Sunday, September 22, 2013

#Lab13 One Nation trade unionism: can employees win more by working in partnership with employers?

My first fringe of conference was very topical. I missed the start due to the short but lively conference debate on the Ray Colins report about the link with the trade unions.

It was organised by the IPA, the union Community and Progress (who got a fair bit of stick during the previous debate).

Speakers were Toby Perkins MP, shadow small business minister; Roy Rickhuss national officer, Community; Nita Clarke chief executive, IPA; Maurice Glasman peer and Blue Labour founder Chair: Sarah Veale head of equality and employment rights, TUC

I came in as Nita began to speak. She had worked for unison for many years and later advised Tony Blair on unions. She thought there was no future for unions in the private sector unless they believe in partnership. Some unions seem to prefer to ballot for strike action at the beginning of negotiations not as a "last resort". While 3 years ago a number of employers had said to her that they wished they had unions in their workplaces since they would give employees a voice. They no longer say this. She also thought that "Learning reps" was the most important service that unions can offer. What people want is help to get on in work.  Unions should not retreat into "tigmoo". Its not about structures but about culture and attitude.

Next speaker was Maurice. He believes that it is only labour not capital investment that generates real value. Educating union leaders and building organising in unions is key.  Unions have a problem. In a recent survey 60% of people identified themselves as pro workers but anti trade union. All firms that employ over 100 workers should have employee representation. Unions in Germany have to get their people elected to sit on boards and this keeps unions honest. Regional banks with unions part of the governance are also needed. Personal debt is the biggest issue facing union members.

I asked a question but firstly pointed out that it was considered okay for me to be a staffside representative helping to run a pension fund worth over £900 million yet in the UK staff reps have no right to be on a company board.

I explained that I was late attending this meeting and might have missed something but while I accept that unions should be always looking at themselves and be ready to change you have to remember that some employers are very anti trade union and don't believe anyone has a right to interfere in the running of their business as they see fit.   Also, you won't get employees identifying with companies in the same way they do in Germany because management in Germany don't tend to pay themselves the obscene amounts of money that they do over here. Without pay restraint by UK  management you won't get partnership.
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