United we stand? The Southern Rail dispute and the unions

Southern's Brighton to London service

Southern’s Brighton to London service

117 years ago, my great-great grandad, president of the Amalgamated Society of railway servants (ASRS), sat down in a meeting between the executives of ASRS and the Associated Society of locomotive engineers and firemen (ASLEF) to discuss federation. Had they succeeded in establishing unity between the rail unions back then, I might not be writing this article now. The TUC and rail management have used Victorian-era sectional craft differences to divide railway workers. I hope to explain what has happened in relation to the dispute on Southern Rail and the role of the TUC and ASLEF. I am aware that the railway runs on a level of jargon and acronym that approaches another language so please forgive the mini railway rules refresher! Continue reading

Let’s Unite the left for Len

Len McCluskey at CLASS fring meeting at Labour Conference 2012Even taking account the advantages of incumbency, the momentum, dynamism and confidence of Len McCluskey’s campaign to be re-elected General Secretary of Unite stands in sharp contrast to the lacklustre efforts of the right wing challenger, Gerard Coyne, and the amateur hour theatrics of the “grassroots” candidate, Ian Allinson.

What stands out is not only that Len can point to year on year achievement, but that his campaign is getting out and about meeting members in organized workplaces around the UK, where he is meeting a strong response. Continue reading

Community need to face the consequences

communityThe criterion for success for any trade union campaign is whether or not it leaves organisation weaker or stronger.

A hundred years ago, the German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, observed that trade union organisation was a “labour of Sisyphus”, comparing it to the mythological figure who was doomed to an eternity of pushing a rock up hill, only for it to roll back to the bottom each time.

It is certainly true that the nature of capitalist competition between companies means that the commercial context that businesses operate in is always changing, and that in the final analysis there is a conflict of interest between employers who wish to get more work for less money, and employees who wish to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be paid a fair wage. In that respect no negotiated deal is ever final, and the process of industrial relations is never ending. Continue reading

How we adapt to the new Trade Union Act

Public-sector-workers-and-members-of-the-GMB-unionThe Trade Union Act 2016 comes into effect for all industrial disputes where the ballot is to commence after 1st March 2017. Due to a well coordinated campaign by trade unions and the Labour Party, much of it lobbying behind the scenes, many of the more draconian aspects that had originally been proposed by the Conservative Government in the original bill had been dropped prior to Royal Assent, however there are still significant changes that will be challenging for unions.

While it may be counter-productive to pick over the entrails, much of the motivation for the Act’s changes to the law relating to industrial disputes possibly relates to a few instances of action by some public sector trade unions, and also due to the use of imaginative alternatives to traditional industrial action by GMB and Unite. The government therefore made the unwise decision to enact broad legal changes to cover all industrial disputes where their specific objectives could have been better achieved by a more proportionate response, or indeed by stepping back from government involvement in industrial disputes altogether. Continue reading

A Left Economic Strategy for Labour – putting meat on the bones

RichOnTop2Left Futures recently published an article of mine, Labour needs to rediscover comprehensive economic planning, in which I argued that Labour, and the radical Left generally, needed to rediscover the centrality of the need for a comprehensive Left Economic Programme both as a core policy offer for Labour, and as a guide and implementation tool for progressive transformation of the UK economy, and society, when in government.

After discussions with a number of other comrades about the article’s proposals, Danny Nicol and I decided to produce a model resolution for socialists within the Labour Party who agreed with my earlier article. We would hope this would be used, in whole or part, in LP branches vis a vis motions/submissions to the NPF and directly to the Labour Leadership Team. It might also serve as a model for motions to 2017 Labour Conference, though the restrictive word limit on “Contemporary Resolutions” will require we do a shortened version before then. Continue reading