In defence of the Union rep

2nd November, 2011 4:26 pm

The end-of-day adjournment debate in the Commons is normally a calm half hour in an empty Chamber, confined to the MP who raises their chosen topic and the Minister who responds.

The other day was different. More than two dozen 2010 Tories baying behind the MP Aidan Burley as he led an all-out attack on trade unions.

Not an attack on party funding or the freedom to strike or even employment rights, all of which are in the Tories’ firing line. But an attack on the most basic and benign feature of trade union work – the day-to-day support for staff at work by their colleagues who volunteer to act as union representatives.

There are around 200,000 people who are prepared to help their work colleagues by giving advice, formally representing them in grievance and disciplinary hearings and negotiating with managers. Many also have more specialist recognised roles improving workplace health and safety, training, equality and even environmental standards. This is often demanding and difficult work.

Most union reps in both public and private sectors rightly receive paid time off to carry out these duties. But many devote a large amount of their own time too. A recent government survey found reps in the public sector contribute up to 100,000 unpaid hours of their own time each week, and TUC data shows 1 in 6 union reps say less than a quarter of the time they spend on union duties is paid by their employer.

These are the unsung heroes of Britain’s volunteering tradition. The workplace wing of the Prime Minister’s Big Society. They support their work colleagues and they save millions for employers and the Exchequer because they reduce working days lost to injury and illness, reduce employment tribunal cases, improve take-up of training and improve productivity. The CBI know this and say “Union reps constitute a major resource … we believe that modern representatives have a lot to give to their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them”.

The ignorance on display in this debate from Tory MPs was both woeful and wilful. Detailing the work of union learning reps, Burley asked “is not all that the job of the human resources department?” before asserting that government support for learning reps means “a huge amount of money is freed up …that unions can use on political campaigns”.

But union reps were not just misunderstood, they were grotesquely misrepresented by Burley: “In simple terms, the taxpayer is directly funding those organising strikes and chaos, and also indirectly funding the Labour Party”.

In opposition the Tories used other organisations as out-riders to create public rows, and they used extreme examples to define a general problem. Some are still using these tactics in government.

This attack was based on data from the Tax Payers’ Alliance, and the work of thousands of public sector union reps was condemned by the one case of a union rep paid by the NHS who ran a private health consultancy on the side.

The past master of these tactics in opposition was Eric Pickles. He’s the present master in Government too. He has described the work of the union rep as a “non-job”. And during the debate he slipped into the chamber, standing at the side of the Speaker’s chair.

Anti-Europe and anti-unions. These new Tory MPs are playing old ‘80s political tunes. There’s a common view that such throw-back politics on Europe may cause Cameron problems within the Conservative party but real change is unlikely this side of the Election.

The attack on unions is different.

Tory MPs are demanding an end to full-time union work in the public sector, an end to any employer costs for reps and an end to the modest funds supporting union learning and modernisation. Cameron can’t – yet – concede much on Europe but he can on unions. So Tory Ministers are set to consult on cutting back paid time off for union work and ending the role of full time union rep – legal rights that have been in place for nearly 40 years.

The Tories aim to throttle trade unions at their roots in the workplace. Unions rely on a sense of solidarity and service for volunteer reps to help their work colleagues, especially with the trends towards individual representation and smaller workplaces. No union can survive if all support and services for members must be provided by full time union paid officials.

At this time of intensifying insecurity on jobs, pensions, reorganisation and workplace protections employees and employers alike need more reps not fewer; and those reps need more support not less.

This atypical adjournment debate was a wake-up call – workplace reps need wider public recognition, not political condemnation.

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  • Pingback: In defence of the Union rep | Trade unions and social activism |

  • Anonymous

    Hi John, I’m so glad to see you have raised this issue, which is long overdue.
    Great to see you here on LL too!

    Every time I hear DC making derogatory references to the role of unions in the workplace,
    alongside all the rhetoric and misinformation in the right wing tabloids, I cringe.

    How has it got to the point that organizations like the TPA are influencing so much of the political agenda, and perhaps driving policy?

    This all boils down to ideological assumptions and preferences, not reality or experience of those involved.

    I sincerely hope you may be involved further in raising public awareness on the injustice of these claims, and pure spin and prejudice.

    It was also a pleasure to bump into you at the “people’s policy forum” in Notts a few months back, and I’m sad to see you leave frontline politics; although hope very much you continue along this track!!

    Would really appreciate hearing more writing on LL, and any progress made on this issue.

    Kind regards, Jo. (previously posted as Hazico on the old LL.)

    • Anonymous

      This pitching of public against private sector staff etc looks deliberately divisive, and possibly deflecting responsibility from actions being taken.

      It is yet again a blame culture, and polarizing people.

      It makes me very angry that this is being directed towards hardworking and professional staff, many of whom have given decades of commitment and time, sometimes at great personal cost.These roles in the frontline public services require high levels of training and skill, and in turn, staff need adequate support and decent working conditions.

      The fact that pay and pensions may be poor in parts of the private sector should not be setting the standard/bar.It is levelling down.

      It is vital that staff are not demoralized in these high pressured roles; if numbers significantly diminish, that would have a major detrimental effect on quality and delivery of public and frontline services; also potentially- security and safety.

      This onslaught of misleading rhetoric and blame culture must be challenged head on
      by repeatedly reflecting reality on the ground.

      On another note, what possible political or pragmatic gain could there be in
      undermining frontline public service workers?

      Is it purely some reductionist mission to save money at the expense of all other consideration- like quality of sevice to the public, or meeting the very real and pressing needs out there?

