Thursday, 31 May 2012

Doctor on Strike

The Independent gave a pithy headline to the issue of public sector pensions for Doctors today.

Lets be clear at the outset. Doctors have every right to ballot on Industrial Action and Striking and they have every right to take part in any action that is called by the union they belong to. They are already sensitive to the issue of "abandoning patients" but they are only withdrawing non-urgent care. This is a world of difference from standing outside surgery or hospitals round the brazier. This attitude is similar to how the Fire Brigades Union conducts their disputes and even they are usually replaced with Green Goddesses and the Army. I am sure that pulling in a few Army medics just in case is not beyond the wit of the government. But crucially, the lie about the unsustainability of public sector pensions have been nailed. There is a £2bn surplus in the pension scheme which is not to sneezed at.

The government were quick as always to bleat about lack of a mandate (which makes the position of many councillors elected just as dubious) and that the public would not understand their position. The government need to change the record and look into why unions that have historically been slow to anger and slow to take action have suddenly had an outbreak of militancy. The doctors taking action for the first time since 1975. Prospect and National Association of Head Teachers taking part in N30 last year to name but a few.

But I can't get over this naggy feeling about this action from the Doctors.

Reading about the strike from 1975, it appears it happened as a result of being asked to withdraw from private practise and has given the casual observer born long after the event the impression that the BMA is a deeply conservative self-interested organisation only looking out for themselves.

With the Doctors now being amongst the best paid in the public sector and having the added bonus of a pension scheme that pays anywhere from £53,000 to £63,000 per year, it is instructive that the equivalent in the private sector would require a pot of at least £1 million pounds. When I think about the average public sector pension being anywhere from £4-8,000 depending on your source, it has the unfortunately perception of being greedy rather than being a necessary course of action.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Calling for a General Strike - a different perspective

Walking through Cambridge today, I spotted the regular Socialist Worker Party stall near the Grafton Centre. The stall had posters of David Cameron with the tagline He must Go (well, its not up to the SWP but the electorate) and a poster with the inevitable cry out to the TUC to call a General Strike.

Leaving aside the fact that to call a strike requires an industrial dispute and a secret ballot of members. Yes, PCS, NUT and others have an existing mandate to strike. But to get the likes of the British Dietician Association and United Shops Distributive and Allied Workers involved would be a different kettle of fish. There would be no point in the TUC calling a general strike if all the affiliates are not taking part.

Is such a call realistic? Would the revolution win out?

For it to work, it has to be one hundred percent legal and without reproach. The slightest mistake in a ballot or to proceed without reference to law, no matter how tempting, will alienate the public, lead to injunctions and employers will be perfectly justifiable to dismiss for breach of contract and harsher rules introduced on calling a strike.

Your standard socialist as you might find in a Trade Council up and down the country has a theory that when taking this course of action, two million workers would walk out, Dave Cameron go "D'oh! Of course, its obvious! I must resign as a prime minister, dissolve parliament, call an election" out of which the Unions channel the spirit of 1973 and win through with a socialist government elected.

The socialists are fond of their history. But no so fond as to leave out the inconvenient bits that disrupts their narrative. The glaring omissions from the average socialist who harkens back to the glory days of 1973 are Wapping and the 1984 Miners Strike. Even Owen Jones missed this in his article for The Independent newspaper when discussing the use of the word socialist as an insult.

History is not on the Unions' side. The 1926 General Strike was a failure and more recently, Wapping and the 1984 Miners Strike have given Employers carte blanche to ride out an industrial dispute. The Government will do no less. They can't afford not to.

Even if by some miracle, the Left achieve their aims and the government falls, the Conservatives will do a re-run of Heath's "Who Runs Britain?". The only two winners out of this scenario will be the Tories, perhaps with an overall majority, or Labour who promises £8 in cuts for every £9 proposed by the coalition government and are certainly in no rush to overturn decades of anti-union laws.

The Unions are no longer in a position to hold a government or a country to ransom. A General Strike will fail and people who lose a days pay will lose it for nothing.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Vince Cable - Right as Always

Vince Cable called it correctly over the housing bubble that destroyed the boom of the early 21st Century; on Northern Rock and on Rupert Murdoch.

Surely its therefore prudent to listen to him before it goes wrong rather than a long time afterwards. I refer of course, to his description of the Beecroft Report as complete nonsense.

The challenge for the government is stimulating growth. Labour attempted to spend until they ran out of money. The Coalition government are trying another tack by austerity measures.

But to stimulate growth, you need spending. If the government does not want to do it, then it will have to be up to those in work. But a person who is at fear of losing their job will not want to spend except on the bare necessities. Depressing demand and entrenching stagnation in the economy. . Vince Cable has also said that there is a very flexible labour force already. He's right. It is easy to sack under-performing staff. It is easy to sack staff for misconduct. But employers have to do it properly, fairly, according to the law and natural justice.

Its not just employer's livelihoods at stake. Its employees as well. Both sides are entitled to a stake in a business, it is in both interests to ensure the business succeeds. Treat staff fairly and they will be motivated to work hard for you and be productive. Treat them badly, and they will return that in spades if your business run into trouble.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Industrial Disputes - A 21st Century Model

Good News as tanker drivers in the Unite union vote to accept the deal on their dispute over terms and conditions.

