Vince Cable’s shocking demand to curb strikes


11:40 am - March 31st 2010

by Jim Jepps    


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Update: Article re-edited by editor (sunny) in light of a transcript provided in the comments. See below.

I was genuinely shocked when attending Radio Four’s Any Questions in Camden last on Friday, when Vince Cable, the cuddly face of liberalism, came out in favour of banning curbing strike action.

Specifically he said that workers in “essential public services” should not be allowed find it harder to strike. He was pressed on it and was adamant that this was what he believed.

While he doesn’t seem to have said this in print (although I haven’t scoured the entire internet), writing in the Daily Mail Cable says that “We are back to old-fashioned industrial conflict of a kind that we thought, and hoped, had gone.”

Cable is making two mistakes here.

The first one is that he is simply wrong to say the industrial disputes of 2010 are in any way comparable to the disputes of the 70’s or 80’s. The number of strikes days the year before Labour came to power was 1.3 million while in 2009 there were less than half a million strike days. Union membership today is dwarfed by the size of the unions three decades ago. I think we strike far too little and far too few of us are members of trade unions.

His other mistake though is this fake even-handedness where he says both sides have a case and both sides are at fault – so let’s outlaw strikes. This would put the employer in a position where they can run riot over their workforce who would have been completely disarmed, so not quite as neutral as we first thought.

To tell people that they must work, no matter what the provocation, no matter what the justice of your case, is to encourage employers to be intransigent and arrogant beyond anything we normally see in the 21st century.

Employees have to be able to take *collective* action because the employer can take *collective* liberties with the workforce each and every day.

Whilst it’s to be regreted that people wont be able to travel by train on the day of the rail strike, if we make strikes illegal we are effectively chaining people to their desks and work stations for the sake of our own convenience. That’s a narrow vision because today it’s them, tomorrow it’s you.

The rail workers and BA staff took a clear democratic decision that it was necessary to withdraw their labour. We should support their right to take that decision even if we don’t think they’re right on this occasion. However, it seems to me that they are right to strike and I’d recommend reading up on their cases at the RMT and UNITE websites.

—————
A transcript, provided below in the comments challenges the article’s version of events.

It states that Cable did not call for strikes to be banned, but “curbed” when it applies to certain industries.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Law ,Libdems ,Trade Unions ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Crazy Cable, What was he thinking?

Hey! No fair! You’re not supposed to listen to what Cable says, you’re just supposed to bask in the glow of his wisdom.

Well, it goes to prove that Vince Cable is hardly the saviour of the world some people have made him out to be – any takers for this man as chancellor?

It also leads to a few questions as to whether he is really a liberal – how can a liberal take away someone’s right to do something (or does he really consider the harm caused by disruption of one airline or of one means of transport to outweight the rights of the individuals concerned?). The only liberal argument against striking is that by striking others will be directly harmed – hence doctors and nurses should not stage all-out strikes (but can clearly still stage industrial disputes) – but Mr Cable, with his normal cheerful lack of understanding, seems to be unable to differentiate between harmed and inconvenienced.

Or maybe he is just trying to cement his popularity by appealing to the Daily Mail and Telegraph readers…

I happen to agree with him. Strikes are an outdated principle that really don’t help anything or anyone in the long term. Why we’ve not moved to a system of legally binding independent tribunals on the issue of fair pay I do not know.

The fact Strikes are currently the only option, and an option that ultimately weakens workers through their very action, is that no-one is forcing employers to act fairly on pay in other more accountable ways.

For instance we come off the back of a strike action, we’re successful…but we’ve cost our employer millions and so they ultimately need to make cuts elsewhere. This stokes more anger, more strikes, and welcome to the spiral of completely nonsensical long term thinking on behalf of workers with a short term and biased view point (rightly so on the last point) with no other option to take.

Maybe we should stop defending “the only option we have” and make some more options?

I’d be interested to hear what Vince actually said though, rather than this obviously edited version of events. :)

Why we’ve not moved to a system of legally binding independent tribunals on the issue of fair pay I do not know.

Because freedom of contract is at the heart of English law? If you remove that, you fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and the individual in ways that would have knock-on effects throughout the legal system.

6. Luis Enrique

I (think) I agree with the thrust of this article (banning strike=bad idea) but there’s some confused stuff about “human right to choose not to work” etc. You can of course choose not to work: it’s called resigning. Strikes are something else. And strikes are not the only way to stop employers “running riot” over workers – there are such things as employment legislation, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (and hey, maybe even in the odd case, the need to attract workers in a competitive labour market)

7. Carl Packman

what a pity – he is going to be our next chancellor

Ah, I think Lee may have stumbled on Vince’s big idea – the state can regulate relationships rather than strikers.

God forbid that the state would ever be run by a party funded by big business, prone to doing favours for cash etc. Vince has therefore cleverly figured out that only the ‘honest’ Liberal Democrats can be in government and ban strikes, because they would not be corruptable at all.

Horribly, this is the best explanation I can find for what sounds like a particularly stupid statement.

Vince – I loved you on debate night, but now I think you’re a mobile cock.

Facts are that people only strike when things get so bad that a spell on the dole looks a reasonable alternative. How about you ban buttbreath managers? You can start with Mr Walsh, if you like. Send him to NZ – we’ll swap you a sheep, or, at least, someone who can count them.

Everyone should obviously have the right to break their employment contract by not turning up.
Every employer should have the right to respond in accordance with that contract.
Simple.

If we had a better approach to employment (paying people properly, giving them their rights as workers, better pensions, and not cutting their jobs whilst ramping up bosses’ salaries, etc), we wouldn’t need strikes. Plenty of the best organisations never see strikes at all – because they treat their workers like humans. Strikes are still needed, but they shouldn’t be.

_roll eyes_

Firstly, look at Cables background and what his position is. It’s in finance and the economy. Also if you actually ever listen to him, he is always even handed in what he pragmatically thinks is right for the economy. Yes, the economy.

So snidey comments about him being a saviour is ridiculous. Not only because he didn’t ask to be but because humans are obsessed with martyrs and putting people up on pedastals. Something that is incredibly not Liberal but is very authoratarian Right or Left wing.

It’s not either nor or. Why is it black or white or right or left? The world is all things inbetween to follow that rule is incredibly illogical and irrational.

Saying what Cable has stated, well I can see what he is saying as an economist and someone concerened that strikes end up loosing millions in the UK economy so therefore, they are not ecnomically viable if you are trying to sustain an economy. As we know with financial markets, if we dip, then Europe dips etc etc and it becomes a greater and wider problem. So not good.

But on ethical terms, people have a right to be treated with respect at work and not slave to the money. They have families or lives to lead and each have that right after sweating day and night to be treated better then a cockroach.

People wouldn’t strike if their wasn’t an issue at the first place.

So how do we solve that problem? Easy, you treat them with respect!

How could Cable have communicated this? I would have said what he said BUT I would also mention that you need to change employment laws/policies in this country to support the employee not the employer and that before strikes can be demolished, you need to treat you workers with fairness and respect they deserve at work.

The problem here is that big businesses bottom line is always profit. Nothing more nor less.

Go after them. They’re the problem.

A great big business operation that seldom has strikes, check out Richard Semler. The Brazilian multi-millionaire who has given control of the organisation back to the workers.How things should be done.

http://www.co-intelligence.org/S-Semco.html

Still better than Darling or Osborne, tho.

Sod the bosses and the workers, what about the consumers? Can we get a say in these disputes please?

Strikes are an outdated principle that really don’t help anything or anyone in the long term.

I think many workers in the UK would disagree.

Although I agree that strikes impose costs – so do exploiting workers, denying them basic benefits and treating them like shit. Unless the nuclear option is there on the table for workers – what incentive do employers have to listen?

Work is but an inconvenience for which we agree financial compensation. As such no-one has to work other than to obtain as much money as personally they feel they need.

I’ve never been a member of a union, never participated in a walk out, but I have sought other jobs when my employer has been one I have not liked.

I support an individuals right to strike. I’d also support the employers right to advertise strikers posts to seek to find replacements. That’s not how our systems works though is it?

