Solidarity Magazine » Public Sector Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Exposing the myths about welfare Wed, 06 Apr 2011 14:36:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 6 April 2011

Right-wing politicians and commentators make regular pronouncements about welfare. We look at its importance and bust some of the myths

George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984 about those able “to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient”. He could have been writing about the current welfare debate.

The myths about welfare are so pervasive and they have become the received wisdom. They are: people on welfare are mostly shirkers; the welfare state is generous; welfare is rife with fraud; and that Jobcentre Plus is ineffective at helping people back to work.

Each and every one of these statements is pure myth, yet from the pages of the tabloid press to the mouths of ministers they are perpetuated as if they were the truth.

MYTH 1. ‘People on welfare are mostly shirkers’

Last October the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith suggested the jobless in Merthyr Tydfil should “get on a bus” to Cardiff to find work. Merthyr has a very high level of unemployment with 43 people for every job vacancy. But if the town’s Unemployed were to travel to Cardiff they would be disappointed: there are already nine unemployed people for every job vacancy in the city.

People on the dole are not shirkers – they don’t have jobs because of the recession caused by the banking crisis.

Four years ago, before the banking crisis began, there were 1.69 million people unemployed, today it is 2.53 million. Is it really serious to suggest that since 2007 an extra 850,000 people have opted not to work as a ‘lifestyle choice’. To demonise the victims of the recession is one of this government’s most disgraceful attacks. Myth two explains why no one is likely to choose benefits.

MYTH 2. ‘The welfare state is generous’

David Cameron takes on Spongers’ cries the Daily Star, ‘Workshy to lose benefits’ reports the Daily Express. Even the more refined Telegraph ran the headline ‘Dependency cannot be a lifestyle choice’, while the Daily Mail combined it with its twin obsession to complain about migrants accessing ‘Britain’s generous benefits system’.

So is the welfare state generous? Jobseeker’s Allowance is currently £65.45 per week (£3,400 per year). If unemployment benefit had risen at the same rate as earnings over the last 30 years it would be worth £110 per week now. Today’s unemployed are worse off than previous generations.

Those on Employment and Support Allowance, formerly Incapacity Benefit, receive about £97 per week. According to campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts, 30% of disabled people live below the poverty line.

MYTH 3. ‘Welfare is rife with fraud’

In his comprehensive spending review statement last October chancellor George Osborne said: “Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated any more. We estimate that £5 billion is being lost this way each year.” After complaints, the government has now admitted the combined cost of benefit and tax credit fraud was only £1.5 billion.

A figure less widely quoted is that of the level of benefits and tax credits unclaimed: £16 billion. So for every 10p lost to fraud, over £1 is recouped by people not receiving benefits they are entitled to. And don’t forget there is a £120 billion annual tax gap from wealthy individuals and big businesses avoiding and evading taxes.

MYTH 4. ‘Jobcentre Plus is ineffective at helping people back to work’

All the evidence shows that Jobcentre Plus outperforms private contractors. These workers have years of experience and training. A recent National Audit Office report comparing contractors with Jobcentre staff found: “Contractors have universally underperformed against targets set by the department which had to make concessions as part of contractual renegotiations to support the continuation of businesses and services . . . Jobcentre Plus achieved better job outcome rates for mandatory customers compared to external providers.”

Despite this evidence, backed up by several academic studies, prime minister David Cameron announced that his new welfare scheme will be delivered by “social enterprises, charities and businesses”, with 9,000 job cuts expected in Jobcentre Plus.

Iain Duncan Smith’s Welfare Reform Bill is predicated on these myths to justify their brutal £18 billion welfare cuts.

The welfare state was set up on the basis that unemployment, ill health or even disability could affect any of us. We must defend welfare: the right to live secure and dignified lives whether in or out of work.

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PCS and UNISON forge alliance to fight cuts Wed, 08 Sep 2010 20:30:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 8 September 2010

Two of the UK’s biggest public sector unions, UNISON and PCS, representing 1.7 million workers, have pledged to forge a powerful alliance to fight back against the coalition government’s cuts to jobs and services.

The unions are joining forces to campaign, co-ordinate and, where possible, take action in unity and support of each other.

The government’s assault on the public sector threatens the livelihoods of 750,000 public sector workers. Job losses are already leading to drastic cuts to services that people rely on especially the poor, the old and vulnerable.