In stark contrast to the unyielding and unbending stance of both sides in the public sector pension row, there are lessons to learn from how the tanker drivers approached their dispute and the willingness of the employers to seek a resolution.

The easiest course of action was to call the union's bluff, allow strikes to go ahead and then utilise public anger over queues and petrol shortages to force agreement, imposed or otherwise.

Instead, both sides went down the hardest course of action. To sit together at ACAS and thrash out the issues, to collaboratively cobble together a final deal and persuade the workers to accept it.

Post Wapping and the Miners '84, it is no longer feasible to work through an industrial dispute within the context of a class struggle. More than any anti-trade union law Thatcher introduced, these two events emboldened the employer side making them willing to stare down the unions. This is very clear from Francis Maude's approach towards the pensions dispute and because of this, I cannot see a situation in which a Prime Minister in a position similar to Edward Heath would countenance going to the country over an industrial dispute like he did in 1974.

Instead, these days, industrial disputes are, and should be resolved by negotiation first and working towards the best deal available. This does mean compromise and it really is not a dirty word.

However, it is right that strike action (or the threat of) can and should be used. Changing terms and conditions of a contract, whether written or implied is a breach of contract by the employer. The employees can therefore be justified in responding accordingly, they do not have another recourse in law.

But it has to be a last resort after all else failed. Its obvious that if the tanker drivers had in the end gone on strike, they would have done so if there was no alternative. Instead, we had a grown-up conversation, a grown-up deal and a grown-up resolution to the dispute.

Such a shame that this approach completely by-passed the collective wisdom of Francis Maude and the PCS.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Link: Civil Service Strike - The Follow Up.

Today, I had a piece published over on the Lib Democrat Voice blog. You can read the full piece.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Tyranny of the Employers?

Once again, the siren voices call out for reform of employment law. And without too much surprise, plans to reform the employment tribunal system has been included in today's Queen's Speech.

The preamble to the constitution states that we exist to build a fair society.

Employment Tribunals on the whole deal with Discrimination cases and unfair dismissal cases.

I heard Lorely Burt MP at last year's Lib Dem East of England Regional Conference speaking of vexatious and malicious applications but offered no facts and figures to support this.

As the TUC says: "The clue is in the name. Employers already have plenty of powers to make fair dismissals."

On the whole, employers do treat employees fairly already under existing law. But where employers do not treat employees fairly, then it is right for the employee to have recourse. This measure creates a problem to be solved rather than being a solution to a problem and by its very nature illiberal.

The liberal approach is to be fair to employer and employees, tilting the balance one way or another does not fulfill this aim.

Just as much as there are rights and responsibilities on both side in a employer/employee relationship under existing relationships, we must be just as careful not to create a tyranny of the employers as a tyranny of the workers.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"There is an Alternative" But is there a Plan B?

Shortly after the formation of the Coalition Government, PCS reps across the country worked with local Trade Councils and other unions to set up campaigning organisations such as Cambridgeshire Against The Cuts. The aim is to campaign against cuts in vital services both locally and nationally such as supporting the Judicial Review into the stopping of bus subsidies locally and the March for the Alternative.

Supporting this, the PCS produced a booklet. There is an Alternative. As far as I can tell, the only cuts they are in favour of, is that of Trident, government consultants and withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it makes the case that to reduce the deficit (but not necessarily the national debt) between revenues and spending is to close the loopholes leading to tax avoidance and evasion and a Robin Hood tax. Revenue raising rather than cutting spending.

It seems the time has now come to test out these ideas for real.

The most prominent elections over the weekend of the 4-6 May 2012, have not been the local elections in the UK, but in France and Greece. France elected their first socialist President since 1981, Francois Hollande, on a platform of raising corporation tax; raising tax on earnings over £1m euros; hire more teachers; raise minimum wage; and reducing pension ages along with renegotiating the Treaty on Fiscal Discipline.

Greece on the other hand, facing even more stringent austerity measures threw out the New Democracy/Pasok coalition and now it appears Syrizia want to form a coalition on the basis of tearing up the bailout agreement.

Will both succeed in their aims? The pressures of the market can ruin even the best laid plans especially when the rest of the eurozone and UK will be wanting their money back.

Hollande's policies are not new, it did not work for Francois Mitterand in 1981 who had to make successive U-turns on his policies and in these times of fiscal discipline, it's nothing more than an experiment on a patient where the doctors do not know how to cure the disease, then after that, whats left for the Left in Europe?

They have made the running with all the arguments not to cut, but at a time when the Left did not run an European country. Now they do. Lets see whats come of it, but if it goes wrong and Greece continues to be the sick man of Europe and France gets dragged down too, never mind George Osborne, do the PCS and their fellow Left groupings across Europe have a plan B?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Zombie Politics

The papers are full of the usual "tensions in the coalition" again.