Furthermore – I don’t think its particularly liberal for Cable to argue for banning workers’ right to organise themselves, even for ‘essential’ public services.

I’d much rather he focus more on strengthening workers rights first, so the need to strike doesn’t come up.

rantersparadise: Also if you actually ever listen to him, he is always even handed in what he pragmatically thinks is right for the economy. Yes, the economy.

But anyone who wants a better economy would also think about the rights of workers and the best way to make them happy. After all, if you have an angry and disillusioned workforce then you’re not going to have a very productive economy. So I’d say this is part of Cable’s remit. I agree that he needs to think more of alternatives first.

18. Luis Enrique

rantersparadise

I think you’re wrong that “the problem here is that big businesses bottom line is always profit” because a) if that’s true of big business, it’s true of small business b) maximizing profit can entail good things like taking pride in your work and treating workers well and c) maximising profit in the right institutional setting (employment legislation) results in social welfare gains.

However, if you’re interested in people like Semler, you might also be interested in this book about a business that has committed not to lay-off workers. Treating workers well can of course be good for the bottom line – recall Henry Ford’s decision to double wages in 1914.

This has actually been Lib Dem policy for some time now – it was voted through Federal Conference with a fairly hefty majority in the wake of the firefighters’ strike, which was way back in 2003.

To be honest, I’m surprised that people are surprised – the Lib Dems have always been fairly hostile to the labour movement and voted with the Tories against even the modest steps forward that the government and Labour backbenchers have proposed in recent years. They’re actually to the right of the Tories on a lot of issues pertaining to public sector workers in particular, though of course this gets little scrutiny.

DOH!

What an epic fail on that man’s part, even closer attention will have to be paid to his speeches now.

This is a stupid hatchet job. I say “stupid” because you can’t listen to the programme and come to the conclusion that the original author does.

Vince Cable, the cuddly face of liberalism, came out in favour of banning strike action – gaining the honour of getting the first boos of the night.

Actually, Andrew Lansley got the first boos of the night. I didn’t hear Cable getting any. You can listen to the podcast here, if you want.

Specifically he said that workers in “essential public services” should not be allowed to strike. He was pressed on it and was adamant that this was what he believed.

He seemed to think this meant both rail workers and BA cabin staff, both of whom work for private companies, so it seems they are essential enough to take away thier basic human rights, but not essential enough to take the industries into public hands.

“Seemed” is a weasel-word, because it allows you to say that you interpreted the meaning in this way. I didn’t, and in the context I thought there was a clear distinction between how BA (private competitive company with a significant dispute over pay and conditions) should be treated and how National Rail (a semi-publically-owned company running monopoly infrastructure with a dispute over a technical safety matter which has been ruled on by an independent regulator) should be treated. I don’t see how you can listen to the programme and not hear that distinction being made.

With regard to BA, all he said was that BA benefits greatly from a favourable settlement from the government with regards to landing slots at major airports and other tacit support for the ‘national flag-carrier’ airline. If BA can’t operate, it might be time to stop supporting it and let it stand on its own two feet. At that point, both BA management and the unions will lose (and passengers will benefit), so there’s a clear incentive for BA and the unions to cooperate in order to avoid this. Personally I’d scrap BA’s privileges anyway, but that’s just on the grounds of fairness and competition.

Whoops, meant ‘Network Rail’ when I said ‘National Rail’. Oh for an edit facility (where did that go, anyway?).

This sort of thing is exactly why I’m always amazed by the insistence that Cable should be the Lib Dem leader and not Clegg. We have him pronouncing on the economy and the tax system because he’s really pretty good at that bit. This isn’t the first time I’ve had cause to doubt his liberal credentials, but I’m not worried by it because it doesn’t affect his performance on the fiscal side (unlike, say, Chris Huhne’s lapses). Clegg, on the other hand, has had plenty of wobbly moments of various sorts but they’ve never been to do with his liberalism.

All this stuff about Cable not being the saviour “after all” is complete bullshit from the premise upwards. A lot of people have credulously accepted the press narrative about his superpowers, and they’ll credulously accept it when the media starts swinging back against him too. He only got put on his pedestal in the first place because the media thought that was the best way to upset Clegg.

“I think many workers in the UK would disagree.”

Yeah, those miners got it going on good didn’t they?

I’ve checked out some other stuff I could find about what Vince has said and he doesn’t seem to be against strikes, merely these grandiose ones that appear to be more about the politics of the situation than anything else. With reference to BA (and I suppose the Rail situation) he is most concerned about the privileges government gives to one set of companies over others (or over no others in the sense of Network Rail I guess) which encourages strike action to become protracted, not in a small part due to the employer sitting on some comfortable government assurances as to their business.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had cause to doubt his liberal credentials, but I’m not worried by it because it doesn’t affect his performance on the fiscal side (unlike, say, Chris Huhne’s lapses). Clegg, on the other hand, has had plenty of wobbly moments of various sorts but they’ve never been to do with his liberalism.

I thought that Ken Clarke got it pretty much spot on when he said that Clegg was a Liberal, and Cable was a Social Democrat.

“Furthermore – I don’t think its particularly liberal for Cable to argue for banning workers’ right to organise themselves, even for ‘essential’ public services.”

Do we have a transcript of this question time any where? I only ask because we’re going very much on the assumption of a clearly biased (without that necessarily being a negative thing) report that doesn’t quite tally with what is available elsewhere when Vince is talking about strikes.

I’d not appreciated that there was so much nostalgia still around for returning to the 1970s and the like of the winter of discontent in 1978/9, when garbage piled up in Leicester Sq in London with rats feasting and the dead went unburied in Liverpool.

Some surely realise that contributed to the election of a Conservative government with Margaret Thatcher as PM in May 1979 and the industrial relations legislation of the 1980s, most of which remains on the statute book even after 13 years of New Labour.

Give workers decent pay and conditions, and they won’t go on strike.

Should police officers have the right to strike? Perhaps not.

“He seemed to think this meant both rail workers and BA cabin staff, both of whom work for private companies”

Here he says BA isn’t an essential public service so it *seems* Rob is right about weasel words.

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/opinion/article.html?in_article_id=501483&in_page_id=19&in_author_id=2326

“Should police officers have the right to strike? Perhaps not.”

They pretty much don’t have the right to strike as part of an agreement where the government always pays them what an independently set up body determines to be a fair pay….now where have I heard this sort of idea before….

Yeah, those miners got it going on good didn’t they?

They also faced a particularly determined govt that used a lot of underhand tactics to undermine them. And it also killed off a generation of support for the Tories.

He only got put on his pedestal in the first place because the media thought that was the best way to upset Clegg.

sure, but I happen to think Cable has said more sensible things on the economy than the other two. But this is a truly bizarre position to take.

Rob – the article specifically says: Specifically he said that workers in “essential public services” should not be allowed to strike. He was pressed on it and was adamant that this was what he believed.

Do you agree with that or not? And what would be under the banner of ‘essential’?

34. Gaf the Horse

But couldn’t this work for both sides? An employer and an employee organisation sign an agreement that the employees won’t strike, but in return the employers are contractually bound to refer any decisions on pay or conditions to a third party organisation. Both sides agree to abide by this bodies findings and if either side reneges then we end up in the situation we are in at the moment, so we’re no worse off. The third party body can take into account external parties, like customers and the general economy for instance, so it’s decisions should be a bit more balanced.

It requires a fundamental shift in the attitudes of both employers and unions, which I realise is a bit of a wish, but it might happen. It still allows an employee to withdraw their labour if the employer is riding roughshod, and it protects a companies profits from a costly strike. I agree it probably isn’t.

I agree this probably isn’t what Vince meant, but it should have been :-)

Maybe one day when I’ve managed to get a company transfer to the Utopia office ……

“They also faced a particularly determined govt that used a lot of underhand tactics to undermine them. And it also killed off a generation of support for the Tories.”

Undermine, nice ;)

There are realities in business, striking costs a company money, and if they’re determined to save money enough to cause workers to strike it’s a lose-lose situation except, maybe, for the short term.