      All I keep hearing is the constant refrain about “tax payers’ money” in every context,
      as if that is the holy grail. 

      It is appealing to people’s basest instinct about what is in their own pockets-
      and “sod the rest.”

      What about jobs, people and community services; quality of life;
      planning for future generations? How can that be acheived?
      What are the guiding principles?

      Society would be unsustainable without a basic infrastructure that meets the complex needs of the population and acts in a preventative capacity and safety net.
      Also provision of QUALITY services, and what it takes to acheive that.

      People would soon notice if services deteriorate.


      • AndyN

        @Joanne28:disqus  “The fact that pay and pensions may be poor in parts of the private sector should not be setting the standard.”

        What “set the standard” in parts of the private sector was your beloved Gordon Brown – who in 1998 changed the tax rules in order to help himself to £5bn a year from private-sector pension funds, completely destroying thousands of company final-salary schemes and the retirement prospects of all their recipients in the process.

        Funnily enough, I don’t recall anyone in the Labour Party ever speaking out against this blatant theft from millions of ordinary working men & women. I wonder why? Perhaps because the public sector was completely unaffected so (to use your words) “sod the rest”?

        That might give you some insight into why the majority of the working population isn’t remotely bothered that council employees are now having to cough up a few extra quid a week to fund their retirement.

  • What are union subs for?
    Why should taxpayers fund agitators to organise public sector strikes?
    We had Jane Pilgrim, paid to agitate full-time rather than work on front line nursing services, teachers who haven’t taught for 20 years, union reps who financially sponsor local councillors who vote to give them full pay for not working in the job they are paid to do but to conduct union business and help the Labour Party.
    It is back door corruption and a multi-million pound political subsidy from the taxpayer to the Labour Party.

    • Mark Cannon

      Quite right.  Employers employ their own staff to deal with issues like health and safety and such like.

      And if employees want to join a union and have the benefit of union representatives “formally representing them in grievance and disciplinary hearings and negotiating with managers” they can and should be free to do so.  But employers should not pay for that, at least not in the public sector out of taxpayers’ money.

      • Surely it’s feasible that Union Reps may reduce staff turnover, deal with any disputes in an independent and swift fashion, increasing overall productivity and possibly paying for themselves through the work they do. Which is exactly why it should definitely be up to the Council in each specific instance to make their own mind up and work out whether or not a Union Rep would be beneficial.

        •  All of which are anethma to the 1%, James. Staff need to be afraid, there needs to be a turnover and they need to feel like they have nowhere to turn.

          You know you’ve hit a nerve when the fireworks man arrives.

    • Anonymous

      I do not recognize this as the reality of what “unions reps” actually do.
      Most of the time they carry out duties voluntarily part time,
      in conjunction with either full or part time role working in public services.

      Their role is about supporting employees and colleagues, in conjunction with
      human resources’ managers; eg to resolve disputes or address issues such as short staffing.

      There are probably too few of them as it is, considering the demands for employees working in frontline roles.
      I would assume that many staff can’t speak out about their workloads etc due to confidentiality in role and professionalism.

      Unions and professional bodies are there to represent their members’ interests and
      legal rights under employment law. 

      This should apply to all workers, both in the public and private sector.

      The right wing tabloids may go out of their way to present a false and warped picture
      of what public service unions/workers actually do; but in my view it has no basis in reality, and is politically motivated.

      I am truly sick of the misconceptions being peddled out there.


      • Dan

        In which case, there should be no problem in it being formalised that time spent on union activities is paid for by the union. That way, an argument that right wingers use against the unions could be eliminated.

        I find myself in the middle on this issue – I believe in the benefits of unions and the rights of workers but cases where employers are having to fund union activities give people like me a bad impression and provide ammunition for the right. Why not make the arrangements absolutely clear?

        (btw, the big pay of union bosses also sways unsure people like me, although I have had good experience of some grass roots union activity that weighs in the other direction)

      • charles.ward

        I don’t have union representation in my job, why should my taxes be paying for public sector workers’ union representation?

        I have no problem with union reps as long as they are paid for by the unions.

        I have a big problem with union reps carrying out political campaigning for a cause I don’t believe in while being paid out of my taxes.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Charles, my belief is that all workers are entitled to decent conditions of service and protection from excesses from employers, should that arise.

          I don’t know what proportion if any of so called “tax payers’ money” is contributing towards the work of union reps.

          Just seems very strange to me that suddenly out of the blue we are constantly hearing reference to “tax payers money” in relation to public services which probably 99.99% of the population use, and have benefitted from. 

          I believe it is likely to be highly politically motivated, possibly from right wing economic think tanks, which are extremely selective in their views and do necessarily represent the mainstream public view or experience.

          The fact is, we are all aware of the economic downturn, eg sparked off by the banking crisis in USA and globally.There has to be a shared responsibility and proportionate response across the whole of society, not just the least well paid, or services easily targeted.

          The current rhetoric sounds very much like a blame culture and deeply divisive; pitching one group against another, raising suspicions and causing distrust and misunderstanding about what people’s jobs and roles actually entail.

          This is my perspective.

          Thanks, Jo.

        • Barlow5

          Your taxes do not go to pay for public sector workers union representatives!! they go to the government and a small part of it gets given back to the councils which along with your rates go to the councils to provide public sector services, which are currently being cut to the bone!! The majority of reps that work in the public services do union work in thier own time, they only get paid facility time when they are meeting with management!!! for either collective barganning purposes or individual representation for grievences or disicplinerys etc.  They do not get paid time for the preperation work which is done all in thier own time!!! on a volentary basis.  If you dont have a  union representative in your own place of work , then try joining a trade union and gain someone on your side!!  instead of shouting about something that you clearly are not informed about.

