Union chiefs Len McCluskey and Matt Wrack and left-wing author Owen Jones will top the bill at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.
The general secretaries of Unite and the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) will be joined by the firebrand Guardian columnist on the Durham Racecourse speakers’ stage at Europe’s biggest trade union event on Sunday, July 11.
Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper will also introduce Steve Murphy from UCATT, John McDonald from ASLEF and Chris Keates from the NASUWT.
However, Ed Miliband will be absent – organisers having decided not to invite the Labour leader.
Mr Miliband, who claimed the Labour leadership ahead of his brother David with strong union backing, became the first party boss to address the Gala since Neil Kinnock when he travelled to Durham in 2012, but has not returned since.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the 131st Gala, as dozens of brass and bagpipe bands march union and colliery banners through Durham City’s historic streets past dignitaries watching from the first floor balcony of the Royal County Hotel and to the Racecourse where, in addition to the political speeches which start at about 1pm, there will be family entertainment, campaign stalls and more.
Mr Hopper said he was very pleased with the speakers line-up.
The outcome of this week’s General Election is bound to be the central theme of the speeches; and Mr Hopper said he could not see Labour winning.
“The Scottish girl (Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon) has run rings around them.
“Miliband hasn’t come across very well. She’s putting him on the spot every time,” he said.
Last year’s Gala had a mournful feel, as guests paid tribute to the late Labour grandee Tony Benn and union leader Bob Crow.
On Gala day, the centre of Durham will be closed to traffic from 7am. Visitors are encouraged to use park and ride buses.
There is an ongoing appeal to support the continuation of the Gala. Supporters are invited to become a Friend of the event, for a minimum fee of £2 a month. For more information, visit friendsofdurhamminersgala.org
> Interesting developments ? Are the decision not to invite Miliband, and Dave Hopper’s comments about Labour’s chances the beginnings of a move away from the Labour Party ?
Source – Durham Times, 04 May 2015
Four North-East Labour MPs have urged Ed Miliband to swing to the Left and rip up his “tragic” commitment to further deep spending cuts.
Grahame Morris (Easington), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Dave Anderson (Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) are among 16 rebels issuing the challenge to their leader.
Their alternative election manifesto demands:
* A £30bn investment package – an “alternative way out of endless austerity” – funded either by higher borrowing, the state-owned banks, or a levy on the super-rich.
The MPs call on Mr Miliband to exploit 0.5 per cent interest rates, arguing it would cost just £150m a year to finance the package – which they say would create more than a million jobs, within three years.
Instead, they say: “All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20.”
* Rail nationalisation, by taking train operating franchises back into public ownership when they expire.
The MPs reject Labour’s plan to allow not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises, condemning it as timid and “wholly unnecessary”.
They claim privatisation costs £1.2bn a year, adding: “Over 80 per cent of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.”
* Stronger trade union and employment rights, with a return to collective bargaining “as a check against excessive corporate power”.
The alternative manifesto blames the disappearance of union-negotiated agreements for a sharp fall in the share of national income going to salaries and wages – from 65 per cent in 1980, to 53 per cent in 2012.
And it says: “We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.”
The move laid bare how Mr Miliband will struggle to carry his party to make the deep spending cuts planned, even if he wins a small majority in May.
The left-wing group of MPs are keen to take advantage of the rise of the anti-austerity Green Party and of the SNP to push Labour in a more radical direction.
Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, has made repeated threats to establish a new workers’ party if Labour loses after offering a “pale shade of austerity”.
Last year, Mr McCluskey urged the likes of Mr Morris, Mr Mearns and Mr Lavery to “put the brakes” on Ed Miliband if he tries to take Labour to the right
> Even further to the right, I think he means…
It followed the trio’s criticism of Labour support for an overall welfare cap and vote against compulsory unpaid work experience.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 Jan 2015
With a general election looming ever larger on the political horizon, the main parties are now unveiling the policies they think will secure them victory.
The economy, immigration and benefits are among the battlegrounds which they will be fighting over in the next four months.
Another is the heavily unionised public sector which has undergone swingeing cuts since the Coalition Government came to office in May 2010 and historically has been the favoured whipping boy of the Tory party.
And so when David Cameron’s party revealed plans to make it harder to call strikes in certain “core” public services if it wins the general election, it came as no surprise.
A policy along those lines, after all, was floated last year by Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster general Francis Maude.