Look at the university sector, employees have got their fair pay after strikes, but it has resulted in less funding for universities being available…or at least will have been a contributory factor. And that was without even costing the sector money due to the strike action!

Is a worker entitled to fair pay? Absolutely. Does this mean the business model as it stands can support that fair play? That part of the process is a secondary thought during strike action.

Had the miners unions come at things from a different angle, could they have retained an industry for longer while taking some compromises on pay and employment? I don’t know, don’t profess to be an expert, but the kind of strike action happening now with BA is more about posturing for personal gain (on both sides) than getting the best deal for employers, employees and customers.

rantersparadise,

“Firstly, look at Cables background and what his position is. It’s in finance and the economy. Also if you actually ever listen to him, he is always even handed in what he pragmatically thinks is right for the economy. Yes, the economy.”

So, the good of the economy overcomes the right of the individual? Not the same line of thinking that produces five year plans is that? Liberalism is not about the economy (which is merely the financial effects of individual decisions, not a seperate entity), but about people and freedom. Vince Cable has not grasped this.

“So snidey comments about him being a saviour is ridiculous. Not only because he didn’t ask to be but because humans are obsessed with martyrs and putting people up on pedastals. Something that is incredibly not Liberal but is very authoratarian Right or Left wing.”

Sorry. I admit I was being sarcastic, partially because I doubt any politician or anyone else is the saviour (well, Thierry Henry once perhaps…).

“It’s not either nor or. Why is it black or white or right or left? The world is all things inbetween to follow that rule is incredibly illogical and irrational.

Saying what Cable has stated, well I can see what he is saying as an economist and someone concerened that strikes end up loosing millions in the UK economy so therefore, they are not ecnomically viable if you are trying to sustain an economy. As we know with financial markets, if we dip, then Europe dips etc etc and it becomes a greater and wider problem. So not good.”

So in order to protect others we sacrifice our own freedoms?

“But on ethical terms, people have a right to be treated with respect at work and not slave to the money. They have families or lives to lead and each have that right after sweating day and night to be treated better then a cockroach.

People wouldn’t strike if their wasn’t an issue at the first place.

So how do we solve that problem? Easy, you treat them with respect!

How could Cable have communicated this? I would have said what he said BUT I would also mention that you need to change employment laws/policies in this country to support the employee not the employer and that before strikes can be demolished, you need to treat you workers with fairness and respect they deserve at work.”

Sorry, you are putting the state (or the courts) at the heart of relations between people. This is not liberal – law constrains actions. And treating workers with fairness and respect does not preclude striking, or do you think words such as these make actions unnecessary.

“The problem here is that big businesses bottom line is always profit. Nothing more nor less.

Go after them. They’re the problem.”

Sorry, you are defending Vince Cable by saying he is looking after the economy, then arguing that profit motivation is the problem? You are saying that people concerned to maximise the economic impact of their companies are the problem, but a man trying to maximise the economic output of the country as a whole is the solution? Not logically consistent – either you approve of economic over individual rights, or you don’t. I can’t see how you mediate a middle way.

“A great big business operation that seldom has strikes, check out Richard Semler. The Brazilian multi-millionaire who has given control of the organisation back to the workers.How things should be done.”

But what if one group of workers disagree with the decisions of the workers as a whole – how do they object? You can strike against a co-operative you know. You could technically go on strike against a company you own (and I suspect there are plenty of examples of small shareholders striking). Striking is nothing to do with ownership or treatment – it is a right to collectively take action against change you don’t like.

And I can’t believe I’m having this argument on a left-wing blog…

I think you chaps ain’t seen nothing yet.

Think about it, when Cameron starts closing schools and hospitals (which he will, don’t be fooled by his Red Tory talk), when he starts to cut public service incomes and pensions (he will, and they will be deep), when he cuts benefits for working people (have you actually heard him give any details yet about his plans for benefits?), then the unions quite rightly will want to act in their members’ interest. We will have a Winter of Discontent this year, but it will be at the end of the year, not the beginning.

Cameron knows this. This is why the “emergency budget” (note the use of the adjective) will be one of a series of “emergency” measures. One of which will be banning public service strikes “until the country has come out of emergency measures”.

Cable is a bit quick off the mark, and as usual, the LibDems are stealing Conservative policies. But by the end of the year, we’ll find at least one public service where the troops will be deployed (with rubber bullets, of course, Dave does not want a Bloody Sunday on his hands) to make sure that the workers do as he tells them to do.

Best not to give Dave the opportunity, eh?

Sunny, it also says “He seemed to think this meant both rail workers and BA cabin staff” and that’s the bit that has been made up.

On the question of essential public services, it’s difficult. If people burn to death because firefighters are on strike, if people can’t travel by rail because the rail network is shut down, if people can’t get medical treatment because medical staff are on strike, those are different problems from simply not being able to fly BA. The problem here is that there’s only one provider. There’s only one fire service, so if the fire service goes on strike then we are all, to put it simply, a bit fucked. Ditto for network rail. If it were possible for these to be competitive industries (like airlines) then this would not be a problem, but even the free marketeers would have a hard time explaining how a private fire service might work, and the private rail network basically collapsed.

So, given that we’ve only got one choice of provider, what protection do we have against that provider, which we come to depend upon, becoming unavailable for us when we need it? I’m not saying that banning strikes is the right way to go about it and, if you cared to listen, you’d see that Vince Cable didn’t say that either. I honestly don’t know. Psychology, game theory, economics, etc. can give us some clues as to how to solve the problem, but it boils down to this: if workers at, say, Network Rail can go on strike, causing immense pain for others, with a guarantee that their employer isn’t going to go bust, they do – in theory – have a capacity to make infinite demands without suffering any long-term down-side. If we depend on that infrastructure, we need some mechanism to ensure that, in the very worst-case scenarios, there’s some means of keeping the trains running, or fires put out, or injured people treated. It’s all very hypothetical, and I certainly don’t see it as justifying banning any strike action, but I think there might be a last-resort consideration of the interests of the rest of the country in determining whether a strike by public workers is justified. We already treat public services differently by protecting them from competition, and we expect them to be available for us at all times in return.

In practical terms, I think this means that public sector strikes need to be managed differently, probably with some kind of legally-binding arbitration process that can find in favour of one side or another but can avert a strike if it is deemed illegitimate. This would only ever apply in cases where the right to strike was being abused, but I guess we’ll have a hard time codifying what those circumstances are.

Richard,

I presume you have the secret plans outlining all this, and that this is not just speculation/blind fear of ‘Tories’?

Because it sits quite strangely with Mr Cameron’s record of supporting the right to strike even as he condemns individual examples.

“Cable is a bit quick off the mark, and as usual, the LibDems are stealing Conservative policies. ”

Oh how all of we, with our minds not befuddled by craziness, laughed.

If Thatcher hadn’t closed the coal mines, I assume you would now be wanting to do so for “climate” reasons?!

“He seemed to think this meant both rail workers and BA cabin staff, both of whom work for private companies”

Right, just listened. First, Rob is right, Andrew Lansley was the one who got booed and heckled, not Cable. Cable doesn’t get booed at all (though this is a bit inconsistent on the part of the audience). Cable stressed several times in the course of his answer that the two strikes and industries are completely different, and gave his response to each.

Essentially, he reckons BA are operating in a competitive industry but with government-granted preferential, and the strike is “macho foolish management against intansigent unions” and both sides should be reminded that without their anti-competition privileges the company would be bust.

He said the railways was a completely different industry and in practice Network Rail (a not-for-profit company*) is a virtually a state monopoly. He reckons in this case, the management are right in what they’re saying about safety issues & an independent regulator has said so. Therefore, eh reckons strike unjustified, and there are questions about whether whether it’s legitimate to continue with strike action in essential public services.

When pressed on whether he thought industrial relations law should be “toughened”, he says:

“If we’re talking about essential public services like the railway system, I think we should be looking at it, certainly.”

So yeah, still don’t necessarily agree with him but some of the statements in this article are untrue, and you’ve misremembered how the session went without, apparently, bothering to listen to it again. He’s quite clearly talking about the railways monopoly. Listen from 30mins exactly (link from Rob above) when Lansley is speaking.

