Party Point – August 2014

John Clark writes…

First published: August 2014

Do we need Trade Unions? In North Yorkshire the majority would say no. Is this a considered answer? Is it an impulsive reaction to the question “Do I want to be inconvenienced by strikes?” I suspect the latter.

The first people to form a union and go on strike were the ‘match girls’. These workers had serious health problems, including losing all their teeth. They were working with white phosphorus, totally unacceptable by today’s standards. Modern working conditions such as sick pay, holiday pay, redundancy money, pension and even not working on a Saturday afternoon are all ‘normal’. These have all been achieved by the pressure of people working together in a Trade Union.

None of the above means I’m in favour of strikes other than as a last resort. Far better for the managers/owners to negotiate a solution with the unions. Frequently after a strike there is a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. This results in either wanting another ‘go’ on the basis that if they won they want more, or if they lost they are aggrieved. If there is a negotiated settlement then neither wins nor loses.

In the public services there are a whole series of disputes, mainly over pay and pensions. The ConDemned government believes that by freezing the incomes of public employees the national budget can be balanced.

When the country is in a financial mess we must all take a share of the pain. Last year the Chief Executives of the top 100 companies had an average pay increase of 19%. This is on top of £140,000plus per week. Over the last 3 years local government employees have had a 1% increase. Inflation means they have lost 1/6th of their buying power. These people include teaching assistants, ‘dinner ladies’, care workers etc., many of whom are not paid much above the minimum wage and well below the national average. They cannot afford a pay cut. If they didn’t have a union then they would need one.

A Liberal motion to NYCC proposed two actions:

  1. To call upon the government to facilitate pay negotiations with the appropriate unions.
  2. To call upon the Local Government Association to re-open wage negotiations with the appropriate unions.

In other words get round the table and negotiate. This was greeted by the Tories with a reaction somewhere between hurt, horror and hostility. The Labour group was split. Those with a Trade Union background supported the call for negotiations rather than continued strikes and confrontation. The Labour leadership backed the Tories. As for the LibDems, they were as usual, undecided; most supported their Tory mates while the rest abstained.

It is the greed of the bankers and Chief Executives that got us into this mess. Bin men should get a fair wage and bankers should not get even more. Nurses should get pay increases rather than it all going to Chief Executives. If we want a fair society then we need strong Trade Unions to negotiate on behalf of working people.

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