The Class Conference Experience Part 3

Dan Lewis, Youth Officer at the Bootle Financial Services Branch attended the inaugural Class Conference in London on Saturday. We are publishing his report of the event in four parts. Today, in part 3, Dan discusses the workshop sessions on the political economy (absolutely not as boring as it may sound!) and “how to solve the crisis in living standards.”

For a good, accessible, concise overview of the key issues in these crucial debates, read on…..

There were several sessions to attend in the morning, I spent a long time deciding which to attend, but with consideration of which will best benefit me and my branch, I finally decided. In the morning I attended Roots of Equality: collective bargaining, trade union freedom & a more equal society. The session involved talks from keynote speakers and influential figures in the labour movement discussing their take on “A Political Economy for Today”.

In the morning session I heard from Professor Keith Ewing (King’s College, London), Rachel Harrison (GMB), John Hendy QC, Ian Lavery MP, Frances O’Grady (TUC) and this was chaired by Stephen Cavalier (Thompsons Solicitors).

Ian LaveryFirst up was Ian Lavery, this man is down to earth, a man who in my eyes is a man of the people, hungry for a better society and fairer country. Ian in simple terms explained collective bargaining, which for me was great as I didn’t have a great understanding of it. Basically it’s where we find a collective benefit, like the living wage and apply it for all. He explained that there are levels to this, previously unions would go to the top and be able to have influence, but the Tories have changed this and caused a lack of ownership where no one can make a decision. Ian said collective bargaining is about fighting for the voice of the people.

Ian believes is that there is one way forward which is strengthening the union links. He said unions were pouring money into Labour and asked what were we getting for it? The link needs to be updated because problems faced in 1906are still being faced today and we can continue to fight them.

Ian’s main points were that we need to strengthen the union-Labour links, be bold and attractive to new members, be representative of ALL people and show ordinary people we have policies for them and we will make a change together.

Keith EwingProfessor Keith Ewing was next. He started by stating that there is a crisis in our movement and if we are not in collective bargaining then ‘what are we doing’? He said that we can become a protest movement but there is not much future in that, going on to say that the 1930’s has so many compelling parallels to today, with this in mind, our problems today are not any harder than they were back then. Keith talked about that in the 1930’s we had a Government department to look after the interests of working people, in America they have this and we should today in the UK to stimulate demand, leading to an increase in job growth and more. We need an uplift for everybody and institutions to to facilitate this like joint industrial councils.

John HendyNext up was John Hendy, who spoke on the right to collective bargaining, this right being a human right. John started with the fact that 82% of workers in the 80’s had collective bargaining and today, it is only 28% which shows the destruction Thatcher put in place. John taught us that the collective bargaining decline shows a rise in economic inequality and an increase will clearly bring back equality in the economy and workplace, The Government disregard this right to collective bargaining and we need to uphold this right. To aid this, we need to specify the level at which this collective bargaining takes place, other countries used it to get out of depressions and we must do this along with a fair wages resolution. John credited the wages council from 1909 in that we should have on today. John ended simply by saying we need the right to collective action to have the right to collective bargaining.

Rachel HarrisonNext up was Rachel Harrison, who I was looking forward to hearing from as she is a strong young member’s officer in the GMB from Yorkshire. Rachel gave us many facts and figures revealing the truths to youth employment and unemployment.

She started by telling us that the UK is the 3rd most unequal society and more than 13million are considered to be below the poverty line. Working people Are on average £1500 worse off than when the coalition came into power, wages increased by measly 6% since then and people don’t have a route out of poverty through work, these people are deciding between heating and eating and our Prime Minister responded by saying that we should wear more jumpers. Intervention by government is essential to mount pressure on the energy cartels, bills have gone up by £300 on average since the coalition came into power.

The right to buy is leading to those in social housing being labelled as poor and the bedroom tax doesn’t offer people an alternative as there are no other homes and taxes the people who already don’t have money. Young people are bearing the brunt of this recession and young workers being paid the least at the same time. Employment in the service sector is where young are found with no union representation or job security. The Government are failing our young and taking away their futures. Cameron has announced to take away young people’s benefits because he believes young want to be on the dole, but the reality is they have no choice. Rachel made a great pout in her summary that trade union membership is being considered as a luxury and it shouldn’t, it should be a necessity. This should be promoted to our young and they should be encouraged to be union members making a difference to the suffering they are under because of this poor Government’s decisions.

Frances OGradyTo round off the speakers in this session we heard again from Frances O’Grady, who started by commending the work of the TUC in the Olympics, where all workers, including cleaners and security were paid a living wage or more. She noted that this wasn’t mentioned by many large media organisations. Frances encouraged collective bargaining and explained how people are knackered, have no job satisfaction and can’t get contracts or control for their jobs. People care about pay, job safety, learning, creating a career and not just about having a job. Frances encouraged us to be a democratic voice on the inside and start collectively bargaining on pay, holidays, training and everything that we negotiate. Frances continued the point that there is no ownership of issues that we raise on worker’srights and we need to look beyond the enterprises to fix this, some employers are paying the living wage but cutting other benefits to do so. By taking collective bargaining to the Government, we can attack these issues and make sure collective bargaining produces a fair and equal workplace of all.

This session ended with questions and answers leading to some small debate around the issues and points raised.

Ken LivingstoneAfter lunch we joined for a chance to hear Sabby Dhalu (UAF), Ken Livingstone, Francesca Martinez (comedian, People’s Assembly activist), Councillor Laura Pidcock and Mick Whelan (ASLEF) present the policy they would implement to solve the living standards crisis – delegates then voted on the one they think should be adopted. The one that received most votes was from Mick Whelan, arguing that we should nationalise the railways and bring back British Rail. I thought this was a great choice, especially as I unfortunately had to leave the Class Conference early because of works on Virgin’s west coast line between Crewe and Liverpool which made the price of the ticket which was being advertised at under half the price it was bought at even more painful.