43. Shatterface

I rewatched a TV series called The Guardians recently, which was made around 1970. It shows how a fairly well meaning liberal Prime Minister of the future (well, the 1980s) leads Britain further and further into fascism despite the fact he is at heart a decent human beingl. Each of his oppressive moves appears frighteningly reasonable at the time.

His first major oppressive act is to ban strikes for the ‘public good’ and dictating to employers what concessions they should make.

I’m deeply shocked by Cable’s argument and by his supposedly ‘liberal’ supporters who think the State should be the first point of call in industrial disputes.

Frankly, the Lib Dems have pissed on their chips as far as I’m concerned.

Sorry, can’t remember why that asterisk was there now.

45. Luis Enrique

If what Alix writes is correct, somebody needs to take LC to the PPC

Heh – nice one Luis.

Jim J says he’s writing up the transcript of the discussion so ppl can then judge it for themselves. In any case – the article specifically points out Cable’s insistence that certain public servants should not be allowed – and neither of this is challenged by Alix or Rob. That is the real bone of contention for the article.

Transcript:

Cable: These are two foolish and unnecessary strikes, the question is what can you do about it? BA and the railways are totally different industries. BA is a highly competitive industry, and what you have is macho foolish management against intransigent unions and I think the way to deal with it is this; it is to remind both sides, very firmly, that BA exists because of highly preferential treatment that it gets from the government going back to pre– to nationalisation days. They get privileged access to landing slots at Heathrow which their rivals bitterly resent, and if they didn’t have them they would be bust. The government should say very firmly to both sides we’re going have a competitive industry, a level playing field, unless you get back to work and sort this out.

In relation to the railways it’s a different industry, it’s a monopoly, virtually a state monopoly, though it’s a non-profit company – network rail. It’s very clear in this case that the management on this issue is absolutely right. There is *not* a safety issue, an independent regulator has looked at this very carefully, has actually written to my transport spokesmen Norman Baker, it categorically saying that there is no safety issue involved in these changes.

single heckler: *inaudible*

There are countries like Switzerland where it takes a third of the time to change a signal than it does in this country, in systems that are absolutely safe. It needs to be made very clear that this is unjustified, and if the public are caused enormous inconvenience by this I think one does have to raise the question again if it is legitimate to have continued strike action in essential public services.

Dimbleby: Very briefly, that goes back to governments tolerating or not tolerating. You’re saying in essential public services which you presumably described as being… you would, YOU, if you were elected would consider outlawing industrial action in those industries?

Cable: Well, you could certainly consider curbing them.

Dimbleby: Curbing them? You mean making them more difficult?

Cable: Yes. Indeed, and there are legislative implications that has to be thought through.

Dimbleby: Is it the policy of the Liberal Democrats, if you were to have a position in government, to say we should toughen industrial relations law in order to make it more difficult for these unions, rail, air, whatever it might be, to take strike actions?

Cable: Well, if we’re talking about essential public services like the railway system then we should be looking at it, certainly.

….

So. a) if he was booed then it must have been much more audible in the room than it was in the recording where one person heckled.

b) He doesn’t state he wants to ban strikes, he says he wants to make it much tougher to do in essential services.

c) He only identifies railways as essential (due to the monopoly), Dimbleby is the one that reintroduces the airlines in to the equation.

Hope this helps to even out the debate.

When a strike option is put on the table it is always because there are deeper forces at work in the sector.

BA is losing market share to budget airlines, foreign airlines with lower cost bases and the breaking of it’s monopoly over landing slots.

How exactly are BA cabin crew supposed to hope to negate those threats while engaging in brinkmanship with company directors? It’s just like miners ignoring the shift to oil and gas-generated electricty. There’s only going to be one winner.

Cable is one of the least dogmatic politicians I’ve ever heard, so any claim about his position on industrial relations should also include the conditions and caveats he includes as part of his reasoning.

Cable’s experience as special advisor on Industry under Callaghan’s premiership probably gives him a better insight than most, so I do think it worth at least listening to what he says rather than jumping to conclusions and defaming him for it – but then this site was always about influencing the media narrative, rather than actively seeking positive solutions.

The wealth of legislation designed to promote constructive concilliation has been largely bypassed as both sides in the BA dispute have been using the electoral conditions to escalate the situation, knowing that they can hold the consumer to ransom: but measures do need to be taken to ensure consumers aren’t neglected and so government should be able to force workers and bosses back to the negotiating table.

Personally I would ban strikes in the 12 months before general elections – and I can’t help but imagine James Callaghan and Arthur Scargill both would’ve thought this wise in hindsight!

This post is a complete travesty. Karl Rove would be ashamed at this sort of invention. If there were any substance to it, there would be a big direct quotation at the top, and there isn’t, because he didn’t say it.

I remember when this site tried to be an anti-Tory site.

Although I agree that strikes impose costs – so do exploiting workers, denying them basic benefits and treating them like shit. Unless the nuclear option is there on the table for workers – what incentive do employers have to listen?

Welcome back, Sunny, but you must be aware that this kind of language and point of view belongs in an episode of Life on Mars.

Employers do not exploit workers and treat them “like shit” any more becuse the statute book is full of employment legislation to prevent that happening.

Moreover, if they have any sense, workers no longer hand the mandate to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment to an obsolete political collective that promises to impose some kind of bizarre protection racket on the employer. If they are smart, they will conduct the negotiation on their own account selling the value they have added and will continue to add to the organisation concerned.

It’s no coincidence that both of the current strikes are in organisations that emerged from previously nationalised industries. Clearly the 21st century has not yet dawned on these people but watching them fight like this today is like watching a couple of dinosaurs snapping at each other in black and white.

Thanks Lee, the transcript is very helpful.

Hope this helps to even out the debate.

Even out the debate? I think it shows the OP is dishonest.

This is actually quite an interesting example of unreliable witnessing. Not that it’s deliberate, or anyone’s fault, but what Jim J has presumably remembered is all the very loud heckling and booing that accompanied Lansley and translated it to Cable:

(transcript)

AL:… As far as I can see, all Gordon Brown says to Unite and the RMT is, wouldn’t it be a good idea if you didn’t have a strike now. He’s opposed to the timing of the strike, he’s not opposed to them in principle. On both occasions, Unite and RMT, I’ve heard him say “Oh don’t have a strike in April, don’t have a strike now. This is the wrong time for a strike.” What does he mean, there is a right time for a strike? There’s never a good time…

Heckler 1: Yes!

AL: No, there isn’t a good time for a strike.

Heckler 2: Absolutely, it’s a basic right!

AL: No it’s not a good time, because actually…

Heckler: loud inaudible heckling.

Audience: loud boo-ing, and applause of the heckler.

Cable was chief economist for Shell when they were critical in pressing the Nigerian dictatorship under Sani Abacha in executing leading activists in the Ogoni people’s struggle in the Niger Delta.

If my bosses had been complicit in that, I’d have resigned, and have never heard Cable pressed on why he stayed working for the same people for 2 more years, much less a good explanation from the ridiculously anointed saint of British politics.

@Sunny

“In any case – the article specifically points out Cable’s insistence that certain public servants should not be allowed – and neither of this is challenged by Alix or Rob. That is the real bone of contention for the article.”

Well, I certainly challenge that having listened to it, because he doesn’t say that at all. I’m not sure I agree with what he actually says either – largely because I don’t really think the railway system is an “essential service” in quite the same way the Fire Service is. Lots of people would disagree with me on that, though, and it’s certainly true to say it’s a monopoly.

As a number of posters have pointed out, and as the above transcript (many thanks to Lee Griffin for that) shows, Mr Jepps has given us a complete misrepresentation of what Vince Cable said; possibly because it’s what he wanted to hear Mr Cable say – i can’t say.

Mr Jepps claims in his post that the right to strike is an “essential human right”. This is an absurd claim. First of all, where does this right actually come from? We might say that the right to resign from your job is a clear corrolary of your right not to be enslaved by anyone else, which comes back to a basic question about liberty.

