Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, on the successful resolution of the British Airways strike dispute.
Len McCluskey is the general secretary of Unite
Sometimes it is almost possible to feel sorry for our friends in the traditional media. Yesterday’s great news that civilised negotiation between ourselves and British Airways had yielded a fair settlement for both parties left some of our journalist friends deeply confused. Surely this was a knockout victory for one party – one must have crushed the other. Yes??
Well, no. A 40-year paradigm of two-dimensional, conflict-dependant reporting of trade unions is hard to shake off for some, I understand. It seems that good news about how constructive discussion benefits both worker and employer was just too difficult to process.
To be fair, the Daily Mail, in tooth and claw a hater of any form of collective action that does not involve a picnic hamper and a riverside seat at Henley, was never going to permit its prejudices be derailed overnight. While the other media were analysing a deal which brought a much-desired peace after 18 bruising months, they continued to pursue the cabin crew and their union, Unite (remember their nasty claims last year that female cabin crew were bad mothers for taking their children to the picket centre?).
One inquiry to our press office wanted to know how much we had paid out in strike pay, presumably because the paper felt compelled to show that us sinister instruments of destruction would stop at nothing to bring a great corporate to its knees. So the few quid fellow trade unionists could give to support those taking strike action was venal, while the millions of shareholders’ money directed towards crushing a workforce was not. Go figure, as they say.
To be fair again to the Daily Mail, they are not alone in their flat earthism. More worryingly for working people, their brittle view of legitimate unions is shared by those with the power to take such loathing further – the government.
Just this week George Osborne vowed to sweep away basic protections on TUPE, tribunals and the 90-day consultation. The fact that he made this pledge to an audience of business people attracted not even a raised eyebrow from the media, presumably because this for them is the natural order of things – a right-wing government can announce a vicious, unprovoked attack on workers but it is alright because it is what business wants.
No matter that this attack will not create a single job. No matter that workers are not the problem one year in to the coalition without a growth strategy. No matter that there is not even a pretence at balance from government over this issue of employment protections.
When did it become the unquestionable duty of government to do the bidding of one interest group, business, to the exclusion of any other view and no matter how damaging to the rest of the country that may be?
In terms of TUPE, we are already on the most minimal protections that can be afforded EU workers. Thanks to Labour opt-outs, the government may find that the courts are not minded to leave UK workers even poorer protected and may temper their zeal.
Employers ought to see the value in the 90-day consultation period too. At this moment, Unite is putting alternative plans to one manufacturer which could save jobs in a part of the north west bruised by cuts and where this company is the last remaining manufacturer. This three-month period allows us to develop an alternative business plan. Jobs ought to be saved as a consequence. What mindless prejudice then to slam shut the one window which allows this constructive thinking to flourish.
Whatever Nick Clegg may claim, this government has a desperate thirst for Thatcherism. George Osborne must be one of the few who looks at our street corners and sighs, wishing that they were crowded with idle men – only this time these were of the hire and fire, desperate for work variety. His is a 1930s view of the British worker – they are a rights-free pool for business, never to have charge of their own working destiny. Who cares if they have families to rear. If you have the misfortune to be born in 21st-century Britain without a silver spoon, then tough.
What a depressing view of the UK workforce. While other western nations thrive on high-skilled, fairly treated and rewarded workers, our government is so clueless about this country’s future place in the global economy that it can only see business thriving here if workers are broken. This is not vision, it is dystopia.
Today we hear that Germany is on course for five per cent growth this year; even France, with public spending levels which make the markets (another blinkered community) wince, has double our growth this quarter. One year into its economic programme it is time serious questions were asked about this government’s interim results. Cuts that are petrifying consumer spending, living standards at the lowest level for 30 years, and levels of economic expansion so microscopic as to be unworthy of the term “growth”. These failings ought to be challenged.
So if some in our media have a hole they were hoping would be filled with sreaming anti-union headlines, I offer a suggestion: what about taking a proper look at where this government is taking this country? The people of this country would thank you for such balance.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.