    • derek

      What burning nonsense is this?

      The right to representation in the work place has been the corner stone of progressive employment for over 100 years, protection from abuse, health and safety and the right to demand a decent pay with decent entitlements are the things that societies are made of.

      Who the hell are you any way? fool! with a foolish moniker. 

    • Fireball

      What complete and utter nonsense – spoken by someone without the faintest idea of what union reps actually do.  There are very few full-time officials in either the public sector nor the private sector.  The majority of union reps don’t get any facility time at all and spend a huge amount of their own time doing a job that incompetent HR personnel should be doing.  The very idea of taxpayers contributing anything towards trade union activity is absurd.

    • Chris Ray

      As opposed to the money-laundering scheme of the Tories who take publicly owned assets flog them off cheap to their rich corporate mates and then accept “donations” as their reward, in effect diverting public money into their party coffers. And I would point out that union subs are not “taxpayers money” which does not therefore “fund agitators and organise public sector strikes.” Guido Fawkes was an idiot and so are you.

  • Taxpayers should not be paying for what in essence are private employees.

    It’s not right, it’s not fair to the taxpayer.

  • Richard

    “It is back door corruption”

    Along the same lines of a private health company donating to Lansley then being granted the right to take over an NHS hospital. Or Michael Gove granting public money to a “charity” without public scrutiny or open tendering to a former personal assistant. Or my MP taking money from a pharma company then lobbying government to slacken the regulations of that sector.

    • Tom

      So essentially your argument is: Everyone else is corrupt, so why shouldn’t we be?

      Self-serving tribalism.

    • ape mate

      The MP issue is correct, but as a long standing rep I receive nothin g for my efforts.

      I dedicate 20 hours a month to defend all comers and goer’s.If their job is more secure by my efforts, then my jop is too.

      The millionaires line up on the Tory front bench never done anything without getting something out of it, just look at Dr Fox, a war privateer………but hey its profitable.

  • AndyN

    “A recent government survey found reps in the public sector contribute up to 100,000 unpaid hours of their own time each week.”

    Look at the figures and the detail – it found no such thing.

    Firstly, the report freely admits  – because the question wasn’t even asked in the survey – that there is no statistically meaningful data on how much work is done by union reps in their own time  (p.26, section 3.5) and so makes an utterly baseless finger-in-the-air “assumption” of 10%.

    There are also some basic mathematical errors that rather negate the ‘100,000 hours’ figure.

    The report declares (p.91) that all its calculations are based on the median number of hours per week spent by public sector reps on union business – which is 5.   (Table A2.4 p.101) The number of public sector union reps is found to be 113,000. (Table A1.2 p.99).

    So, using the 10% “assumption” (for which there isn’t a shred of evidence, remember) we find 113,000 x 5 x 10% = 56,500 hours.

    Or put another way, roughly half the figure you’ve quoted above.

  • The Grunt

    I was a Faculty rep and Secretary for the local branch of the AUT/UCU in a university.  All our committee meetings were scheduled for 6 p.m. (and often lasted until 8 p.m.).  The general meetings were held at lunchtime.  The minutes and the website were produced at home in the evening.  The only time that we attended meetings in worktime was the joint AUT/VCAC meeting (i.e. the meeting between ad hoc selected members of the AUT committee and management [Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Committee]).  We had a day school on negotiating and conditions of service (i.e. the better to conduct personal cases) run by the Regional association, for which we took annual leave.   We represented the workforce in negotiations about policies on bullying/harassment, physical conditions (I was asked to attend a meeting between staff and the VC about conditions in one particular building which was a long-standing issue), and general staff welfare.  There were numerous personal cases.  I expect that I devoted about 10 hours a week of my personal time.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Dave, that sounds more like it.

      It’s a pity more people working at the ground level probably don’t have the time or ability within clauses of confidentiality to speak out freely about their knowledge and experience
      via blogs like these.

      The agenda is being set by people/organizations who appear not to be involved or have any direct experience, but sometimes driven by prejudice or ideology.

      The public need to hear a balanced and realistic picture.


  • I think it’s quite right we should be defending union reps. However, it would be helpful if union leadership could make it easier for us to defend them by not sponsoring organisations which have been infiltrated by the far left and apologise for racism.

    More here:

    With things like this, the labour movement is doing the Tories’ job for them.

    • Anonymous

      I find it very sad and frustrating Rob that the honourable and decent work done by union reps and their members can get hijacked by deeply divisive political arguments and agendas; and misrepresentation in parts of the media.

      On a wider note, there probably needs to be some kind of reform to the big unions’ structures and hierachies; but I believe strongly that Labour should be standing on the side of ordinary members and public sector workers and for the plight of frontline
      public services.

      This association with the so called “far left” does not ring true for me; although I accept the possibility of some sort of fringe involvement?

      For me, the union movement is a long and historic tradition, and should fundamentally about pragmatism and co operative values.

      I’d like to see their role strengthened and extended, not weakened or pigeon holed.

      All workers deserve basic dignity and protection of rights, eg from unscrupulous managers
      or an unfair system/culture; and laws need to be upheld regarding eg bullying in the workplace, or issues like gross short staffing/lack of support.

      I don’t like the image of the unions being old fashioned or rather macho led/top down/hierarchical structures, which probably needs reforming.