The ‘right to strike’ by contrast, is one of the many rights we decide to confer on people, as a society, to improve their bargaining position vis-a-vis their employers, so as to prevent egregious power asymmetries that result in exploitation.

There is a clear difference between universal human rights, which are basic, fundamental and which cannot be infringed upon in any way unless not doing so would result in more egregious violations of other people’s human rights, and other rights which it might be helpful to call ‘societal’. These societal rights are basically the result of the democratic process of weighing up competing claims over resources, power and so forth; they are not immutable and fundamental, and they are subject to a practically perpetual process of renegotiation.

What Vince Cable was articulating implicitly was the idea that the competing claims of commuters, workers, unions bosses and employers have to be weighed up, the validity of their arguments assessed, and a result be decided upon. Vince has a view of that result, others may differ (as i think i do); what he at no stage said was that the right to strike was an illegitimate right; what he did say, however, is that we may have to look at making it harder for workers to strike in ‘essential services’.

I have my own problems with that: his definition of ‘essential services’ is a looser one than i think is justifiable. Obviously it depends on a prior judgement about what things you think are important. I don’t think people’s need to use the railways overrides railway workers’ need to be paid and treated well in all instance, though of course if the workers’ greivance is a wholly unreasonable one there should be mechanisms from preventing that from inconveniencing commuters. On the other hand, really ‘essential’ services like the police are so unlikely to ever have a grievance so terrible that it outweighs the likely harms of their taking strike action that it seems sensible to have a formal agreement whereby the police do not strike.

Other than his suggestion about making it harder to strike, i thought his comments were broadly on the money, though, and it really does seem odd that Mr Jepps could have, even in the heat of the debate, so comprehensively misheard or misinterpreted what Vince Cable said.

Watchman, so how do you think that Cameron will be able to make the cuts he’s going to have to make to keep up with his target?

Are you really suggesting that CMD is a trades unionist? FFS at PMQs he said that workers should cross a picket line, for a dispute that was legal and had overwhelming support of the members. Don’t underestimate Dave, he has a zeal to cut the state (he has said he will do that since he first became Tory leader, it is not simply because of the financial crisis).

But if you have a plan that would make cuts in public service jobs without the public service unions striking, then please share it with us.

It’s clear that the OP overstated his case, perhaps because he was relying on memory and not a transcript.

But Cable’s remarks are still disgraceful and show the Lib Dems are not supportive of workers’ rights (if anyone ever thought they were). I didn’t like the way Brown & Adonis criticised the BA strike but at least they’re not calling for more restrictive trade union laws.

The debate on whether the right to strike is “fundamental” or not is semantic, but in my view the three most important freedoms are:
– freedom of movement
– control over your own body
– freedom to organise politically & take collective action

Hm. The transcript tells its own story. However some interesting stuff has come out of this posting. For example, how is removing firefighters’ right to strike liberal? Knowing a few firefighters I can tell you they are pure gold and do not take indistrial action lightly. The last strikes were taken in defence of the service they take pride in.

@16 Andrew Tennant: “I’ve never been a member of a union, never participated in a walk out, but I have sought other jobs when my employer has been one I have not liked.” This is simply smug.

The consequences of the recession may seem harsh now but they’ve only just begun. The best has been saved for after the election! It’ll be interesting to see how many people who currently feel they do not need a trade union helping them suddenly change their minds.

I’ve had a few such people come to me for help in the past. Despite not paying dues they seem to think I’ll drop everything for them. I wonder how many posting anti-union opinions here might fall into this category if the circumstances were right?

The funniest thing about such people is their ignorance of how unions work. They seem to think we’re somewhere between the monsters of tabloid editorials and Carry On At Your Convenience, pulling out a whistle and crying, “One out, all out!” when their diddums feelings have been hurt. Sometimes its hard to be sympathetic.

“But Cable’s remarks are still disgraceful and show the Lib Dems are not supportive of workers’ rights (if anyone ever thought they were).”

No it doesn’t. I also like to point out that Lynne Featherstone for the LD’s has been pushing anonymous applications as mandatory for job applications to improve fairness and equality in hiring practices so less of the blanket bollocks statements, eh?

“Employers do not exploit workers and treat them “like shit” any more becuse the statute book is full of employment legislation to prevent that happening.”

Oh, pagar, if only your belief that passing a law is sufficient to solve a problem were true…

@ tim f

“The debate on whether the right to strike is “fundamental” or not is semantic”

That is possibly the most asinine thing i’ve read on a comments thread here. Of course it’s not merely semantic – it’s about whether the right to strike is inviolable except in instances where it clashes with another more fundamental right, or whether it’s not fundamental and can be traded off against a variety of other things we, as a democratic society, may wish to pursue. I realise political theory doesn’t fascinate everyone, but don’t be an idiot.

It is worth pointing out also that the three freedoms you’ve listed don’t entail the right to strike. The 3rd entails being allowed to form unions; that isn’t the same as the right to strike.

Additionally, as credible as the claim that those are the three most important freedoms might be, you’ve given no justification for why that is the case. What about freedom of speech, for example?

62. Luis Enrique

tim f

“freedom to organise politically & take collective action”

what, like mount a coup?* obviously some collective actions are unreasonable and harmful to society. I think the defense of strikes requires that they are reasonable and beneficial, I don’t think you can appeal to some “right” to organise and take collective action.

Sunny,

Sorry for being facetious, I can’t bring myself to use smileys. I hope you don’t think I was equating Liddle’s contemptible utterances with this (well intentioned unintentionally inaccurate) OP.

* I’m not equating mounting a coup with mounting a strike either. it was reductio ad absurdum

“For example, how is removing firefighters’ right to strike liberal?”

Liberalism is hardly ever as easy as a yes/no answer. It is about how each person’s or group’s liberties act on each other – the old “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose” thing. I don’t happen to think people who work for Network Rail have such power over other people’s most important liberties that they can have their striking arrangements removed, or even, as Cable suggested, toughened, because this is an unacceptable curtailment of their liberty and no-one else’s liberty benefits significantly enough to make it acceptable.

But this is much less arguable in the case of the fire service, because their right to strike impinges on a pretty core liberty, the right to life, for which (in the context of fires, at least) we pay and expect the state to provide a protection service. I’m sure they don’t take industrial action lightly for precisely this reason. I’m not sure I’d actively argue for it, but I certainly see how it’s more arguable than the rail example.

Of course, as Lee has just pointed out to me, a perfectly workable arrangement existed with the police to get round this problem, and was ok up to the point when Jacqui Smith decided to try to ignore the independent payscale assessor.

“For example, how is removing firefighters’ right to strike liberal? Knowing a few firefighters I can tell you they are pure gold and do not take indistrial action lightly. The last strikes were taken in defence of the service they take pride in.”

The firefighters are in a stupid situation where the government is in a position of too much power in a conflict of interest, and the only way to battle it is with strike action…action that puts lives at risk. I’m not going to rehash this argument, but I believe firmly that the firefighters of this country should not be allowed to strike. This doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re allowed a fair deal.

I find this discussion interesting given what I’ve seen Sunny and other left-leaning people that are very “labour” about the misrepresentation of the term “death tax”

Being against strikes does not mean you are against them getting a fair wage, it can mean you don’t think that strike action is the best or most reasonable way to go about it. Being against strikes can mean that you don’t think that the ends justify the means, and that you think they only exist due to the lack of options given to workers to protect themselves.

But keep on making a very simplistic argument that being against strikes is to be against the workforce, and to be for big business, or whatever other absolutely redundant associations you wish to make. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything better than what the Tories do when they shout “death tax” over and over.

I suppose it’s too much to hope for a prominent update/correction at the top of the article pointing to the transcript @47, is it? Given that the headline and paras 1-3 are factually inaccurate and much of the opinion that follows is premised on these inaccuracies.

@Lee Griffin It was Krishnan Guru-Murthy presenting the show not Dimbleby

67. Johnny Dee

The recording and transcripts show this article is highly inaccurate (whether deliberately or through mistakes of memory).

Many people will read the article and take it as fact (read all of the comments BEFORE the links to the recording show up).

It would be responsible of the author to compare his statements against the recording and rebalance the piece to reflect the truth of what was said.