There was also no surprise in its backing by the employers organisations the CBI and the British Chamber of Commerce, or in its universal condemnation by members of the TUC.
Yet, while certain sections of the media need no invitation to attack the public sector, and its day of action last year caused discomfort and annoyance amongst the public – not least the sight of rubbish piling high in places like Newcastle – it is still a risky strategy.
For a start, it opens the Government up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.
After all, the present Coalition Government is made up of the Lib Dems and Tories who between them received 38% of the total number of the UK’s eligible voters – 18m out of 45.5m – and below the 40% threshold it wants to demand of the public sector it is targeting. The Tory share of this was 23%.
In her heyday , Margaret Thatcher won around 30% of the total available vote and, during the present parliament, the Tories voted down a Lib Dem motion to introduced an alternative voting scheme which arguably would have made parliament more representative of the people’s views.
Meanwhile, GMB general secretary Paul Kenny also got his calculator out to further hammer home the point. He said:
“Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010.
“Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support. They had no hesitation in forming a government in 2010 without securing 40% support from the electorate.”
Another point is that, particularly in the North East, the public sector which employs many in the region, is not as hated as the Tories might think. So such a policy strategy could be a vote loser here.
Gill Hale, regional secretary of Unison in the North East, said:
“They are the anti-public sector party – you only have to see what they are doing to the NHS and what they have already done to local government.
“Industrial action is taken as a last resort, and when we’ve had to take it we’ve had very good public support. I don’t think it will be a vote winner.”
Meanwhile comments by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, in which he denounced the plans as “brutal” and “ill-conceived”, echo those of Ms Hale.
He said the Conservative proposals were “entirely ideologically-led and a brutal attempt to strangle the basic rights of working people in this country”.
Mr Cable added that a 40% threshold would be “odd”, when MPs do not have to overcome such a high hurdle to be elected.
Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.
Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC says the Conservatives’ proposals would have “profound implications” for civil liberties.
They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing.
The package of measures will feature in the party’s manifesto for May’s general election.
In explaining the plan, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said a planned London bus strike set to take place on Tuesday had only been voted for by 16% of people entitled to take part in the ballot, and called the walk-out “ridiculous”.
“I think before a strike is allowed to go ahead it must havemuch more support from the union members and cannot be called by politicised union leaders,” he said.
But Ms O’Grady said that participation in strike ballots and other types of vote should be improved by introducing online voting, in “safe and secure balloting”.
At the moment, strikes can only be called based on the results of a postal ballot – which “don’t do the job”, Ms O’Grady added.
She said the government “continues to oppose this proposition”, although Mr McLoughlin replied he would be willing to talk “in more detail” about such proposals.
However, his partner in the Coalition Government, Mr Cable, goes further.
He said: “If there is to be trade union reform, it should be to allow electronic voting in ballots which would improve the turnout and legitimacy of polls.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Conservative Party’s proposed changes would have a “chilling” effect, and added the way to “resolve disputes was through negotiations – not to intimidate and silence by legislation”.
Ministers have repeatedly clashed with trade unions over pay – with a 1% cap on increases in the public sector – as well as changes to pensions and retirement ages.
It was during the day of action last summer when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took part in a day of strike action across the UK, that Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “time to legislate”.
But Ms Hale added:
“We already have some of the most draconian laws in Europe regarding industrial action. There are so many obstacles we have to get over.”
However, Mr McLoughlin said:
“It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too.”
He said the changes, which would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament, would “increase the legitimacy” of strike action held by unions.
“It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services.”
CBI deputy director general Katja Hall commented:
“Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.”
However, the TUC has previously said imposing a minimum turnout would leave unions with “about as much power as Oliver Twist”.
Labour criticised those plans as “desperate stuff”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike and would shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants.
He said: “The UK already has tough laws on strikes – there is no need to make them stricter still.”
But John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “In the eyes of businesses large and small, these proposals have merit, as they would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 12 Jan 2015
A new investigation by Unite has found that since 2012 a scandalous £1.5 billion has left the NHS and gone into the pockets of just 15 private companies linked to 24 Tory MPs and Lords who voted for the Health and Social Care Act.
Many of these MPs and Lords have benefited from the combination of their links to private healthcare and the sell-off of the NHS.
Lord Blackwell, Baron Higgins of Worthing, Baroness Cumberledge, Baroness Wheatcroft, Baroness Bottomley, Lord Freeman, Lord Popat, Lord Patten, Lord Glendonbrook, Lord Hunt and Baroness James of Holland Park.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said:
“This is a national scandal and the Tories must be held to account. The government had no mandate to sell-off our NHS but they did just that. You have to ask yourself why?