      But fundamentally their function is of vital importance and must be strengthened, particularly in the current climate.

      The right wing tabloids et al would probably have us all believe it’s all some sort of
      “loony left” conspiracy; but I’d envisage that people working on the ground in public services and working as union reps know very different.

      Just some of my own impressions to add.

      Thankyou, Jo.

      • Rob Marchant

        I agree that their function is of vital importance, but if you don’t believe me about the far left, check out the activities of UCU, PCS or FBU. 

        It is not just about far left politics, but about unpleasant attitudes which border on, and sometimes tip over into, racism. UCU, for example, have taken a turn which has had their Jewish members leaving in droves:

        Political activities like this, far from the much more important work of defending their members, are at best a distraction and at worse an embarrassment.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Rob, sorry, I hope I didn’t give impression of not believing you-
           of course that’s not the case.

          We might differ on our views about the role of unions and how relates to the party as a whole though; I don’t know.

          I appreciate the research you have done on this issue, and would totally agree with you on any connection to extremist elements.

          But I also worry that some of the “anti brigade” can latch on to something like that and use it as yet more ammunition in their quest to portray ordinary members as “loony left” etc?

          There’s so much swirling around, it’s hard to stay focused on the fundamental issues in hand.

          I was mainly making a general response, but totally take on board what you say here which is something I’ve never encountered or been aware of, but can accept the possibility.Of course that needs challenging head on and I wish you success in your campaigning in writing Rob.

          I don’t always agree with your standpoints, but always enjoy your writing and great civility towards people here.

          Many thanks, and sorry again if I sounded a bit terse.
          It’s just that this issue can sometimes attract a never ending stream of negative commentary.

          I do value your writing greatly Rob and appreciate your efforts in posting links etc.

          Best wishes, Jo.

        • Anonymous

          Rob, thankyou for the link also; I’ve just read some, but would like to do it justice by spending more time reading it and taking in a little more.

          It’s brilliantly written, but it’s a topic I’m not familiar with.
          (Eg international politics.)

          It’s extremely concerning what you are saying about possible links to extremist elements and racist tendancies, which I would abhor coming from any quarter, like yourself.

          I’m also a little curious about your choice of topic there, eg the attitude of the “left” towards USA. May I ask would you equally examine the attitudes of the “right” towards Europe, for example?

          I agree with your premise entirely that there are no black and white situations; the “truth” is always nuanced, shades of grey, and on a continuum. Yes, we all have to guard against knee jerk reactions and I suppose tribalism. But I also think it’s necessary to be honest and say where one is coming from; eg location of view, background or interest, so others can understand more,and how to engage, hopefully.

          These kind of discussions certainly require thought, time and commitment.
          Pre my days as a parent, I think I would have been able to read around far more, and perhaps do some writing myself.

          I have also made a note of your article Rob, and if you don’t mind would like to share with posters like Peter J if he returns to LL, as I know he’d be fascinated by it, and would likely have a lot to offer on topic, considering past discussions.

          I do apologise that I don’t always have the time to read some of your articles on LL Rob, but am mindful that I will look out for these in the future- and you always get a good response from readers I’ve noticed.

          I’m also quite new to the field of party politics, although have an extensive background working in health, and a great interest in the arts.

          Many thanks again!


      • James

        @Joanne28:disqus  I actually agree with the majority of what you have written in these comment threads. Although not a Labour supporter or member, I do believe in the need for good worker representation.

        But the vast majority of what you’ve written (as indeed John Healey’s article) is completely irrelevant to the substantive point – why should non-union taxpayers subsidize union activity?  Trying to make out this is really an attack on volunteers is nonsense – the point is whether union reps should have paid time off to conduct their union activities.  Hardly anyone is attempting to answer that, but instead going after various straw men.

        If unions still contributed to the wider common good, then I might be more sympathetic.  But my main experience of trade unions is disrupting my commute to work, putting people at risk by not providing a fire service, complaining over their own pension rights when I have no employer pension, pushing for endless pay rises for their members but no-one else, and so on.  Unions are self-serving, which is fine if they were self-funded.  But they’re not, and therein lies the problem.

        I’m not a swivel-eyed Tory union-hater.  I’m perfectly happy with unions acting on behalf of their members in the workplace.  I just don’t want to pay for unions when I don’t see any benefit for anyone except their own members, who should be the ones footing the bill.

        • Anonymous

          Hi James, sorry I have found this late.

          My main focus earlier was particularly thinking about union reps in frontline health care, and their vital role in supporting staff and acting as mediary between ground level and management.

          The point is, staff need representation and a collective body in matters such as short staffing, bullying in the workplace, poor management practices etc.These are all pragmatic roles and tasks, and have nothing to do with politics on a day to day level.Human resources departments and management liase with these people as part of the normal mileu/structure of working.

          So it’s complete anathema to me when politicans and hostile parts of the media appear to scapegoat or represent people, particularly a group that mostly consists of committed volunteers with very low renumeration for the time and often difficult and complex task they offer to tackle.

          I have no knowledge whatsoever about any percentage of
          “tax payer’s money” used to fund any part of their meagre salaries; I would have thought funded by the unions’ subs.

          Finally, what really matters to me on a wider level is that staff working in frontline jobs and professions in public services are adequately supported in a demanding and complex enviroment, where high levels of skills and commitment are required to deliver quality services.

          I’d actually like to see some sort of discourse about what these frontline occupations actually entail, rather than lumping all together as the “bloated public sector” for example.It’s misleading and creating a deliberately negative impression which bears little relation to what professionals are actually doing in their roles.