“Employees have to be able to take *collective* action because the employer can take *collective* liberties with the workforce each and every day.”

Can someone explain the argument above from the original post? Perhaps I’m being dense but I don’t get it…

@66 We’re talking about R4’s Any Questions from last Friday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rfl61 ) not the Ask the Chancellors debate.

I’ve edited the article to reflect the transcript (would have done it earlier but trying to sort out my computer).

Jim J is currently away as hasn’t been able to participate, but I’m sure the article was based on memory rather than a deliberate desire to misrepresent. He’ll come on soon enough to reply.

Thanks for the corrections, Sunny. The para beginning “He seemed to think…” is also inaccurate. He clearly says “essential public services like the railway system”.

Now that the apparent inaccuracies have been cleared up in the original posting, and clarified with the transcript later, I don’t imagine most people would disagree with Vince Cable all that much?

What perplexes most people is the “yah boo” style of disputes like those involving BA, National Rail and the Post Office. It is tempting just to say a “plague on both your houses”, as there certainly seems to be enough stupidity on both sides to fill many Olympic sized swimming pools.

The trouble with labour relations in this country for decades is that both sides have gotten it wrong: reactionary management on the one side, militant unions on the other. If proper “co-determination” had been offered to workers in the UK decades ago on the German model, a lot of grief would have been prevented, and a lot of our industrial base wouldn’t have gone down the toilet the way it did.

Banning or curtailing the right to strike is something that should be used very sparingly..and there has to be a quid pro quo. Too often management and/or governments demand everything from the work force, and expect them to put up with having nothing in return!

73. Brian Robinson

Interesting edit. ;-)

However, there are still all the tweets and retweets saying: “Vince Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes” — which cannot be corrected so easily. Nor can all the people who read it earlier be invited to come back and have another look.

Shocking, indeed.

I bet the Tories love Liberal Conspiracy right now.

He doesn’t seem to “demand” a ban, a curb, or even a whole pavement.

Consider – yes.

Look in to – yes.

DEMAND!!! – no.

The good old days:

“In 1979, some 29 million working days were lost to strikes in Britain. In 1989, some 4.1 million working days were lost. While in 2008, only 760,000 working days were lost to strikes, according to figures compiled by Britain’s business department.”
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j7hWSgErqTSVNe6VDW-yqLY3ciewD9EMDP000

@64 Lee Griffin

My point was that the firefighters had to be pushed into industrial action by the most gross behaviour from the Home Office. They effectively operate on a self-imposed moratorium on such action. If you remember, they agreed to work if an emergency that was too much for the army to handle took place.

The position you suggest when you compare them to the police is not as simple as you imply. There are constraints on the police regarding membership of political parties, canvassing etc in order to maintain the idea that they are politically neutral. The way they are represented and negotiate their terms of employment follows the same logic.

I’m still a bit puzzled by some of the shock and horror being professed by this, ignoring for a second what Vince Cable did or did not say.

The Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Conference in 2005 approved an employment rights policy position that in both “essential public services” and “strategic areas of the private economy”, the government would have powers to declare that a strike will “cause far-reaching damage to to the economy and the national interest” and prohibit it, with compulsory binding arbitration imposed on both sides instead.

This was based I think on a motion approved by an earlier conference that was a reaction to the FBU strike, though I can’t quite remember the details now.

That was Lib Dem policy at the 2005 general election and Lib Dem policy approved by Conference remains policy unless it is changed or superceded.

Now, I agree that if he had said BA would be covered, that might be an interesting new development, though it now seems that he did not do so. But really, it’s just a matter of fact that the Lib Dems as a party are in favour of banning strikes where the govt deems them to be against the national interest. It doesn’t seem especially odd that the rail network would fall under this definition.

All Cable was doing was stating party policy as democratically determined by through the Liberal Democrats’ own policy process, not undermining it or going rogue or anything.

“The way they are represented and negotiate their terms of employment follows the same logic.”

It also works, so regardless of the other rather redundant issues you’re planting in to the argument, can you tell me why an independent assessment of conditions and pay to be mandated as to be followed by government wouldn’t work as well for fire fighters?

79. Brian Robinson

On the issue itself, my own view is that strikes are rarely in anyone’s interests. We need a way of rebalancing the power that companies have over their workers without strikes being the only real option employees are left with.

Strengthening arbitration may be a way forward — because at present negotiation too often seems to become about posturing. Giving employees *more* rights, perhaps adjudicated by tribunals, and giving them (even) more of an interest in the success of the company they work for could both also reduce how often they resort to strikes.

Yes, strikes need to be “curbed”. Nobody wants them. But we get rid of them by making them *unnecessary*.

Tougher legislation? Sure, let’s look at that, too — to see if it can be made tougher on both sides in a dispute. But, to emphasise the point, I don’t think there’s a case for taking away railway workers’ right to go on strike, I think there’s a case for taking away the rationale for them to go on strike.

80. Tom Miller

This is exactly why I have a problem with ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy as a name. This kind of behavior does not represent the points of view of people like myself.

Liberalism, left or right, simply has no decent conception of the collective as a matter of principle. If it ends up providing left solutions, ti does so by mere accident.

Well – to clear any confusion up, why doesn’t Uncle Vince/Lib Dems let us know what their exact views are on strike action, and on repealing this otherwise excellent nation’s dreadful anti trade union laws? I know there are thoughts in the thread above – perhaps Mr Clegg could come out with a firm statement.

Will the Lib Dems reintroduce solidarity striking? Will they improve back to work protection? Will they look at the appalling attacks on terms and conditions that force people to strike in the first place?

In some ways, the BA strikes are the romantic end of the thing. What about all those smaller strikes taken by cleaners and careworkers who have been outsourced from the public sector to the private, and had their TUPE contracts torn up, and found themselves on subsistence wages and forced to work double the hours to make up pay?

What are Lib Dem views on protecting low paid workers dealing with that kind of thing? I already know what Labour’s views are on that sort of strike and on strengthening TUPE – their view is Too Fuckn Bad. Andrew Dismore told me, for instance, that the problem wasn’t TUPE and that anyone who wanted to fight to keep their TUPE’d conditions and salaries could go to tribunal. He didn’t seem prepared to campaign to strengthen TUPE. What kind of answer is that?

Don’t really see the difference between a curb and a ban for these people myself. Think we’re splitting hairs if we’re going down to that sort of semantic. Strike action is bloody nearly banned here anyway. You have to ballot, and ballot, and advise the employer – talk about jumping through hoops.

If you’re a member of Unison, you have to wait months – longer in some cases – to hear whether the industrial action committee in that bloody disgraceful union will give you permission to strike at all (too often, the answer is no).

I suspect Uncle Vince was trying to have a buck either way. I also suspect it’s been a while since he talked to an outsourced careworker about their travels into the private sector and into revised terms and conditions.

And for all those (Uncle Vince might be one) who fantasise about the future of industrial relations being a mature negotiation process between workers and management – do me a favour. Some of the fuckers responsible for the conditions I’ve described above pushed their employees to the limit – even to the point of travelling to Eastern Europe to find even cheaper labour. Striking is the only option people have in that situation.

DHG @ 20

even closer attention will have to be paid to his speeches now

Yep. Good point Daniel.

Don @ 60

if only your belief that passing a law is sufficient to solve a problem were true

I don’t actually believe that.

But if employees have not been helped by employment legislation, why the need for so much of it?

Hello everyone, I’ve not had time to deal with this sooner as I’m very busy at the moment, apologies. I’m posting this without reading the discussion (again apologies) and hope to get time in the next fews days to wade through as much of it as I can.

Firstly, thanks to Sunny for re-posting this from my place. An expected pleasure!

I was hoping to listen again on iplayer to check the post and now I’ve had the chance I wanted to make a couple of points.

Firstly I was disappointed you can’t hear the booing very well – the acoustics in the hall were rubbish – but just to say in the flesh Cable looked pretty perturbed by the response but ploughed on like a trooper.

Secondly I need to correct that he actually was clearly talking about the rail specifically not rail and airlines. It’s clearer on the radio than it was in the noisy hall.