The unions will campaign together to build support for a realistic alternative to the cuts agenda. One that would protect and create jobs to secure the economic recovery, tax the banks, big business and the super-rich. They will also campaign for the non-renewal of Trident, to put an end to wasteful spending on consultancy and agency staff, against expensive privatisation, and to build a fairer society.

Working together we can build an effective fighting machine to combat the cuts and protect vital jobs and services

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“This is no paper policy, this alliance has teeth. Working together we can build an effective fighting machine to combat the cuts and protect vital jobs and services. And, when the circumstances are right, we will take action together.

Across the country UNISON will work with the PCS to promote an alternative economic vision to the Con Dems’ monosyllabic cuts agenda. We want to build a fairer future for all, not just a haven for the super-rich.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The millionaires in David Cameron’s cabinet insist that we are ‘all in this together’. But low-paid public sector workers and other vulnerable members of our society do not share this view when they can see the government’s plans seek to punish them for the mistakes of bankers and financial speculators.

Our alliance with UNISON is a crucial first step towards building the kind of united opposition that will be needed to oppose the government’s spending cuts that will tear communities apart and destroy the public services we all rely on. PCS is committed to an alternative programme of economic growth, collecting the £120 billion in taxes avoided, uncollected and evaded each year, creating jobs, curbing the use of civil service consultants and reducing waste.”

The unions are setting up a national liaison group to promote joint activity and co-ordinate a national campaign together. The group will work with the TUC and co-ordinate public sector alliances across central and local government.

To forge the partnership further PCS and UNISON are organising a There is an alternative event with the aim of bringing together trade unionists, politicians, academics, voluntary and community groups.

Across regions the unions will twin officers and organisers, developing regional campaign teams, regional events and roadshows building on links with voluntary groups.

At local level the unions will develop support links between members and activists including joint workplace and public meetings and joint local activities.

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Election result is a rejection of cuts agenda Sat, 08 May 2010 18:19:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The lack of clear support for the Tories in the general election and poor showings for Labour and the Liberal Democrats gives the next government no mandate for damaging cuts and further privatisation, PCS says.

The far from conclusive outcome shows the public have rejected the main Westminster parties, the union says. But with all three wedded to a political consensus that massive cuts in public spending are necessary, a hung parliament or some form of coalition government could still mean trade unions facing a fresh assault on jobs, pay, public services and pensions.

PCS will be the first union to hold its annual conference after the election, with delegates meeting in less than two weeks’ time to decide how the union should respond. Delegates are expected to call for unity among unions and other campaign groups to mount a fierce defence of their members’ jobs, livelihoods and the services they provide.

Responses to the union’s Make Your Vote Count campaign, announced earlier this week, revealed individual Labour and Liberal Democrat election candidates were more likely than Tories to commit to supporting jobs, tax justice, fair pay and public services. But these commitments were not always mirrored by their national leaderships.

These responses, and the election result, show the urgent need for reform of our electoral system to allow more pro-public sector voices into politics, the union says. This will also be an issue at PCS’s conference, with delegates due to discuss the possibility of standing or supporting trade union candidates in future elections.

If the mainstream parties were truly committed to tackling the budget deficit they would act quickly to close the widening tax gap which sees more than £120 billion a year lost to the UK economy through tax being avoided or evaded, or because HM Revenue and Customs simply does not have the resources to collect it due to recent job cuts.

Responding to the election result, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

The closeness of the opinion polls in recent weeks and the result of the election show just how narrow the gaps are between the main parties.

The only debate over public sector cuts in the last few weeks has been about who would cut the most, and by when. There has been a shocking lack of honesty and detail, with the three main party leaders wielding the axe, but none of them saying where it will fall.

Public sector workers and society as a whole deserve better. Not only do we deserve a full and frank discussion about the role of the public sector in the economy – where unions like ours are given the opportunity to make the case for investment and tax justice, rather than cuts – but we also deserve a political system where everyone’s vote counts, not just those in marginal constituencies.

We believe the time has come for reform of our electoral system, where proportional representation can help open up politics to people currently excluded from it. The immediate task, however, is for the unions to unite against the devastating cuts we are now expecting.”

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Defending Public Services and Jobs Tue, 09 Mar 2010 10:08:42 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Spring issue of SOLIDARITY is now available. This is an article from it.