          Examples: community health care staff/professionals such as occupational therapists, midwives, physios,health visitors, district nurses,practice nurses,school nurses,nursery nurses,teachers, teaching assistants;police officers,PCSO’s;social workers, child protection officers;fire personnel;ambulance staff… name a few.

          What value and function do these roles entail, and how will staff be supported/trained and enabled to contine delivery quality services towards the public? Morale for example, is absoloutely vital in many of these demanding roles.Retention of existing experienced staff, and attracting new people with quality attributes and a good standard of education are some of the issues at stake if structures are going to be depleted and eroded.

          What irritates me the most is that we are not hearing clear and unbiased information about changes; but constant attacks on public service workers as if some kind of homogenous group that doesn’t have a voice.

          As far as I’m concerned, many of these roles are some of the most important in society- such as firefighters.
          It is disgusting to me that these people are not be shown the respect they deserve and do not have enough of a say in their futures, or can influence the way services are run, despite the fact they are probably the most expert.

          So no, I am not in favour of top down political inteference, and especially an all out onslaught against public services, and by implication, its staff.

          It seems to me this is much more about ideological intent to carry out long term desire to “roll back the state” as is seen by right wing governments, and perhaps using the economic situation as a cover for extent of cuts.


          • Anonymous


            This is a good comment, and I think brings out the actual point of the debate last week (I don’t normally watch debates, but did catch up on this one).  You bring out the critical point:

            “I have no knowledge whatsoever about any percentage of
            “tax payer’s money” used to fund any part of their meagre salaries;
            I would have thought funded by the unions’ subs.”

            So would I, and indeed crucially so would most taxpayers.  The problem is, it turns out this isn’t the case, and what has happened, principally as a result of the “Pilgrim” case, is that this aspect has received attention that it really wouldn’t have wanted:  Politically it is very easy, when unions are (now) known to be on the one hand receiving money from the government to support their (essential) work, but on the other are seen to be donating many millions to political causes, for someone to say: “aha that union is clearly making a ‘profit’ if they can afford to give away millions to these causes, so given the need for austerity we can safely reduce the government support by at least as much as they give away without affecting their services.”

            That was the thrust of the case by the government, and I’m afraid while this is a spirited defense I do not believe it will be enough to turn the momentum of the argument around, but will continue to follow it with interest.

    • Anonymous

      far left, of course like most things in life, lots of people who are members of a Union are not interested in the job of shop steward. I was voted in as a  shop steward at my factory while away on holiday.

      Nobody  get the job without being voted in.

  • I smell the coffee, can you?

    How sad & predictible.

    Read the comments below and you can see the results of the dumbing down and de-politicisation of our system since the 1970’s.How sad to see working class taxpayers turning on waorking class taxpayers who defend other working class taxpayers.

    The democratisation of Heathcare,Wealth, Law, education & democracy itself, were gained by the Union movemnt from the latter half of the 19th century.

    Do you believe that the NHS  or a  free education would have been given to you, without a fight? Even Churchill hated the NHS.

    Since the 1980’s, the support national systems that we the taxpayers paid for have been sold to the rich at a knock down price.

    These services are now responsible for profiteering in the electricity,gas,water and communications sectors. You and your parents paid for the establishment of these systems, yet the rich get a profit from old people freezing in their homes.

    Now the Tories want to privatise the NHS, just like a degree…………………..USA here we come.

    What we have here is the greatest con job ever in democratic history, where the tax paying 99% are siding with rich non tax paying  1% .

    The tail is wagginbg the dog, the right winged media is owned and controlled by billionaires who dont want a return to universal democratic principles of sharing wealth & power.Just look at News Internation: Its almost a parody of a Bond villian.

    So keep reading the bilge that the right winged media tell you, if you believe the rubbish they spout , you deserve everything you get( or dont get)

  • Pingback: Labour’s Pilgrim Fightback Called Union-Busting Tory MP “Prick” and “Twat” - Guy Fawkes' blog()

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    100% taxpayer funded time for union activities is not right.  Not at all.  There are various laws that allow some paid time for union activities, and that’s OK.  But 100%?  No way.

  • ape mate

    Two faced Tory multi- millionaires, wasting their time in parliament , time that  we tax payers pay for , to attack those volunteers  in the workplace who defend those who are less fortunate.

    Big Society my rear end.

    Camerons Big Soceity is a an attempt to get volunteers to do the work of goverment fro free, as long as those volunteers are not advocating equal rights for all .

    Capitalism for the poor, Socialism for the rich

    • James

      At least the multi-millionaires were elected by the people paying for them.

  • Jonathan Roberts

    I’m sorry but I don’t agree with the characterisation that the attack on so-called ‘pilgrims’ is an attack on trade unions.  I pay my Union subs to allow Union representatives to do their job.  I pay my taxes so nurses can nurse, teachers can teach and policemen can police.

    I think Union representation in the workplace is a vital and important part of employee protection, but full time Union reps should be paid by the Unions, not the taxpayer.

  • Andrew Webb

    It is my opinion that no government employees should ever be allowed to organize.

    The need for a union boils down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to do more for less money?  In the private sector, the answer is almost always yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.

    Government unions have nothing in common with private sector unions.  This is because they don’t have hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table.   In fact, the “bosses” of government employees are co-conspirators in finding ways to milk the taxpayer further.

    Labour politicians are on the same side of the bargaining table as government employees – hostile to the taxpayers, who don’t have the remotest say in any of the negotiations.  Labour politicians don’t see themselves as “management.”  They don’t respond to union demands for more money by saying, “Are you joking?” They say, “Great – get me a raise too!”