Thirdly he uses the term *curtailing* about the ability to take strike action (ie new, stronger anti-union laws). I just went to check the definition of curtail – not because I don’t use the word but because I wanted to be precise about it’s use.

The first online dictionary I happened to use says this “curtail – terminate or abbreviate before its intended or proper end or its full extent; “My speech was cut short”; “Personal freedom is curtailed in many countries”.”

Which means that curtail is ambiguous as to whether it means restrictions or bans. If those who thought I was unfair to say this means ban strike action want me to give Vince the benefit of the doubt (oh, Nicholas Parsons eat your heart out) then I’m happy to say this means he’s just a populist anti-union politician advocating illiberal legislation to curtail basic civil rights rather than a populist anti-union politician advocating illiberal legislation to curtail basic human rights.

I hope everyone is satisfied with that.

Again apologies for not being able to come back to this sooner, or actually read the thread as yet! I hope you understand life is pretty hectic at the moment. Thanks.

” Some of the fuckers responsible for the conditions I’ve described above pushed their employees to the limit – even to the point of travelling to Eastern Europe to find even cheaper labour. Striking is the only option people have in that situation.”

You seem to think we think everyone should just get along and come up with a solution. I believe that there should be a clear and legal process through which any employee (dependent on size of company, and sector, I’d imagine) can go through to determine whether their conditions are suitable and pay fair. It’s nothing about being mature, it’s about being consistent and being reliable. If anything we need this sort of system because *someone* (some kind of body) needs to hold these children’s hands and force them to make up.

Strike action should always be an option, but not before a process has been gone through where a body has determined what is fair. If the employees still think that they won’t get a fair deal they can strike, but they’ll also be doing so illegally. If the employer doesn’t play ball because they don’t think it’s fair, the employees can strike *AND* have legal recourse to force the employer to play ball.

And no, the Trade Unions sitting in a room with the directors of a company is no way to determine what is fair for both parties any more than putting the BNP in a room with Respect and asking them to come up with comprehensive immigration policy together.

Pagar @ 83.

If murders haven’t been prevented by making murder illegal, why the need to do so?

Legislation helps – in some cases, it helps a great deal. But it doesn’t make everything perfect, by any means.

84. Jim: He didn’t use the word Curtail.

Lee – there are clear and legal processes, but they favour the employer. That’s the problem – especially with a Labour party that hasn’t supported the workers. TUPE is legal – it’s just that it’s also legal to tear it up for ‘business reasons.’ Outsourcing is legal. Making TUPEd staff redundant and employing new people on half the friggn money is legal. Ish.

Those cases that exist on dodgy ground must be examined through the courts – an extremely time consuming and costly process that many workers on low wages just can’t afford to engage in. Sure, union lawyers can assist – but only if they agree there is a case – something they’re often reluctant to do if it means taking on a Labour government. It can be years before a decision is reached, which isn’t much help if you’re a cleaner or careworker on a few quid an hour. The only option people in that sort of situation have is to withdraw their labour. What other examples of successful protection of wages and conditions without a strong union movement do you have?

Free Dictionary:
tr.v. curbed, curb·ing, curbs
1. To check, restrain, or control as if with a curb; rein in.

Note that Dimbleby invited him to use the term “outlaw” and he specifically opted for “curb” instead – a ban is something he declined the invitation to advocate. So no, it’s not a case of giving him the benefit of the doubt. He just didn’t say ban, or anything that means ban, and specifically differentiated what he said from a word that did mean ban.

(The 2005 policy paper, by the way, brings me back to the puzzlement I originally expressed before I knew what the facts of the transcript were. Another canard you often hear alongside “Cable should be leader!” is “the Lib Dems were better under Charlie! They used to be on the left and they’ve drifted to the right!” line. What we clearly used to be was illiberal, which lefties sometimes love because it intersects with their illiberalism. If we’re getting more liberal to the point that Cable shies away from advocating such a policy openly, then good.)

90. Brian Robinson

It’s true that clarity is lacking on this issue — though it’s not helped by claim and counter-claim about what Vince Cable actually said. A policy paper from 2005, under different leadership, seems a bit remote. However, I think it is safe to make three assertions, based on recent evidence that anyone can check for themselves:

1. The Liberal Democrats think strikes, such as the railway strike that may take place in the near future, are counterproductive. From a press release:

Commenting on the decision by trade union Aslef to ballot its members at First Capital Connect over possible strike action, Norman Baker said: “A 1970s style industrial dispute is the last thing the railways need. Whatever differences there are between management and the unions, there is no reason for the passenger to suffer. When we are trying to encourage people on to trains this kind of action would be kamikaze.” http://tinyurl.com/ydcfenp

There is no mention here of banning strikes — the message is that the Lib Dems are opposed to strikes of this kind, and want disputes to be solved by other means. But the press release is short on specifics, to say the least!

2. They are in favour of protecting the rights of workers by making sure people are treated fairly. This is from a 2008 speech by Nick Clegg, where he is talking about Parliament:

And down the corridor there’s a very ordinary canteen where anyone who works in Westminster can get lunch. Except temps. Temps can’t have lunch at lunchtime because they’re temps. And this is the place where we legislate on workers’ rights. http://tinyurl.com/yzdk32e

This helps set the tone, but again lacks any concrete commitment.

3. They want workers to part own the Royal Mail:

We will divide ownership of Royal Mail between a John Lewis style employee trust,
incentivising staff as part owners of the business, and the government with the remaining 49% minority sold to create funds for investment. http://tinyurl.com/yhhx3j2 (See page 5 of the PDF.)

At last, something tangible! I admit, that’s all I could find; perhaps someone else could do better! ;-)

Summary: against strikes, but wanting to protect the rights of workers; generally seem to be lacking specific commitments (so far), other than being in favour of part ownership of the Royal Mail by its employees.

Can someone explain to me why the right to withdraw labour is defended as an absolute when there are wider issues at stake with the economy caused by the debt-fuelled inflationary bubble overseen by the Labour party?

I simply do not see why so-called left-wingers are defending the thatcherite illusion of a homeowning democracy.

Why should workers feel justified in striking to maintain their incomes to continue paying mortagages taken out at excessive multiples?

If the unions have been betrayed by Labour then the simple answer is for the unions to stop funding them.

As for possible curtailments I’ll return to restricting striking around general elections. Voters should be able to make our minds up about future employment legislation without having a gun pointed to our heads – if there is a time to strike it is after the election when the government has a mandate and the opportunity to make changes.

Brian@79

I don’t think there’s a case for taking away railway workers’ right to go on strike, I think there’s a case for taking away the rationale for them to go on strike.”

Sure. This rationale seems to have 2 elements:
1. Safety
2. Job losses

On safety it is a simple (hah!) question of who’s right and who’s wrong. Either way striking does nothing for anyone.

Supposing the union is wrong about safety, how do you take away the rationale of ‘defending jobs’? Other than by employing 1500 people essentially to do nothing?

kate, are you being purposefuly awkward? You first agree with of that there isn’t enough legal protection for employee’s to ensure they have an avenue to get mandated agreements. Then you counter my point that we should have this path by saying that striking is all we have?

What ineffective processes are already in place do not prove or disprove that there is a better set of options that could be made available. The police arrangement with government is the closest to what i’m suggesting and works very well, until smith tried to not follow it. The trouble with it is it is an agreement and the government aren’t legally compelled to follow the advice.

As vince would say, there’s more legislation that’d need to be considered but a working basis exists in this system. Settling for strike action as your only avenue instead of aiming for more is, well, mind boggling

Lee – I am never awkward on purpose, as you know. I exist solely to oil our joint wheels.

What solutions do you have in mind, then – keeping in mind that Lib Dem councils around the land have been instrumental in exactly the sort out outsourcing shambles I describe above…

You hit the nail – however inadvertently – on the head when you loftily observe that government isn’t compelled to follow an agreement that isn’t law… and that’s exactly the point I am making to you. An agreement means fuck all. And if a Labour government hasn’t enshrined workers’ rights in legislation, who the hell will? The Lib Dems? I doubt that very much. Your hallowed leader was seen tarting round in the Guardian only a fortnight ago, publicly ejaculating over Thatcher’s destruction of the unions.