The strength of the unions depends on the consciousness, organisation, and active involvement of their members …”

As we approach a General Election, whatever the outcome, we can be sure that public sector workers and the services they provide, are facing cuts across the board. For instance, even if the current government were to somehow hang on, the NHS would face cuts in spending of between £15 and £20 billion by 2014. Ken Clarke, for the Tories has promised deeper cuts than those made by Thatcher.

Whichever sector you look at management are seeking to cut jobs or services, or some measure of both. So the trades unions are going to face a severe test of their ability to defend their members and the services. In London the FBU is facing a stiff battle against management which wants to save money by unilaterally imposing new shifts (see Page 12).

Whilst UK union membership is comprised of 40.3% in the private sector, and 59.7% in the public sector there is no comparison in unity density. As Gregor Gall reports (see page 13) union density in the private sector is down to a meagre 15%, whilst in the public sector it is 57.1%. Those covered by collective agreements were 18.7% in the private sector and 70.5% in the public sector.

This shows the scope for recruitment in the public sector where collective agreements apply. Yet, in the case of Health and social work, despite an increase in staff numbers over the period of the New Labour government, union density has declined from 46.1% to 40.7%. Why? The reasons are surely connected with the collaboration of the Health unions with the government rather than mobilising their members against its market driven ‘reforms’. If they have criticised the introduction of the ‘health market’ they have nonetheless signed up to a partnership agreement designed to deliver ‘modernisation’.

This partnership was agreed in the context of the introduction of a ‘health market’ which has opened up the NHS to private companies, demanded Trusts break even year on year, and introduced ‘payment by results’. It has replaced cooperation with competition. This partnership has undermined union independence and meant they have failed to challenge the government’s agenda, despite their criticisms of it. If you look at the NHS Social Partnership Forum website you can read examples of ‘best practice’. Just to take one example, the report waxes lyrical about cooperation between management and unions at the Blackpool Trust, enabling 523 jobs to be cut! There is as yet no movement within the health service unions to break this partnership arrangement. Without such a break there can be no effective rebuilding of independent union organisation opposed to the fragmentation of the NHS.

Yet as the example of the North Devon UNISON strike shows, with determined leadership, even the lowest paid and downtrodden workers can be organised successfully if their interests are not identified with those of the management. As Mark Harper shows in his article (page 4) the key to building union strength is the involvement of union members. Or, as he puts it “a union is at its strongest when the distinction between activist and member is at its most blurred”.

Like the health unions, the CWU in Royal Mail has accepted the need for ‘modernisation’ as good coin. The leadership of the union seeks a partnership with Royal Mail, but the resistance of their membership to the impact of liberalisation on the job, and the service, is an obstacle to reaching one. Ironically a single CWU member, the pseudonymous Roy Mayall, on his own initiative in breaking into the mass media, has done more to explain the issues behind the dispute than the union apparatus has been able to do. As Roy explains (see page 5), there needs to be a campaign to end the ‘downstream access’ which is nothing other than a rigged market in which RM has to deliver the mail of its competitors. The strategy of the CWU – ‘modernisation’ of RM so it can compete with the private companies – can only lead to the destruction of jobs and a worsening of the service.

Defending public services requires an alliance between public sector workers and users of the services they provide. As the campaign in defence of Council housing has shown, such an alliance (in this case between council workers and Council tenants) has delivered successes despite the odds being stacked against them. Of course, there is the advantage of having a ballot of tenants to decide on transfer to the private sector. Other privatisations do not have to go through a ballot. But the principle remains the same. Public sector workers bolster their chances if they win the support of service users.

Local government workers have long been used to the annual budget crisis in which cuts are distributed across departments. Pressure is now being stepped up. For example, 2,000 job cuts have been announced in Birmingham. At the same time the ‘Single Status’ process draws to a messy end, with open discussion barred on the basis of ‘advice’ from the union solicitors.

The weakness of union organisation in local government is reflected by the fact that in only one local authority (Birmingham – see page 9) has there been strike action across all departments against pay cuts resulting from ‘Single Status’. In some areas there has been sectional action from groups with some industrial muscle such as the Leeds refuse workers (page 7). In some areas there was a not surprising outrage from members when local government unions have recommended acceptance of agreements which include wage cuts for a substantial group of their members. Now the situation seems to be that unions are making no recommendation whatsoever, for fear of the legal consequences; leaving their members leaderless.

