The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 15th September 2017

Unions unite on pay and human rights

by Daphne Liddle

THE TRADES Union Congress (TUC) annual conference opened this week in Brighton with two main topics on the agenda: Brexit and the public sector pay cap.

But there were many other issues like equal pay, fire-related health and safety, welfare cuts, Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system and the legalisation of prostitution.

Wages and the public sector pay cap, welfare cuts, and fire health and safety were not contentious — all unions agreed that wages are far too low and that the public sector pay cap must go.

But this time there was a clear warning from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey that the time is approaching for unions to defy the anti-union laws, even if that means their leaders may end up in jail.

He has made similar remarks before but now support for such a stand is increasing. If unions do break the law it is unlikely to lead to immediate imprisonment but it will allow any company or other corporate body, which feels it has lost money because of a strike, to sue the relevant union(s) and for the union’s funds to be confiscated.

Brexit was contentious, with most big unions in favour of staying in the European Union (EU), even though the majority of their members will have voted in favour of Brexit in last year’s referendum.

Now they are calling for Britain to remain in the single market.

The RMT transport union led the opposition to this position. The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “Let’s be clear, membership of the single market means de facto membership of the EU and its control mechanisms.

“The trade union movement needs to be extremely careful if it is not to be accused of seeking to undermine the democratic decision of the British people on leaving the EU.

“It was the millions of votes of working people across the country that swung the vote to leave and that must not be ignored.

“The constant flagging up of continued membership of the Single Market sends out all the wrong signals and is a diversion from the opportunities that leaving the EU presents for a strong and ambitious trade union movement in the fields of jobs, workers’ rights and public services.

“As a movement, we need to make it clear that there is no back door open to continued EU membership and we need to be promoting a strong, alternative vision for the future that unites our communities.”

In a press release before the conference Mick Cash also said: “As far as RMT is concerned membership of the single market is membership of the EU and would mean the retention of key anti-worker policies like rail privatisation and social dumping.

“We would be kept under the iron grip of the unelected Brussels bureaucracy with control remaining out of our hands.

“RMT is opposing the TUC General Council statement for the simple reason that key sections are at odds with this union’s long-standing European policies.”

Equal pay for women was not contentious in principle but the slowness in achieving this was criticised. The Equal Pay Act was passed 47 years ago but women are still on average being paid 13 per cent less than men.

Vicky Knight from the TUC moved motion 40 on ending the gender pay gap, focussing on the lack of legal obligation on employers to do anything about it.

“Let us be frank here. If an employer fails to publish a gender pay gap report nothing will happen to them,” she said.

The motion set out that whilst “Congress welcomes the principle of mandatory gender pay gap reporting, it is disappointed that the legislation is not robust enough.

“The method of calculating the hourly rate of pay for staff on guaranteed hours, annualised hours, term-time hours and those on zero-hours contracts will hide the real gender pay gap.

“Five decades almost after Equal Pay Act — let’s get on with it,” she said. Linda Hobson, speaking for Unite, also raised the disparate employment opportunities offered to women on having children. “I am sick of hearing ‘you chose to have kids’,” she said. “We’d be in sorry state if women took collective action and stopped,” she added.

The civil service union PCS tabled the uncontentious motion 70 condemning welfare cuts. PCS president Janice Godrich moved the motion with an attack on the continuing closure of job centres: “Closures are forcing people to travel further for help. It’s no longer enough to say we will defend this social security system — we have to defend the concept of a welfare state as a basic human right. It is an issue for our whole movement.”