“Since the vote to sell-off our NHS £12 billion pounds of our services are now in private hands. Key clinical services including cancer care, blood analysis and mental health have been sold off or are up for sale. It is time to scrap the Health and Social Care Act and save our NHS.
“David Cameron promised there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, but he lied. How can we be in a situation where dozens of his MPs, voted for the sell off and had links to private healthcare companies, knowing this would open up new opportunities for the companies that pay them.
“It’s no wonder that calls to protect the NHS from TTIP, a EU-US trade deal that threatens to make the sell-off of the NHS permanent, are being ignored by the Tories.
“The next election will be make or break for our NHS. It is clear what Cameron’s preferred path is – an American style health system.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 04 Oct 2014
The Commons Treasury select committee should investigate who are ‘the winners and losers’ in the jobs market, Unite, the country’s largest union, said in the wake of today’s (Wednesday 17 September) unemployment figures.
Unite said that the rosy picture painted by ministers masked the true nature of unemployment in the UK, such as the growing number of people ‘forced’ into so-called self-employment to get off benefits.
“We would urge the Treasury select committee to hold hearings to investigate who are the winners and losers in this so-called recovery as it is neither as clear cut, nor as rosy as the government likes to portray.
“There are serious questions to be asked whether we are on the road to recovery, bearing in mind there are 4.5 million self-employed, the widespread and insidious use of zero hours’ contracts, and with hundreds of thousands of young people losing hope of a future with a decent job.
“We should not forget that, in this week alone, nearly 12,000 jobs are under threat at Phones 4U and Birmingham City Council.
“A key area for MPs to investigate should be the long term trends and changes to the UK labour market and who is benefitting or not, and whether these changes are desirable for the future economic health of the nation’s workforce.
“Unite would be willing to give evidence to such an investigation by MPs.
“Unite believes that Britain’s workers need a pay rise to generate economic activity, make workers and their families more secure and to lift thousands out of reliance on benefits.”
Commenting on last month’s employment figures, Unite said that the British economy was in a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ situation.
Source – Welfare News Service, 17 Sept 2014
Disastrous economic policies are dividing Britain and destroying hopes of recovery, the leader of the country’s biggest union stated today (Monday 8 September 2014).
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, called for collective bargaining to be reintroduced to arrest the decades long fall in the value of wages, and give workers a fairer share of the wealth they create.
Speaking in the debate on the new economy at the Trades Union Congress in Liverpool, McCluskey said:
“It was a Tory – Benjamin Disraeli – who said that Britain was two nations. He would certainly feel right at home today.
“Workers in our country are today facing the longest drop in their living standards since the 1870s when Disraeli was prime minister. But to be fair to him – he saw the class divisions in Britain as a problem to be solved. His Conservative successor in Number 10 seems to rejoice in them.
“Because every measure David Cameron and George Osborne take is designed to increase the squeeze on workers’ living standards and widen the already scandalous inequality gap.
“David Cameron used to talk of the Big Society. The truth is he’s created Two Societies – a society of Bullingdon Bullies, country suppers with Rebekah Brooks, tax cuts for the rich, a society which is a happy home for the hedge fund managers who fund the Tory party.
“That’s not so much the Big Society, more like the Greedy Pig Society.
“On the other hand there’s a society of people in fear – fear of losing their jobs or their homes, fear of paying the heating bills, fear over the future of the National Health Service, where the government strips away any protection the poorest can still cling to.
“The Tories will tell you that it’s all going to come right – that after six lost years for the economy we will all feel the benefits soon. But the truth is that trickle down has dried up.
“For the first time in anyone’s memory we have an economy which is apparently growing – while living standards for ordinary people are still falling.
“To misquote another famous Tory: ‘Never, in the field of human economics, has so much been produced by so many to the benefit of so few’.
“We need a social rebalancing and only trade unions can deliver that – because all the power is on one side of the negotiating table.
“Most economists now recognise that this is the biggest structural obstacle to sustainable growth in a modern economy.
“Collective bargaining can ensure that workers get back more of the wealth they produce. Trade unions stand for the productive economy and the people who are the real wealth-creators. In Downing Street they represent only the parasites.”
