Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy

Threatening to tighten the UK’s already strict labour laws highlights a coalition government focused on conflict not consensus, writes Unite's Mik Sabiers.

Vince Cable

By Mik Sabiers of Unite

Business secretary Vince Cable had a rough ride at the GMB conference on Monday, but as Kevin Maguire wrote in the Mirror, he really had only himself to blame. His half bluff, half veiled threat to tighten the UK’s already strict labour laws highlighted the coalition government’s focus on conflict instead of consensus.

Mr Cable ‘s coalition is salami slicing workers’ rights – reducing access to tribunals, cutting compensation for discrimination, diluting weak TUPE undertakings  further, even an online poll for employers to nominate their least favourite health and safety law.

The ‘Do Nothing’ minister, who watched from the sidelines as over 2,000 high-tech jobs went at Pfizer in Sandwich, suddenly decided to ‘Do Something’; dangle the spectre of more restrictions to the UK’s choking labour laws in front of the very people to whom saving UK jobs matters most – working people.

UK  strikes are at an 80-year low, not because the UK is in the midst of a period of industrial harmony, but because workers are fearful for their jobs as the coalition cuts bite.

And unions have shown time and again how working with management, jobs and businesses can be saved.

Last month, Unite struck a deal with Burton’s Foods to secure the company’s operations in Moreton after the Wirral site was threatened with closure – but only because we had 90 days to do so, a period the government wants to cut right back.

Unite presented an alternative – and viable – business model, and although the whole factory was not saved the chocolate refinery was retained, and £2.8 million of new money invested in the site to secure jobs.

Or there was last year’s deal between Unite and Jaguar Land Rover cementing  the future for some 16,000 car workers across the UK for the next decade.

Or how about this year’s working time agreement between Honda and its workers to deal with the shortage of parts due to the Japanese tsunami? Workers receive their full pay – even though production has been halved – and will make their hours up later in the year once parts are available ensuring the company will be able to meet demand.

All of these moves are good for the workers, and good for the business.

However instead of looking to work constructively with unions, the government is bullying workers with threats to further restrict UK labour laws – already some of the most restrictive in the developed world. Not that anti-union legislation has made the UK a beacon of growth; our economic performance lags behind that of Germany, and even reputedly public spending-addicted France.

If Cable looked  to the continent for some inspiration, he would learn that the strength of Germany’s manufacturing industry is driven by high levels of research, investment in training, good government support, fair wages, decent rights and close co-operation with the workers.

Because often workers on the shop floor know what makes the company tick. But the coalition if giving a green light to employers who want to confront their employees not work with them.

Like the leader of Southampton county council, Cllr Royston Smith, currently embroiled in a city-wide dispute which has united traffic wardens with refuse collectors in anger over the council’s plans to force the 4,300-strong workforce to accept poorer contracts by July 11th or be dismissed.

The unions proposed cost-saving measures to the council – including reduced pay and conditions for a limited 12 month period – in exchange for guarantees on jobs. These were rejected by the council who would not even meet with the unions despite local feeling running two to one in favour of the striking workers.

Whether it was the failed fight to stop Cadbury being swallowed by a debt-laden Kraft or the off-shoring of skilled IT jobs at Birmingham city council, the  scales are too heavily tipped in favour of  employers with short term interests.

Cable surely understands that people only withdraw their labour as a last straw.

Instead of restricting workers’ rights Cable should be looking at the real problems that face this country; how do we breathe life back into our high streets, our local shops, our local businesses and our local communities?

The UK’s workers are already the easiest and the quickest to sack in Europe; they are not this country’s problem.

If Cable spoke up for the workers he could do something positive for this country’s economy and his party’s (tarnished) liberal credentials along the way.

Help Southampton workers save their jobs – Unite members at Southampton city council will be sacked on 11 July unless they sign inferior contracts. Help them defend their jobs. Any contributions, however small, can help: TGWU 2/8 Strike Fund, Unity Trust Bank, Ac No: 20185358, Sort Code: 08-60-01. NB: this is a Unite fund. A long-standing TGWU account is being used to ensure there is no delay in supporting the workers.

22 Responses to “Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy”

  1. Dan Whitehouse

    Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy: … as over 2000 high-tech jobs went… http://bit.ly/iEUQPI

  2. Unite the union

    RT @leftfootfwd: Unite says Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy http://t.co/xKJB2Yr

  3. pauline doyle

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cable should work with unions, http://t.co/qbFZJj1

  4. mik sabiers

    Cool, piece I wrote for @leftfootfwd now live on the web: Unite says Cable should work with unions, not bully them – http://t.co/xKJB2Yr

  5. James Weston

    RT @leftfootfwd: Unite says Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy http://t.co/xKJB2Yr

  6. Rep in the Region

    Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy: http://bit.ly/mBHEF8 writes Mik Sabiers

  7. Selohesra

    “UK strikes are at an 80-year low, not because the UK is in the midst of a period of industrial harmony, but because workers are fearful for their jobs as the coalition cuts bite.” – tell that to us those of us who try & get tube/train to our jobs in the City when Comrade Crowe and leads his donkeys out at the drop of a hat or the BA cabin crew go on a futile mission to destroy the company they work for.