    Labour buy the votes of public sector workers with comparitively generous packages and benefits – paid for by someone else– and then expect a kickback from the unions in the form of hefty campaign donations, rent-a-mobs and questionable union political activity when they run for re-election.

    Anytime there is the slightest suggestion that perhaps in the middle of a deep recession, public sector workers should contribute more towards their retirement, at less expense to the taxpayer, the leftist media respond as though they are being abused by greedy capitalist overseers.

    But government workers think the job of everyone else in the economy is to protect their high salaries, crazy work rules and obscene pensions.   They self-righteously lecture us about public service, the children, a “living wage” — all in the service of squeezing more money from the
    taxpayer.  Unbelievable selfishness!

    • The Grunt

      IMHO, there are some strange misconceptions in the above, some of which might result from lack of knowledge of the internal workings of local government.  Prior to the 1970s, Labour elected members regarded their role as determining policy after advice from their officers.  From the 1970s, they increasingly expressed that they had a managerial role too, which involved detailed levels of scrutiny.  In another change of approach, they insisted on the right to approach any member of staff for discussion rather than simply receiving reports through chief officers – partly from that managerial perspective but also from the aspect of devolved management and matrix organization.   
      Secondly, local government salary scales are determined through national negotiations, involving all the Conservative-controlled shire councils.  You might consider the urgent comments by Lady Eaton (Tory), outgoing chair of the Local Government Association. 

      • Anonymous

        Dave, (the Grunt;) have appreciated your input on this thread.

        Would be nice to catch up with you sometime, perhaps next year?

        Hope all is OK at present.


        • The Grunt

          Hi Jo.  Reciprocal good wishes.  I trust all three of you are in good health and spirits.

          • Anonymous

            Hi Dave, just received your message.
            This disqus thing is clever!

            Yes, we’re all OK thanks….

            If ever you both want to meet up for a coffee locally,
            let me know; I assume you still have my details?
            (Sorry, I can’t share on here.)

            I did write your email address down sometime ago,
            but if I can’t find, maybe I’ll ask Mark the editor to pass on
            if he doesn’t mind?

            I’m still thinking too about joining the local Co Op next year but somehow never get around to it.
            If you’re still involved, maybe that would be a good place to meet?

            Must sign off shortly, as 2 boys here for tea.

            Have a good week, and all good wishes to you both too.


    • Well of course. They have to be afraid for their jobs from the start to the end of their career (as long as it lasts), and give up basic rights the moment they’re hired by an organisation which happens to be run by the government rather than a private company.

      Public sector pensions are perfectly affordable. They just allow people to retire comfortably, and hence drain away cash which could be going to 1%’er pockets. They gotta go!

      (And SOME additional contributions, sure. The combination offered, however, means that in many cases people are not even guaranteed parity on what they put in!)

      The selfishness is the 1% trying to destroy the few deacent pensions left.

  • The Grunt

    Don’t you think that people in the public sector also use the private sector pension schemes?  My concern about the measly nature of my prospective pension induced me to invest in AVCs – a scheme managed by the Prudential for the USS.  Changes of tax rules are changes of tax rules.  I’ve contributed tax at the standard rate of 33% in my lifetime.  You might consider targeting those  already affluent people who still channel their money through (a) capital gains tax and (b) their pension schemes with immense tax allowances.  That’s legal, of course, but so is altering tax rates and allowances.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      @ The Grunt,

      I can certainly sympathise with your wish to make additional provision for your pension above the public scheme.  I do as well.  In fact, I don’t expect to be paid at the current advertised rate for my NHS pension – too much will have changed between now and when I retire in about 20 years from now.  I regard my private pension arrangements as “insurance” against that.

      Gold is completely tax-free, as was the field I bought from my father-in-law 4 years ago, and immediately leased back to him for £10 a year to continue farming on it.  That field has multiple purposes in my pension arrangements.  It has fresh and clean flowing water on one side, it is flat and can be built upon, with road access and electricity.  It will increase in value (farming land up 22% in price in the last 4 years).  It contains a proportion of my metal investment safely buried.  I’ve also got the lower part of a hillside in Chile about a mile from the current outskirts of Santiago, but that is mid-term and probably available to a property developer as Santiago expands.

  • Peter Barnard

    @ AndyN,
    “ …Gordon Brown – who in 1998 … completely destroying thousands of company final-salary schemes …”
    What nonsense.
    Stephen Yeo, partner at pensions consultants Watson Wyatt, was quoted in the FT (2 April 2007) :
    “I don’t think it (the so-called “tax grab”) is even in the top three of reasons. The rise of guaranteed benefits, poor investment returns, of which this was a small contributory factor, and unanticipated increases in longevity are the top three. This might come next, and no one can argue that it was helpful. But it was imposed at a time when funds were in good surpluses, even when you factored everything else in.”
    Mr Yeo was an adviser to David Willetts when the latter was Conservative pension spokesman. I think it may be safely assumed that Mr Yeo was no apologist for Gordon Brown.
    On the same page, FT commentator Nicholas Timmins notes that “employers had been taking long contributions holidays, in part because the Treasury in 1986 (yep : 1986) had started taxing what it judged to be over-large surpluses. And companies had been using those surpluses, not as a cushion against the future, but to fund generous early retirement packages as a way to ease company restructurings in the 1990s.”
    Nigel Lawson, when Chancellor, was concerned that surpluses on company pensions schemes might “leak” into places where they weren’t supposed to go and he imposed a cap of just 5 per cent on scheme surpluses. Without that cap, pensions schemes may indeed have been able to build up a “cushion for the future.”

