“You don’t get me, I’m part of the union.”
On Monday the government will introduce in parliament the biggest crack down on the trade unions in thirty years. Len McCluskey’s Unite union is up for the challenge. The General Secretary will spend the weekend at the Trades Union Congress testing support for his call to break the law to resist the Tories plans.
The issue will be an interesting test for the new Labour leader. To support or oppose particular strikes has been one of the most difficult problems for Labour leaders for decades. Barbara Castle crossed the unions in the 1960s, Jim Callaghan’s government was brought down by them in 1979, Neil Kinnock’s discomfort over Arthur Scargill’s miners strike in 1984/5 is the stuff of legend and Ed Miliband’s refusal to take sides became a joke on You Tube.
The reason why the party, created by the unions, has agonised over the issue of union power is because it has feared losing moderate voters. It is this equivocation that has dismayed the left, and particularly the young. During the leadership election they have surged back to Labour in the expectation of more crusading policies. Their argument is that if the party fights with conviction for working people, more will join, Middle England will be overwhelmed and a socialist Labour Party will sweep to power in 2020. The battle over the Trade Union bill will be a first test.
The measure will make unlawful a strike unless 50% of those being asked to strike, vote in the ballot. 40% of those asked to vote must support the strike in key public services. The strike mandate will only last four months Unlawful picketing will become a criminal, not civil, offence. Most controversial of all is the right being given to employers to hire agency staff to break the strike. The Labour Party’s finances are set to be hit with a further provision to require union members to positively agree to pay the political levy.
The number of working days lost to strike action in the 12 months to April was 704,000, a far cry from the 13 million a year in the 70s. However there have been a number of strikes on the London Underground and in schools causing major inconvenience to parents and commuters. This has been the trigger for ministers to act. What will New Old Labour do?
I attended the excellent global soccer business conference in Manchester this week and thought I would share with you a comment by a panellist. It came during a discussion about fans’ use of new media. Facebook and YouTube had come out of left field with nobody seeing what impact they would have It was noted that some football clubs had given up trying to stop fans taking mobile phone shots of matches and embraced the clips on their websites.
Then the prediction of the next big thing, fans resistance to being the falls guys in the war between Sky and BT for TV soccer rights. As was correctly observed the poor fan now has to pay two huge monthly fees to get full match coverage. Who could stop this? Well perhaps Apple will come to the fans rescue, wipe out BT and Sky and unify the package at a cheaper price. Just a thought.