Source: Unite Union Media Release via Welfare News Service, 08 Sept 2014
A rise in employment and sharp drop in the number of people out of work has had little effect on the scandal of low wages, the latest figures show.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday show that the UK unemployment rate has fallen sharply by 132,000 between April and June to 6.4%, the lowest since 2008, with a total of 2.08 million unemployed people in the UK. The figure does not include the 8.68 million people who are regarded as being ‘economically inactive’, or unavailable/unable to work. The economic inactivity rate now stands at 21.9% and is unchanged compared with January to March 2014.
The lower than expected wage growth figures come at the same time as other figures show that the UK is now the self employment capital of western Europe. Figures from the think tank IPPR show that the number of self-employed people in the UK has grown by more than 1.5 million over the last thirteen years, growing at its fastest rate during the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. Self employed people now represent more than 15% of the workforce. Around two-fifths of all jobs created since 2010 have been in self-employment.
Unions have expressed concerns that self-employment can often be insecure and low-paid, and may not always include the employment rights other workers are accustomed to.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The British economy is in a Jekyll and Hyde situation.
“While the fall in the jobless total of 132,000 is welcome, we have to ask what sort of jobs have those people entered? The situation is compounded by the fact that more and more people are being driven into so-called self-employment in a desperate bid to get off benefits and find work.
“Self-employment is not the economic panacea that ministers crow about; it forces workers into a state without rights and with wage insecurity, and we are increasingly encountering people forced into `self-employment’ by employers who want to swerve their responsibilities.
“At the same time, the wage siege continues. If you strip out bonuses, wage rises are struggling along the bottom at a record low of 0.6 per cent which is hobbling the recovery in the UK economy. If self-employment earnings figures were included it would look even worse as the Resolution Foundation has shown.
“With George Osborne borrowing way beyond what he promised the nation, his mindless austerity policies are costing this nation and its people dear. This is no longer about reducing the deficit; it is about the systematic lowering of the living standards of ordinary people.
“Millions of people feel insecure in their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of our young people are languishing on the dole or press-ganged into workfare.
“Inflation is still running at 1.9 per cent – more than three times the rate of earnings. The case is clear that Britain’s workers need a pay rise – and this can be well-afforded by the companies which are sitting on a cash mountain of reserves.
“This government’s claims of economic competency are laughable. A government serious about job creation would not be borrowing to keep people in benefits, but would be investing to create work and skilled, decent jobs, through a mass house-building programme, rebalancing the economy away from its increasing dependency on the low-wages service sector, and tackling the chronic housing need in this country.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The combination of rising employment and falling pay growth suggests the economy is very good at creating low-paid jobs, but struggling to create the better-paid work we need for a fair and sustainable recovery.
“Self-employment has been responsible for almost half of the rise in employment over the last year. The fact that self-employed workers generally earn less than employees means our pay crisis is even deeper than previously thought, as their pay is not recorded in official figures.
“Falling unemployment is always welcome – particularly for young people who are finally starting to find work – but unless the quality of job creation increases Britain’s living standards crisis will continue and people will be locked out of the benefits of recovery.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Any fall in unemployment is welcome but the rise of the number self-employed is a worrying trend. They are likely to earn less than those in full time jobs as well as being less secure.
“Underemployment is now a bitter reality for millions of struggling families across the UK. And many have no option but to work part-time because they cannot find a full-time job.
“Too many people are stuck in minimum wage jobs, on zero hours contracts and part time work when they are desperate to go full time. Desperate because they need regular, secure employment to feed their families without having to resort to foodbanks, pay their bills without falling into the grip of pay day lenders and decent pay to rebuild consumer confidence and grow the economy.”
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has described today’s unemployment figures as a “double-edged sword”. The charity says that falling unemployment coupled with low wages and an increase in self employment ‘will lead to instability for working households’.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“With employment up but wages down, today’s economic figures are a mixed blessing for working families. The rising number of people in work is extremely welcome, but emerging trends in the economy bring a double-edged sword of more jobs but more instability and lower wages.
“The Government has undoubtedly made good progress on jobs and growth but increased self-employment, flexible-hour jobs and Zero Hour Contracts mean insecurity for many working people. Those people who work for themselves are just as likely to seek debt advice as any other working group. Self-employed people in debt helped by Citizens Advice are more likely to face bankruptcy than people in debt who are employed or out of work.
“On Zero Hour Contracts, we’ve had welcome announcements from the Coalition about banning exclusivity clauses but with this type of job a growing part of our economy, people with such a contract should also be guaranteed basic rights like maternity pay and annual leave.”