    • Anonymous

      Good one Peter.

      I thought of you when received today the
      “G20Summit 2011:an FT Special” via email…..
      Do you subscribe online?

      Hope all’s well with you anyway;
      not seen you for a while here on LL.


      • Peter Barnard

        Thanks, Hazico (“Good one …”).

        I did receive the FT email, but there’s only so much that one brain can absorb in one day and the problems that have to be tackled at the current  G20 Summit are enormous.

        Yep, all is well (thank you) ; combination of two things regarding my recent sparse contributions to LL, (i) I’m not so sure that LL is as “user-friendly” as it used to be, and (ii) I’ve been occupied with CLP stuff recently.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Peter,

          Well hope all is going well on the CLP front; I know you mentioned this boundary review has been a bit of a nightmare to sort out locally?
          They are imposing so many top down changes in a short space of time on so many fronts!
          I can’t imagine it all working out smoothly;
          it seems more like a hit and miss affair
          on health, education, localism and planning laws, let alone the economy…may be some good will come out of it!!

          Re LL changes, I agree the new format doesn’t seem as accessible, and it’s taken me a long time to get used to it. But I am finding this disqus system very good in that in tracks comments and encourages dialogue. What I miss is the ease of finding comments on different threads, so each time one has to check out individual articles rather than cross reference easily.(Although this can be done by clicking on various links.)

          It just takes some perseverence and getting used to. I will probably be posting intermittently, although tend to focus on particular issues or articles of interest and that time allows.
          Much as I’d like to read much more as always good stuff coming in, it’s not possible to take in unless one is planning to spend all day online!!

          Personally I’d be very sad indeed Peter if you decided not to stick around; for me you have been a major contributor and source of great wisdom on LL over time.I hope Peter J hasn’t disappeared either?

          Anyway, please keep an eye out and add insights and comments when you can….

          Wishing you much luck with all the party commitments and life in general.


  • Anonymous

    Thanks Dan, I too have nothing but positive experience with
    union activity and support over the years, as well as professional health bodies such as the RCN and CPHVA.

    I don’t know too much about the funding issues or politics of it all;
    it’s not something that generally cropped up in the day to day running of services or personnel issues.

    Pesonally I’m utterly mysitifed and dismayed by what appears to be a
    politically motivated onslaught on all public service/sector workers.

    Possibly as a group, alongside the current fashion for “union bashing”people are being deliberately scapegoated to deflect from the real economic issues and analysis of choices that are and have been made.

    It’s curious how other groups of people are also being labelled, like
    “welfare scroungers” etc.

    It’s probably all part of the ideologically driven mission to “roll back the state” as deemed by right wing government and right wing media.

    The public deserve openness, transparency, respect, and balanced reasonable arguments; not just propaganda and rhetoric thrown in our faces daily.

    It’s deeply unjust and highly targeted towards certain groups in society I believe.

    Also young people are currently paying a disproportionate price for the failures of governments, it could be said.

    Thanks, Jo.

  • The Grunt

    @ ape mate
    Keep up the good work.  Your job will become harder and more valuable as this government genuflects to the CBI by reducing job security (unfair dismissal and access to tribunals) and health and safety provisions (‘red tape’) – without consulting the workforce which has to endure the conditions (i.e. totally one-sided) (which will also be affected by the removal of legal aid, so unions will be needed there to provide free legal advice).  You don’t motivate a workforce in this manner – it’s counter-productive.  A workforce is motivated by being involved, consulted and engaged.
    I wish you very well and thanks for doing this work.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      The public sector, including the specific sector I work in, and maybe even my own job, is grossly over-manned.  Cuts in the workforce are necessary, and if that means my own job then fine.  I’ll take my chances elsewhere, having had 15 good years of Government money and benefits.

      I don’t in any way not support the existing technical arrangements for job security and conditions, but they are and rightly subordinate to the need for the job to exist at all.  These technical arrangements should only ever apply to individuals, who might for some personal reason fall foul of a manager.  But if the job is not needed, then it should be axed.

      • The Grunt

        Of course, I cannot speak for your sector of the public services.  On the local government front, it is a shambles.  Lady Eaton complained that, inter alia, because the reductions were to be so precipitate, there could be no planning and a mess would ensue.  From what I know of urban local authorities (City Councils which are unitary authorities here) that is the consequence.  CamPick opined that there would be no reduction in frontline services – pure tripe.  I could go into great detail about these matters locally.
        Why should access to tribunals for unfair dismissal be different for people who have worked one or two years?  If there is a case to answer, it should be answered.  Unfortunate people will be affected by the removal of legal aid.  So yes, no halo for Clarke – he’s just capitulated. 

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          @ The Grunt,

          I would agree about the local government sector being a shambles.  If you took Cambridgeshire County Council managers into a brewery and asked them to have a party, they’d spend three years on a public consultation before parking the 15,000 page report into the next electoral cycle and then argue about who authorised the over-spend on the management consultancy bill, or who let the most shockingly loose contract to a private sector contractor that then ran rings around them in court.  Example:  Cambridge Guided Busway.

          As to what can be done about it, who knows.  I honestly, and I hope with some maturity, feel that of my limited dealings with local government managers, most of them I would not employ as shoeshine boys.  Local government appears to me to be the destination of the intellectually challenged and work shy, and we all pay their wages.

