Feb 13 2011 22:07
Duds4u wrote:
Out of curiosity I recently worked out how the pay of a local government worker earning £21k FT in March 2007 - linked to the NJC Pay Spine - had fared against inflation. For the purposes of my investigation I assumed that the staff side (min) £250 per FT employee pay claim for 2011-12 would be unsuccessful (quite likely what with the current and upcoming mass redundances). Anyway I worked out that over a 5-year period (April 07-Mar 12) the pay of that worker would have been devalued by 11.5% when measured against RPI and 9.1% against CPI. Conclusion: Unison, Unite etc haven't served their members well.

While this is true, what do you compare it to? Like I said, many of my colleagues have had a far bigger devaluation in pay over that period because there has been no pay increase. If someone needs more money in a lot of jobs the only immediate option is to get a different one, and that has become a lot harder over the last couple of years. It's particularly stark in areas which are privatised - older workers on transferred terms and conditions get pay rises if they are linked to the collective bargaining, newer workers get nothing.

The unions have not been a lot of use, but I don't think being outside collective bargaining benefits most of us (and there is I believe evidence that it exacerbates the pay differentials between the sexes),

Regards,

Martin

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devoration1
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Feb 14 2011 02:13
Quote:
The unions have not been a lot of use, but I don't think being outside collective bargaining benefits most of us (and there is I believe evidence that it exacerbates the pay differentials between the sexes),

It's a big give and take. The situation in the UK sounds much simpler than the one in the US- for ex. I'm in a union at work (for the fringe financial benefits- supplement health care, free life insurance, low interest credit card, etc); however, where I live public workers do not have the right to collective bargaining. However, my employment contract, benefits and pay scale (raises, cost of living increases, etc) rivals and beats large swaths of the country where there is a collective bargaining right and a certified union.

Then you've got examples like this:

Quote:
Working Under a Teamster Contract, For Less Than Minimum Wage

12/2010

Teamster bus attendants in New York City are working under a union contract that pays new workers less than minimum wage.

http://labornotes.org/2010/11/working-under-teamster-contract-less-minimum-wage

Quote:
So even if you held the most ultra-left anti-union line you would still not be in favour of it because it is an attack on the workers.

I think the problem is trying to oppose unionism in a big picture sense while not conflating it with trying to sell workers on the idea that if they can get wage and benefits increases if they vote 'Yes' in an NLRB election, they must vote no because unionism is reactionary (or vice versa, that union workers should decertify their union and take wage and benefits cuts to be more 'Right').

Rum Lad
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Mar 5 2011 08:49

When Osborne announces budget will be 'unashamedly pro-growth' I think it wouldn't be too presumptive to expect changes to employment law.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12653686

Malcy
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Mar 5 2011 22:25

RMT court injunction overturned

Saw this yesterday. This may strengthen the Tories' resolve to make the touted changes?

Malcy
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Mar 5 2011 22:54

Right to strike ruling

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Django
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Mar 6 2011 15:16
Malcy wrote:
RMT court injunction overturned

Saw this yesterday. This may strengthen the Tories' resolve to make the touted changes?

You mean to require legal strikes to have the support of at least half of all union members at the workplace balloted? It's a possibility, but it wouldn't really affect a number of the strikes which have been injuncted against on technicalities recently - the BA strikes had that majority, as did the national rail strike last year. It would outlaw a number of other recent strikes which went ahead with a low turnout, such as at Jobcentreplus I believe (low turnouts being a symptom of the result being a foregone conclusion in some cases, demoralisation in others).

I have seen it suggested by some 'business leaders' that strikes should have the backing of at least half the entire workforce - including non-union members and potentially management - to be legal though.