Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, is to deliver a rabble rousing anti-union speech at the Tory conference. This is in response to the big business lobby and their Tory right-wing attack dogs, lead by Dominic Raab, the MP who tabled a bill earlier this year to further restrict industrial action in the public sector, something that the Tory High Command will now be seriously considering. Maude is expected to announce an end to ‘full time’ reps in the civil and public service- lay officials who are permitted to work solely on union duties while remaining in the pay of the departments or public bodies. The legislative minimum set out in the ACAS guidelines is to be applied. Of course, paid time off for union reps – ‘facility time’ – in the civil service and wider public sector tends to be more generous than in the private sector. This is due in part to the relative strength of the unions in the public sector, rather than any benevolence of either the employers or previous Labour governments who after all continued with the Thatcherite economic agenda and refused to repeal any of the anti-union laws.
How any cuts will work in practice is anyone’s guess and Maude is not likely to micro-manage it leaving the day-to-day duties to the Mandarins. In many departments it is already the case that 100% facility time is not permitted. However, again private and public sector workers are to be pitted against one another by him with the argument that it is unfair that public sector union reps get better time off and facilities than those in the private sector. Working people must not accept this ‘race to the bottom’ mentality. Unions in the public sector must organise to defend ‘facility time’ as a feature of their terms and conditions and unions in the private sector must also do so, defending the current ‘agreements’ they have with employers and holding the standards in the public sector as ‘best practice’ to be aspired to.
The TUC have published reports and statistics, even jointly with the CBI, to show the ‘benefits’ of unions to service and the ‘value’ to business itself.* For example, in the savings made when comparing workplaces with Union Safety Reps to those without them, in the costs incurred to the taxpayer and business. The figures that will be quoted by Maude, to justify the cuts- the cost to the taxpayer of ‘funding the unions’ – are a distraction from the real issue. After all as mentioned above they can be countered with figures and arguments endorsed by the bosses themselves! This attack is in fact part of the general assault on working people now being carried forward by the unholy Liberal-Tory alliance. It is part of an attempt to further weaken a union movement that is already shackled.
Vince Cable warned the movement at the GMB union conference that the right to strike would be curtailed if the unions dared to use it. With the public sector unions threatening joint strike action, starting with a one-day public sector general strike on 30 November over pension ‘reforms’, the ConDems must show their mettle in facing down the unions, starting with PCS, the main union in the civil service. We can expect no help from the Labour leadership on this score either. Ed Miliband has disgracefully given succour to the ConDems in recent speeches to TUC and Labour Party Conferences and in interviews, refusing to back the unions’ stance on pensions and expressing his support for the anti-union laws introduced by the Thatcher governments, in order to appease big business.
When push comes to shove the only thing that will stop this attack is a show of force in the coming weeks through industrial action, street protests and demonstrations. While union negotiators must use all the facts and figures at their disposal to beat off the attacks at local level where possible, we must fight for a movement that does not benefit the bosses in anyway, whether in delivering ‘more for less’ in the public sector or bigger profits for shareholders in the private sector. It is clear how much society needs the bosses and how much it needs the working class when we withdraw our labour! That is why the ruling class fears strikes. So we must strike to defend ourselves as a class. This is the only way we can effectively defend our terms and conditions, save our public services and improve our living standards. However, we must go further and begin the fight for a movement that seeks the replacement of the bosses with democratic workers’ control.
A final note to the Daily Mail- we don’t all work in ‘Whitehall’!
A PCS Activist
*from 'The facts about facility time for union reps' 'In May 2009 the TUC and the CBI came together to issue a joint statement on the positive role of workplace union representatives – ‘Reps in Action: How workplaces can gain from modern union representation’. The statement identified the value of union reps in ‘delivering real gains at the workplace’ and the part that they play in producing ‘innovative solutions that make a tangible difference'.