          • The Grunt

            Gee, thanks for that – I worked in local government for 18 years.  How kind of you.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Well, it’s the way I see it.  In the last 15 years, of all of those whom I have dealt with in either the NHS or local government, in either Darlington or Cambridgeshire, local government managers appear to me to be shockingly inept.  

            On the basis of my experience, I would not be proud of working for local government for 18 years.  Local government is a parasite to little purpose.  Sort the bins out, some planning permission and that’s about it.  No one wants little Hitlers calling themselves “Cabinet Members”, no one wants some enviro-creep launching a consultation into geese fouling the towpath, no one wants some manager-jerk from urban Cambridge trying to enforce a BAME policy into an entirely white and anglo-saxon primary school in a remote village in the Fens, no one wants the on-all-night street lights in our village that we said by petition we didn’t want but that we’ve now got, no one wanted the Cambridge Guided Busway that the Lib Dems in Cambridge City did, no one wanted to pay the £3.2 million excess that it cost, no one wanted a landfill site in our village but that we’ve now got.

            Frankly, my first instinct on meeting a local government manager or councillor is rage.

          • The Grunt

            I am proud to have worked in Sheffield for that time, although it affected my health because of the demands of the work (usually 60 hours a week).  I had many excellent colleagues in libraries, museums, archives, social services, and education, at a time of immense difficulty.  I had immense empathy for the people working on the frontline in housing – a terrible job of constant confrontation.  The elected members were people of considerable ability who had a refreshing approach to the role of elected members and officers in local authorities.  I am not prepared to exonerate all local authority people from my experience (which is wider than yours), but neither to condemn them all.

          • The Grunt

            £3.5m for Beckham to be the face of Sainsbury’s – I wonder which idiot thought of that one?

  • Aw, it’s nice to have some appreciation.  I’m gonna save this for a day when I’m feeling underappreciated as a rep.

    • The Grunt

      @ Eleanor Saunders
      Keep up that valuable work. 

  • Big Al

    Tax payers should not be footing the bill for Eric Pickles’ over- eating.  We will no doubt foot the bill for his related health problems.  The old Tories are rearing their ugly heads again.  They are in a panic as the public sector are fighting back. The Tories hate it when the workers unite.  My union rep and the rest of my colleagues will be ‘out’ on the 30th November for the largest dispute in decades.  The Con-Dem cutters are in a state of panic as their uneasy alliance continues to crumble.

  • Anonymous

    I was a Union rep for thirty years, also took on the duties of the DDA, and then the  Unions safety rep, the company did not bat an eye lid in paying for me to do this work it simply saved them having to pay for a safety officer or  somebody to  take on the duties of the DDA. In thirty years 480 staff we did not have a single strike, although we had many heated arguments, but in the end we worked it out.

    But I see the same Old Tories are here arguing just to get a reaction…..

  • Anonymous

    Not working class tax payers, you mean working class, many people at the bottom working part time, working on stupid  commission only jobs do not earn enough to pay tax. so it’s working class not working class tax payers or is it your one of those who believe in the poor old tax payers.

  • Ljahughes

    Of course we should support reps. Every worker is entitiled to representation and without the reps who would they have. Reps give up a lot of time for free and only get get paid time off to cover a small amount of the work they have to do. This is just another effort of this tory goverment  to take power away from the unions and to keep working people under control. The tories brought in the antiquated union laws that we already have and are hell bent on making them worse. This crap that keeps being  peddled in the the right wing press is being written by people who obviously know nothing about union reps. The vast amount of reps give up alot of their time for free to support their members, we only get paid for a small part of what we do, but without us more workers would become vunerable to employers. Representation of peoples rites is a rite, that we should fight to keep.
    John H

    • James

      I don’t dispute the case for union representation in the workplace, and indeed I think reps should be entitled to unpaid time off to conduct those activities. I support the right to worker representation.

      But this should be 100% paid for by union members.  What’s wrong about that?

  • Dual Citizen

    “Who the hell are you any way?”

    Er, I think you may need to get out more Derek. Guido Fawkes is the blogger that unmasked SmearGate – Damien McBride and Derek Draper (formerly of this parish). He was also the first to report on Jane Pilgrim, hence John Healy’s reference to “pilgrims”. It’s been running in some of the media for months.

    • Anonymous

      So we have to bow down then…..

    • the Truth

      And it seems a huge ego to boot…….

  • Anonymous

    “Your taxes… go to the government”

    Government is better thought of as a transactional intermediary with the power to decide how allocations should be made than some sort of beneficent entity bestowing gifts upon a grateful audience: if public money is used for an action, it is therefore, on balance, fair enough to make the connection that taxpayers are “paying for it”.

    • Right, can’t have staff have experienced representation when they’re being railroaded by bosses now.

  • Pingback: Web links for 14th October 2011 | STRONGER UNIONS()

  • Liz W

    To be honest I am a union representative in the public service.  If our employers are so good and can do my union role, why then do they then rely on us to provide information, knowledge etc to them so they can do their jobs??  As for facility time – that remains on my wish list!

  • I’m a Branch and Office and H & S Rep. We all know how hard it is to do all the above, and are frequently out of pocket, juggling work and demands from all directions – I swear members think we must be paid – but if we lose facility time it’s the end. I can see it going that way – we’ll be finished

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  • Sandrafoy

    Amazing how many people are so knowledgeable about union reps even  when it is patently obvious they haven’t a clue what they do or how they are organised or financed.  They are always the first to join up when they find the oh so nice employer is trying to kick their arogant backsides out the door or bullying them to the point of breakdown; bit like those who can see the value of insurance once their house is on fire!


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