During the period from 1980 the response of the union apparatuses to the defeats the movement suffered was ‘partnership’ and the ‘service model’ – the provision of individual services. This strategy tied the unions to their employers and encouraged a passive outlook amongst members. All that they had to do was pay their subscription and miraculously a service was provided for them. This reinforced the impact of the defeats on collective union organisation. Yet even when such an approach was abandoned, or half abandoned, the unions were left with the consequence of encouraging a passive membership rather than building collective organisation.

The strength of the unions depends on the consciousness, organisation and active involvement of their members in the workplace and on the industrial level. It depends also, on their independence from management and government, and a recognition that their interests require a struggle. A break with ‘partnership’ in the NHS and elsewhere and the promotion of a vision of public services which are not turned into commodities, is necessary means of changing the unions from service providers to fighting collective organisations.

As Kim Moody shows (page 14) from the experience of the NUHW in the USA, a union with virtually no apparatus can be successful to the degree that it is literally a union of the members. There is a lesson for us there and from North Devon. The enthusiasm of workers for an organisation which they consider theirs, which brings them together in struggle for their interests develops a collective and combative spirit.

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Essex Fire Crews tell Fire Authority – suspend plans for firefighter cuts or ballot starts on June 25th Wed, 17 Jun 2009 17:59:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Essex fire crews and officers have given the fire authority a further 10 days to shelve plans to cut firefighters or they will ballot for industrial action. The Fire Brigades Union has accused the fire authority of targeting frontline fire crews for cuts rather than looking at genuine efficiency savings.

The union has called for a joint review of the balance between office based activities and the 999 emergency response with a view to redeploying resources to fire stations. It says there also needs to be a better balance between prevention activities and the need for a proper and safe emergency response.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service is set to implement a rolling programme of frontline cuts to the 999 emergency response service. The result will be fewer firefighters spread more thinly across Essex leaving too few firefighters on duty to crew all the fire engines.

The Fire Authority proposes to cut the number of firefighters by “managed vacancies” from 954 firefighters in December 2008, to an average of 940 during 2008/9, to 920 during 2009/10, to 905 in March 2010.

Forty four of those jobs – one in ten of the frontline fire station based crews -would go by changing the way higher reach aerial ladder platforms and rescue tenders are crewed. The impact would be there would not be enough firefighters to crew all appliances, even if they were needed in a 999 emergency.

The union has also objected to a number of other changes which it says local managers are trying to impose rather than negotiate. The details were set out in the formal legal letter from the union to the Clerk of the Fire Authority, as required by law.

Paul Adams, Essex FBU Brigade Secretary and firefighter at Grays said: “We know the need to look at making efficiency savings. But the frontline 999 emergency response is being cut back while head quarters managers and bureaucrats have been growing.

“There is a real danger that frontline crews will be spread far too thinly across the County. The fire authority needs to look at making genuine efficiency savings rather than targeting frontline fire crews for cuts.

“The frontline service must not be compromised by the drive to make savings. Firefighters can’t crew two fire engines at the same time and we can’t respond to two 999 emergencies at the same time.

“The fire authority is forcing these plans through without honest consultation with frontline fire crews and officers and without agreement. That is a recipe for a ballot for industrial action.

“We are happy to talk and negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement. Essex fire crews and officers want a joint approach, working together to review the problems and where necessary reaching agreement.”

]]> 0 "No more blank cheques" Tue, 16 Jun 2009 18:18:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A UNISON Press release from today’s session of their conference

Dave Prentis laid down the gauntlet to the Labour government today, as he told UNISON’s national delegate conference: “No more blank cheques.”

The general secretary told delegates that a Mori poll, commissioned by the union, had this morning revealed that “over 73% of the public and 80% of public service workers say that private companies should not run our public services” and that “over 70% of public service workers now say they won’t vote Labour.”

In a barnstorming speech, the general secretary laid into “self-serving” politicians – “disloyal to their party, disloyal to their constituents” – before saying that he couldn’t “help but compare them to you.”

“Your loyalty to this union. To our members, the jobs you do, the communities you serve.”

“I know what you give up,” he told delegates. “Your time, your energy; careers often put on hold, family life affected.”

“This union is nothing without you.””

Mr Prentis reeled off the names of some of the “loyal activists” who have served the union – and the labour movement – with honour.

He assured delegates: “We are a strong, free, independent union. We’re not just here for the good times. We’re here to protect our members.”

Turning his attention to “the billionaires, the bankers and the private profiteers” who have been let in by “our government” to “call the shots”, he savaged the result: “Their private jets and their yachts; wealth. Power. Privilege on a scale never seen before.”

