TUC fires warning shot….
I think its quite clear that whomever forms the next government is going to face a testing time in the field of industrial relations. Today’s mood music from the TUC illustrates the point:
TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The UK’s deep recession and low inflation have inevitably pushed wage settlements down. Unions have sensibly accepted pay freezes where it genuinely helps to keep people in work, but union negotiators are wise to employers exaggerating the need for pay restraint just so they can boost profits.
O’Grady goes onto call the efforts to depress public sector pay the actions of a ‘politically motivated fringe’ that want to ‘shrink the state’. In other words, the TUC do not see this as an issue of the size of pay packets but as a political issue. Labour should be weary and alive to this concern; I cannot but pretend that I dont have every sympathy with unions who are watching the public sector and their own members pay a heavy price for the misdeeds of the private sector banks.
It is therefore natural that the TUC will not just circle the wagons in a defensive formation but seek to win better deals for their members. In doing so they may find themselves the somewhat surprised recipients of public sympathy and support as time presses on and the burdens people are asked to carry become greater. It would be folly therefore on Labour’s part to dismiss what the unions say out of hand.
If we find ourselves in government then we will directly have to deal with this problem and we should do so remembering our core values. Out of government or with a precarious grip in a finely balanced Parliament there will be some who look with further irritation at the TUC however, economically it is my belief that the fundamentals of the TUC’s position are correct.
The current spike in inflation should not fool anybody that the economic danger now lies from that quarter. A serious debate should begin about how we haul ourselves out of this mess in a way that ensures this never happens again; part of that will be pushing for higher wages but also measures like the 21 hour week. Ideas like this are especially relevant when a new report talks about how ‘underemployed’ people are working shorter hours as an economic necessity.
Rather than short-term growth; sustainability should be Labour’s watchword. In the unions it may well find crucial allies in the struggle to build a recovery that is sustainable and is a long-lasting Labour legacy.