The Bank of England has responded to today’s news about poor wage growth by cutting its forecast in half. Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that he now expects salaries to rise by 1.25% this year. The figure represents the slowest pace in wage growth since 2001.
Responding to the announcement from the Bank of England, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is hugely concerning to hear that the Bank has cut its forecast for wage growth in half. The economy’s getting bigger but not better with Britain’s pay squeeze now set to continue even longer.
“It’s not just wage stagnation that’s pushing down incomes, living standards are falling because so many of the new jobs being created are low-skilled, don’t have enough hours, or are in low paid self-employment.
“It deeply worrying that the Bank says ‘average household real incomes have yet to stage a meaningful recovery’. If people don’t have money in their pay packets to spend on goods and services it’s hard to see how we can return to sustainable growth. Consumer spending is holding up for now despite people’s real pay falling, but the danger here is people running down savings or increasing their debts.
“That’s why Britain needs a pay rise, because a recovery built on stronger household incomes will be a recovery built to last.”
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: “As the economy continues to grow, ministers must not lose sight of the more than two million people stuck in the shadow of growth, and out of work. The legacy of recession is wages which remain far lower than prices, and with the Bank of England halving its wage growth forecast, many families will find that meeting household bills is even harder.
“Ministers need to make sure good policies, like financial support for childcare, reflect the new realities in the labour market. People taking up the growing number of flexible-hour and low income jobs are likely to struggle to get decent childcare, whilst 41 per cent of Citizens Advice clients say that finding a childminder or babysitter is a barrier to them taking on work.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 13 Aug 2014
Labour’s Northern heartland is being urged to fight any plan for a 2015 coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has hit out at suggestions that Labour could work with the Lib Dems if there is no overall control after the next General Election.
Polls have suggested Labour could take the largest number of seats but not have enough for an overall majority, rasing the prospect of teaming up with the Conservative’s coalition partners.
Mr Lavery, chair of the trade union group of MPs, said the thought of Lib Dems seeking a possible deal with Labour after working with the Tories “is enough to make my blood boil.”
In an article on the future Government, the MP said that Lib Dems suggesting that there should be a coalition with Labour needed to realise that “in areas like mine, that position simply wouldn’t be stomached, either by voters or activists. In the event of a hung parliament with Labour the largest party, we simply have to go it alone.”
He later told The Journal that Lib Dem voters should “consider where their loyalties lie” adding that he would welcome them into the Labour party “with open arms”.
Writing for the Labour List website, Mr Lavery added: “The green benches in the Commons are increasingly populated by the elite and the political careerists. A minority of MPs have a working class background. We are in danger of no longer reflecting the people we represent.”
> Way too late, mate. The majority of the Labour party are part of the elite and the political careerists. Maybe you ought to be leaving them, and setting up your own party ?
Mr Lavery’s Lib Dem attack came after Unite’s Len McCluskey said any new coalition would only keep the country “bogged down in the same failed consensus”.
Last night senior North East peer Lord Shipley accused Mr Lavery of failing to recognise the will of the voters.
Lord Shipley, a former Newcastle council leader, advises the Government on city issues and helps decide where to spends its multi-billion pound regional growth fund.
> And since the North East has been on the end of cut after cut, I think we can make a guess at just what kind of advice he gives the government…
He said: “Ian Lavery should remember that the voters will decide who forms the next Government. If no party wins a majority of seats it means the electorate does not wish any of them to govern alone. If Labour tries to form a minority government in spite of the voters’ wishes, they won’t last long.”
> No, it’s the old lie : voters will decide who forms the next Government. All voters get to do is choose their constituency MP. No-one voted for the current ConDem government.
Mr Lavery, an MP who has previously spoken out in criticism of the party, stepped down as an parliamentary aide to Harriet Harman in 2012 after refusing to abstain on a vote to cut public sector pensions.
In his piece Mr lavery again raised party concerns, saying Labour is not doing enough to fight for workers’ rights.
“Sadly we’ve long since stopped talking about repealing anti trade union laws, but a consequence of neutering trade unions we have seen real wages falling for most people in work. For 45 consecutive months wages have declined in value,” Mr Lavery said.
> The trouble is, there is no indication that, should they become the government after the next election, Labour will do anything to reverse the ConDem excesses – quite the opposite.
People like Mr Lavery will have to decide which side of the line they want to be.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 Feb 2014