And the reverse of this coin? “Wages squeezed, jobs casualised, pensions cut back and public services suffering.”

“Housing more and more unaffordable. Ordinary people working longer and harder to make ends meet.”

“Billions for bankers, peanuts for public service workers.”

And the financial collapse and the expenses scandal were the “inevitable consequences of a society built on greed.”

Mr Prentis told conference: “Today we launch the biggest campaign our union has seen – a million voices for change. A political campaign to voice the anger and fear our members feel. A campaign to show members we’re on their side. Our campaign for action.”

And he pledged to “bring together an alliance of public service unions … an alliance to fight job cuts, to defend public services … a united fight to save our National Health Service.”

Mr Prentis told delegates that the union’s Labour Link “is an integral part of our union”. But to roars of agreement he continued: “Our members are tired of feeding the hand that bites them.”

And the conference gave a standing ovation when he called on the Labour Link to suspend constituency payments, ensure that the next manifesto does not continue privatisation of public services and “ensure that our union only promotes and supports prospective Labour candidates who are willing to stand up for our values of public service.”

Turning again to the union’s new campaign to fight for public services, he told delegates: Now is the time to stand up for our values, our policies, our people.

“Proud. Determined. Strong and united.

“A million voices raising the roof of all of us in UNISON.”

And invoking the inspiration of US president Barack Obama, he concluded: “Conference – together we can.”

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Unite say Chancellor’s announcement on three year pay deal will incense trade union members Tue, 08 Jan 2008 18:41:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 8 January 2008

Unite, the UK’s largest trade union, say that Alistair Darling’s announcement that public sector workers will be subject to three year pay deals rides roughshod over trade unions, employees and independent pay review bodies.

Unite say although it is not in principle opposed to longer term pay deals it is incredibly angry that the Chancellor’s announcement was made without any consultation with the trade unions. It also says that the government’s assertion that public sector pay must be capped at 2% makes a mockery of the pay bargaining procedures and the pay review panels appointed to conduct independent pay negotiations.

The union wants the independent Pay Review Bodies to be given a free reign to propose and agree pay settlements without government interference, as is their remit. If three year pay deals are agreed by negotiation, then a mechanism should be considered that will allow for re-negotiations in the event of rampant inflation.

Gail Cartmail, Unite’s Head of the public sector, said: “We are not in principle opposed to three year pay settlements that would give greater certainty to our members but our members must be protected against substantial increases in inflation within this period.

“What we are absolutely opposed to is the government’s dictatorial stance, not only on pay procedures but in capping the amount that our members will be paid. Our members covered by Pay Review Bodies respect their independence and have never rejected even modest increases agreed through them.

“The government must allow the pay review bodies to do their job without interference. Unions must be free to negotiate in the non Pay Review Body areas and I urge government to stop this macho and bullish posturing, unless of course they are deliberately squaring up for a fight.”

Unite is submitting evidence to the Pay Review Body for NHS workers this week. The union has criticised the government last year for over-ruling pay an offer made by the independent Pay Review Body for health.

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GMB rejects 3 year pay deal for public sector Tue, 08 Jan 2008 12:39:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Responding to today’s statement by the Chancellor Alistair Darling, GMB which represents 300,000 public sector workers flatly rejected the idea of a 3-year pay compact across the public sector.
8 Jan 2008

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Service said “There are four fundamental problems. The first is that the argument that public sector pay has to be controlled to manage down inflation is economically flawed and socially unacceptable. The second is that different parts of the public sector have different needs from pay negotiations and whereas for some a period of stability makes sense for others there is a desperate need for change. The third is that any sensible negotiator will want to see a premium for sacrificing future negotiating rounds and that would mean any long-term deal having to go above RPI – and that isn’t the government’s intention.”

“Perhaps most importantly of all is whether they can be trusted. After all, the government has reneged on most recent pay review body awards and who’s to say they would honour a 3 year deal? Their track record says otherwise.”

“For example, among the 1.5 million local government sector workers they want a one-year pay deal that corrects some of the low-pay and unequal pay anomalies as well as catching up on nearly 2% worth of inflation lost in their last pay deal.”

“The reality is that Brown and Darling want to have public sector pay settled for politically expediency because there will be a general election within the next three years. GMB isn’t interested in those sorts of games – we have members who need good pay rises.”

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