  8. Ed's Talking Balls

    I would agree with you that people only withdraw their labour as a last resort if I weren’t a commuter. As I am, I have witnessed first hand the havoc that the RMT like to wreak across London, quite frequently, on a whim.

    I am not a unionist. But honestly, if I were, I would be doing all I could to rein in Bob Crow and his pals. No union has done more over the past few years to undermine your cause.

    We do need a spirit of co-operation, so I agree with the tenor of your article. But such a spirit is impossible to foster while certain unions choose aggressive dinosaurs to represent them. A good example of negotiation was the recent agreement between Unite and BA: both sides praised the other’s conduct and a deal was reached. For a bad example, look no further than the RMT, in every dispute it engages in.

    If the unions are spoiling for a fight (and I really hope not, for all our sakes) then, ultimately, I know which side I expect to win.

  9. Mike Thomas

    Sorry, no.

    The economy’s success is always in spite of the unions NEVER because of them. It was the 1980s union legislation that did much to bring them to heel.

    Unionised labour has a history of destroying many industries in the UK and frankly, as a long suffering Tube user, there is only two things that motivates the unions – MONEY & POLITICS.

    The fact the unions booed the Business Secretary shows you up as the petulant souls you are.

    Basically, I want to see majority membership votes for strike action and MORE powers for employers to stop the likes of Bob Crow dead in his tracks.

  10. Dave Citizen

    @ Mike 3. – “bring them to heel”.

    While people cling to your kind of simplistic, polarised take on economics it’s no wonder that average living standards and social wellbeing in Britain lagg so far behind the likes of Germany, Sweden and other more egalitarian (and often more union friendly) countries.

    Of course, trade unions need to behave responsibly but so too do business bosses, lobby groups, marketing departments, politicians etc. Trouble is, lots of British people continue to believe in the 1980’s economic model – i.e. reduce the costs of business including labour costs, taxes and public expenditure, and you will unleash enough profitable growth to raise average living standards. This model no longer offers a realistic solution because, in a crowded world with mobile capital, the supply of mass labour can more than meet the demand that realistic levels of growth can deliver. In countries like Britain where the majority population have built up relatively high living standards, this model therefore only offers the prospect of worsening inequality and a steady erosion of what most of us currently have. Welcome to coalition Britain!

  11. mr. Sensible

    Clearly industrial action is in no one’s interest, least of all customers of the likes of London Underground or BA.

    What Cable and the Tory right don’t get is that you don’t acheave success by marginalizing the workforce.

    The best sollution for all parties is to reach a nigociated settlement.

  12. Mike Thomas

    1980s economic model?

    This economic model has been around long, long, long before the 1980s.

    Dave, your claim that capitalism is dead is predictable in the fact that it is wrong again and yet you offer no alternative just a rubbish strawman.

    You don’t raise living standards by paying people more than they are worth, that is the quickest way to unemployment, uncompetitive businesses and a worse economic situation.

    You raise living standards by raising productivity and rewarded the staff in that way by paying them a little more according to the extra marginal units they are producing.

    The fact you don’t understand that is of no surprise, Labour doesn’t understand that and never did and never will when it takes 90% of its funding from Unions when they oppose nearly all employer measures to stimulate productivity.

  13. Alex Fleming

    A ‘Do Nothing’ minister, watched as >2,500 jobs went at Pfizer,Sandwich? http://bit.ly/j818QK @unitetheunion @laurasandysmp @CharlieElphicke

  14. Daniel Pitt

    Cable should work with unions not bully them for the good of economic growth http://t.co/dy3Kp4z #ConDemNation

  15. Robert

    I think this is a lefty site, with so many hard line Tories on here, perhaps you should change the name to the right of the left.

    People ballot for strikes and the ballot is then decided by counting those ballots votes, Bob Crow cannot strike with out the members giving him a mandate.

  16. Dave Wilshire

    RT @leftfootfwd: Unite says Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy http://t.co/xKJB2Yr

  17. Rick Coyle

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy http://t.co/DIBk73L

  18. Ed's Talking Balls

    Those of us of a different political persuasion never write articles on here and are surely entitled to comment. The same goes for anyone with left-wing who cares to comment on, for example, ConservativeHome.

    As for the RMT, what kind of mandate is it when so few members support a strike which penalises hard working people across London?

    It’s no sort of mandate and I would fully support legislation to rectify this.

  19. Zack Wilson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cable should work with unions, not bully them, for the good of the economy http://t.co/JGyZKEQ

  20. Dave Citizen

    Mike – you make so many mistaklen assumptions about my comments that I don’t know where to start…. so I’ll finish by confirming I was referring to the resurgence of neoclassical economic theory that occured in the 1980s.

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