These days, are par for the course. Normally, just rolling my eyes and moving on, I was very struck this time by the focus of the right-wards lurching demonstrated by the likes of Nadine Dorris and Bernard Jenkins focusing on gay marriage legislation and House of Lords Reform.

Both of these are the right thing to do.

To remove patronage in the make-up of the legislature; and lets be honest, it is patronage. Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt secretly recorded suggesting they could be lobbied by the highest bidders and then using their positions within parliament to take forward lobbyist's concerns and being promptly told by Labour they would never get a peerage.

And gay marriage is nothing more and nothing less than full equality under the law for whoever you might fall in love with. The 1947 Marriage Act is a state definition of marriage. Religions can carry out their own variations within their ideology. The Catholics prohibits divorcees from marrying within the Church. Thats fine, thats up to them. But that is not the same as saying that that marriage is only for a man and a woman, which state is well within its right to legislate.

The New Statesman reports a Gallup poll showing 43% in favour of gay marriage.

PCS voted to take strike action over public sector pensions on a 61% majority on a 32.4% turnout.

The Conservatives polled 31% in the local elections on 3 May 2012 on a turnout of 32%.

Who here has the bigger mandate?

Lynne Featherstone is right when she says its not an either/or; that the coalition are more than capable of multitasking.

Thats the nature of coalition, it requires compromise. The Tories have yet to grasp this basic concept.

Compromises in a Coalition is the grown up version of "Show me yours and I'll show you mine."

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why am I a Liberal Democrat?

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity

Taken from the preamble to the constitution of the party and it a fair reflection of my own views. I come from a family that would always discuss and challenge ideas, thoughts and comments. Occasionally I would say bone-headed stuff and then laughed out of the room. I learnt from this, and quickly.

Looking at my background, one set of grandparents were conservative and the other set were socialists. I was encouraged to develop my own thinking and I suppose I found a happy middle-ground. Many of my views took a good twenty years to develop. After a flirtation with the Orange Book wing, I consider myself to be part of the social democratic wing which I interpret as being free market where it is needed and the state where it is needed because the free market profit motive does not work in those spheres.

I am a republican (as the monarchy is not meritocratic); in favour of rights to combat discrimination and to protect employees, whether they want to work, in an industrial dispute or to protect from unscrupulous employers; in favour of media plurality and anti-authoritarianism/extremism. I am pro-european, though not in favour of joining the Euro. I believe that people need to demonstrate responsibility as well as having rights afforded to them. Although I have been a trade union rep in the past, the policies adopted by trade unions as a whole are narrow and do not fully represent my political thinking.

My earliest political awaking was when I was at my grandparents, and my grandmother said to me "Don't be a liberal in my house". I did research into the Lib Dems and liked what I read. The stand out policy for me in those days was a penny on income tax for education, in those days, designed to have raised about an extra 2 billion pounds. Although I can barely remember other policies from those days, I do find the 1992 General Election manifesto still to be true to my political beliefs after all these years with their emphasis on education, environment, Europe and development of infrastructure along Keynesian economic theory long before it was fashionable again.

In that way, the party that I joined in 1995 is still very much the party that I still belong to. I do remember reading Emma Nicholson's autobiography from around 1997 where she writes about the tory party leaving her rather than she leaving the party, this is not a stage I have reached even after the start of the Coalition Government.

My old friend Stephen, who I met at sixth form in Newbury, wrote me a letter of introduction and packed me off with directions to the Newbury constituency office. Knocked on the door, and David Rendal answered. With a sudden attack of nerves, I said "Can I talk to Gerald Vernon Jackson?" David showed me through, bemused that I would rather see Gerald than him. And Gerald signed me up.

I did the usual right of passage of new members - to stick double sided tape on window posters. From there, I helped in General Election 97; Winchester bye-election 1997 which Mark Oaten won handsomely; various council elections and then into the local party committees and executives via an attempt, with Adrian, to set up a Lib Dem group where I studied at the University of Glamorgan.

Due to the tuition fees issues, University of Glamorgan Lib Dems, in the middle of the traditional Labour controlled Welsh valleys of Rhondda Cynon Taff, had a bigger membership than Labour Students for the time I was there.

I cut my teeth on NUS politics, which stood me in good stead for later involvement within PCS, learning from Stephen, Jon and Rene.

Later on, I worked on the South East Cambridgeshire General Election campaigns in 2001, 2005 and 2010 with Sal Brinton and Jonathan Chatfield.

These days, I am very aware that I joined the party to get Lib Dem councillors and MPs elected and into national and local government with genuine influence, that ambition has been met with varying degrees of success over the years and will continue to be an ambition of mine.

I am, on reflection, proud to be a member and getting policies that I campaigned for over the years implemented in government - triple lock on pensions; pupil premium; incremently raising the threshold of the basic rate of tax to £10,000; rolling back the authoritarian database state; reforming casino banking and setting up the Green Investment Bank; working towards recognition of gay marriage; working towards reform of the House of Lords. Policies that are the right thing to do but not always the popular thing to do.


Hello, welcome to this new blog. I am Ian, a member of the Liberal Democrats and a PCS member. I plan to talk about about the Lib Dems, trade union issues and anything else that takes my fancy.