A coordinated assault on Trade Unionism

Jamie Insole explains why he will be joining many others to celebrate the National Assembly’s decision to resist the implementation of the Trade Union Bill in Wales.

Back in 2007, having completed my practitioners certificate, I landed a dream job as the Welsh organiser for a major teaching Union. As a callow marxist, I quickly realised that I should put aside Luxembourg. My job was to deepen membership, promote activity and negotiate from a position of knowledge and strength.

You see, in contrast to England, where education has since descended into a pumpernickel anarchy of semi-commercial fiefdoms, union representatives in Wales regularly meet with local authorities. Similarly, as a full time organiser, it became apparent that I had access to policy makers at every level. Consequently, it was not so much a case of trying to park our tanks on the lawn as having something sensible to say when we got there.

Compare that to Westminster. In my most recent role, I had an opportunity to map political capture across government. Imagine a milieu where policy is made in ministerial seminars on a strictly invitation only basis. Whereas the bright young things who use these occasions to shape legislation are sponsored by various interests, one firm stands out as ubiquitous.

SPADs and gatekeepers no longer invite representatives from TUC or the third sector. After all, these things are generally decided on a consensus basis, and, as far as possible, in sympathy with the ‘media-cycle’. Why then, should radical outsiders be allowed to make a big mess on the table?

Meanwhile, starved of central funding, many local authorities feel forced to consider outsourcing as the only possible option. Understandably, many do not possess the expertise to administer large contracts, giving rise to super profits and severe service failures.

Whether administered through civil service management boards (consider HMRC – where blue-chip companies have successfully captured executive positions), policy process or funding restrictions, austerity has become the catalyst for an unprecedented transfer of wealth.

Public Service Industries’ (PSI) provide the vehicle for this transfer, multi-national profiteers who specialise in nothing other than winning contracts, increasing wealth & income inequality as well as driving low pay.

Make no mistake – this is a coordinated assault. The Public Services Strategy Board (PSSB) includes 18 senior executives of the largest outsourcing companies including G4S, Serco, Autos and Capita.

So what does this have to do with the Trade Union Bill or our Assemblies decision to resist it’s implementation in the Welsh Public Sector?

First of all say what you like about Wales. My past contributions will demonstrate that far from doubling up as a Welsh Government groupie, I have fielded noisy criticisms, both around the tone of opposition and apparent whack-a-mole approach to Westminster’s legislative onslaught (particularly around Welfare Reform).

However, with respect to the Trade Union Bill, not only has the Senedd got it right but it is essential that we offer the maximum support.

As I have suggested, the practice of austerity = privatisation depends not only upon the diminution of workplace organisation (since 2012, on average in excess of 6000 local agreements are dissolved per annum) but also trade unionism’s wider political role. Wales, in common with Scotland, has chosen to adopt a tradition of dialogue far more in keeping with the European norm.

Whilst this might not amount to beer and pies at Carwyn’s gaff, Welsh Government acknowledges the value added by facility time, the crucial contribution made by trade union education and central role in modelling the delivery of services otherwise frayed by core spending cuts. In the private sector, trade unions frequently lead in fostering innovation. Local agreements provide a structure for skilling, enabling employers to modify their business models towards higher-paid roles and greater outputs. This in turn stimulates local demand and contributes to the regeneration of communities.

Welsh local authorities, whilst subject to the same pressure as their English counterparts, have, due to the local bargaining strength of members, largely resisted the drive towards fire-sales. Where cuts do occur, they have tended to take the form of transitional arrangements such as CAT’s – leaving open the prospect of future public control.

Make no mistake. If Wales had a constitution, trade unions would enjoy a central role. With over 400,000 members (or more than a quarter of the Welsh Workforce), time and time again, Welsh voters have returned representatives, the majority of whom are committed to upholding the compact.

The Trade Union Bill, simultaneously described as “draconian”, “spiteful” and “reminiscent of General Franco’s Spain” by members of Mr Cameron’s own party, can only serve to do vandalism to our industrial arrangements. Westminster’s own solicitors concede that there “is a weak case” for Welsh implementation”.

Good – we neither require nor want this toxic law!

As a final note, I recall last year’s spat with a sartorial fellow from the Institute of Directors. He suggested that ‘you’ (i.e. trade unions – I was flattered!) “would do well to get your nose out of political matters”. Amused by the obvious irony, I suggested that ‘I’ would consider doing so when the CBI, 17 or so commercially sponsored ‘policy tanks’, primary lobbyists, assorted social mercenaries and (of course) the Institute of Directors, scaled back their advocacy and returned to counting beans. He chuckled and admitted that he had never thought of it “quite in that way”.

Thankfully, our Assembly has demonstrated its credentials in being smarter than the average toff and I, for one, am delighted to have it’s back!

Jamie Insole is from Cardiff People's Assembly.

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