Monday, 6 June 2011

Twisted Cable

The surreal freak show that is the Con Dem Coalition continues apace.

Talking to the GMB trade union, Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable, warned the unions that any significant increase in strikes in opposition to Government public spending cuts could be met with legislation to restrict further the right to strike. Condescendingly, he suggested that the current level of disputes are ok and so he won't legislate - unless people start to use their right to strike. It is a twisted, deceitful logic that is being employed - you can have a right, as long as you don't use it. All the more insincerely patronising are his "this will hurt me more than it will hurt you" protestations, like some old headmaster admonishing the naughty boys. Who does this incompetent sell-out of a man think he is?

The right to collective strike action has been a mainstay of workplace rights ever since the Liberal Party Government reversed the Taff Vale Judgement back in 1901. The judgement used common law to hold trade unions liable for any costs incurred or profits lost by employers as a result of a strike - effectively crushing any legitimate right to strike. Following massive campaigning by unions and by Labour and Liberal politicians, the Liberal Government elected by a landslide in 1906 reversed the decision through the Trades Disputes Act, which removed trade union liability. This concept, of a right to strike without liability, has underpinned even the Thatcherite legislation of the 1980s. Its latest manifestation is in the Trade Union & Labour Relations Act passed by the Conservatives in 1992.

British employment law is at its heart still governed by common law nostrums on the law of contract and, within that, the enacted laws of Master and Servant which were introduced in the 18th century and which require "obedience and loyalty" of employees towards their contracted employer. Later statute laws on employment conditions have modified but not replaced this inherently inegalitarian concept, which is also at the centre of the capitalist economic system. Given that employers, particularly now in the form of large, financially powerful and impersonal corporations, hold the whip hand in this relationship, being effectively in control of the livelihoods and career prospects of their staff, the right to collective action by employees via their trade unions is utterly essential to provide any sort of counterbalance.

As the Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, argued when he told the Commons back in 1906, the protection for unions was essential because:

The great object ...was, and still is, to place the two rival powers of capital and labour on an equality so that the fight between them, so far as fight is necessary, should be at least a fair one.

Yet here we have a leading light among Campbell-Bannerman's successors a century on set to turn the clock back - not because unions might break the law, but because they might use their legal rights. Of course council and other public workers might strike against plans to cut services and make jobs redundant - these are perfectly legal as long as a strike ballot is held. And why on earth wouldn't they? What other weapon do they have to protest or try to save their jobs?

New Lib Dem employment rights policy announced
The unions are central to the defence of needlessly beleaguered public services - and popular in doing so. Polls repeatedly show that the public have much greater faith in the trade unions now than for decades and infinitely higher trust in them than in our political leaders and the corrupt business class whose interests our government so keenly serves. Strikes will come as the cuts bite, as services are withdrawn and people suffer - and if Cable's response is to try to remove the right to strike in order to suppress opposition, he and his ilk will be inviting strife probably unknown in this country for nearly two centuries.

Dangerfield wrote of the passage of the Trades Disputes Act as a seminal moment in The Strange Death of Liberal England, his analysis of the collapse of the once dominant British Liberal Party. A century on, by in effect seeking to repeal the principles it established, Cable looks firmly resolved to kill his party all over again.

And no one will miss it.

And now for something TRULY awful: Lib Dem sycophancy at it's very worst.

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