If you’re saying the Lib Dems would fight for legislation that would guarantee TUPE and freeze management wages before cutting staff numbers, salaries and sweating assets, then fine – you’ve got my vote. I’m not hearing that, though, even from the lovable Uncle Vince. Tell me what you have in mind as regards employment law – and perhaps try not to refer to agreements that saw the police protesting on the streets a couple of years ago. Probably the first thing to do is admit there is justification in strike action when low paid people have nowhere else to go – and no representation at the political level. Forgive me, but I have never really thought of the Lib Dems as the workers’ party.

Anyway – I am all ears.

“And if a Labour government hasn’t enshrined workers’ rights in legislation, who the hell will? The Lib Dems? I doubt that very much. Your hallowed leader was seen tarting round in the Guardian only a fortnight ago, publicly ejaculating over Thatcher’s destruction of the unions.”

You’re right that the Lib Dems aren’t “a party of the workers”. I don’t think a typical Lib Dem sees the world that way. I think they see it in terms of individual people with the right to fair treatment.* The way you’d get a Lib Dem conference interested in this is if you laid out the case to demonstrate that the law on disputes is unfair and favours the employer. This is approaching it from the point of view of an individual’s rights against vested interests – both legal rights and more fuzzy moral rights. You’re assuming unions are synonymous with workers, but pretty obviously that doesn’t work for either Clegg or Cable. To them, the unions are another vested interest. Hence the “pinstripe Scargills”.

This is interesting because it goes to the heart of the difference identified by Tom Miller above. To a Lib Dem, all collectives have more power than individuals, whether the collectives are oil companies, unions or government departments. They are all vested interests, and all of them are more powerful than the individual. There aren’t “good” and “bad” vested interests, there are only “vested” ones, and having something invested means you have a bias – on some level, you are not going to behave”fairly”.

So yes, actually I do think Lib Dems would as likely or more likely to legislate on workers’ rights than Labour would, if we could show there was a need for better legislation. I reckon a Lib Dem conference would see the point of legislation enshrining the protection of individuals against employers a lot more quickly than than they’d see the point of any strike. And to all those saying that law isn’t enough – well, no, law is never enough, you need enforcement, but that’s what the legal arms of unions are for. If they need better law to enforce, then maybe we’d better give them better law.

*(I wouldn’t actually call this individualism, by the way, because that implies atomisation, whereas the natural rights of the individual necessarily include the right to associate, which most people take advantage of quite a lot in life. This is why I don’t understand Philip Blond’s critique of liberalism. What he’s actually critiquing, it seems to me, is very crude Thatcherite individualism, and of course that’s bollocks.)

#61 & #62

I used the word freedoms instead of rights deliberately. I’m a communitarian, not a liberal. I don’t accept the rights framework. So logically I don’t argue for a “right to organise and take political action” but I think it’s a better society that maximises freedom in that area. Restricting the ability to strike moves in the opposite direction.

As for most asinine comment in a thread here, yay me. I consider that a remarkable honour. But I’m well aware of the kind of debates you’re talking about, thanks. Perhaps you’d like to tell me why you consider any rights fundamental, why particular rights are fundamental and others aren’t, how you can secure any kind of consensus on that and why it is a useful model if you can’t.

#95

Can I just say I think that is an excellent comment. I disagree enthusiastically but it is an honest statement of liberal principles and shows why they are different from socialist principles.

Good comment Alix, but something troubles me… as someone who sees himself on the liberal end of the left rather than a socialist as such.

There aren’t “good” and “bad” vested interests, there are only “vested” ones, and having something invested means you have a bias – on some level, you are not going to behave”fairly”.

Sure – but individuals don’t necessarily behave ‘fairly’ either. They behave in their own interests or of others. The point about collectivism is that the extra power helps you change things in your favour in a way that isn’t possible otherwise.

Before the unions came along to organise the power of the workers – I doubt that we’d be even enjoying such excellent rights for workers across the country. We may still be stuck in the Victorian ages.

My point is that your principles suggest that if the liberals came into power then, indifferent to the value of the collective – then would the re-balancing of power in favour of workers ever have happened? I doubt it. We needed someone to specifically stand up for and support collective action – politically as well as in the workplace.

@ tim f

What does believing in ‘freedoms’ rather than ‘rights’ entail? What’s the substantive difference between the two? I’m not sure how that’s anything more than dressing up the same idea in different semantic clothing.

If you’re a communitarian, i’m a postmodern, romantic liberal; now i guess we know where we stand.

I think rights are a useful fiction – they don’t have any kind of metaphysical grounding, they just seem to be a pretty good way of preventing cruelty and suffering, which i have a basic emotional aversion to. Some rights are more fundamental to preventing cruelty and suffering in the sense that they’re more essential for it – the right to life, speech, a fair trial etc.

One’s ability to strike can be used for good or ill; in so far as we think it is or can be used for ill, we should legislate to try and prevent that use of it from occurring. In so far as it can be used for good, we should allow it to be used. That is my position.

To that it might be said that freedom of speech can be used for ill, and i’d say that often we have to be agnostic about that (as Mill articulates), but that in the clear instances when it is used for ill – hate speech, incitement to murder, clear cases of libel etc., we can and do legislate to prevent those ills.

“Before the unions came along to organise the power of the workers – I doubt that we’d be even enjoying such excellent rights for workers across the country. We may still be stuck in the Victorian ages.”

Don’t get me wrong, union action has been vital for the development of this country and our rights and liberties. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean union action is helping anything anywhere near as much as it did historically, nor that it is, was or ever will be the only solution workers have to get a fair hearing, let alone the best solution.

Something having been good for our development as a country doesn’t mean we necessarily should still be doing it. I’m going to point at Slavery and walk quietly away.

“I doubt it. We needed someone to specifically stand up for and support collective action – politically as well as in the workplace.”

And there is no reason why that wouldn’t be possible under a Liberal rather than socialist leaning government. I don’t think this follows. Liberally there is no argument to keep workers rights down to favour the employer, unless you’re talking solely economic liberalism and then you’re really framing the debate in a manner that is relevant to the current “liberal” politicians of the country.

“The Lib Dems? I doubt that very much. Your hallowed leader was seen tarting round in the Guardian only a fortnight ago, publicly ejaculating over Thatcher’s destruction of the unions.”

He’s not my leader, I support Lib Dems currently as they are most in line with my beliefs, but I am not a member nor do I intend to be.

Secondly, he wasn’t “publicly ejaculating” over the downfall of the unions, he was stating (in a Tory leaning publication) that he understood the significance of the changes she made. There was no suggestion implicit or otherwise that he felt workers deserved what they got, quite the contrary he’s been on record as damning Thatcher for the poverty she wreaked with her actions.

But I guess this is what I’m trying to say…you can be both against powerful unions and strike action AND be for workers rights. Just because no-one has really tried it any other way isn’t a reason to say that it can’t be done another way.

“If you’re saying the Lib Dems would fight for legislation that would guarantee TUPE and freeze management wages before cutting staff numbers, salaries and sweating assets, then fine – you’ve got my vote.”

I’ve no idea what the Lib Dems would do, I’m speaking purely from a personal view. Thing is, can you honestly say that Labour or Tories are going to do the above either?

#98 Quite. What’s important is who has power, not some doomed attempt to pretend the law (or anybody or anything for that matter) can be neutral in balancing competing interests.

#99 Using the language of “freedoms” is just my attempt to respond to a debate about rights without using a language I fundamentally disagree with – I don’t “believe in freedoms” in the same way as a liberal may believe in rights. I’m interested in what the hallmarks of the kind of society I want are. Freedoms are in some ways the equivalent of rights in my way of thinking, but they don’t have the same structural significance. (I hope you see what I’m getting at; to elaborate any further would guarantee inclusion in Pseud’s Corner.)

I don’t see how rights can prevent anything if they’re merely a convenient fiction. You have no basis for securing agreement on what rights should be seen to exist.

However, in practice I do what you do to a certain extent – I support the existence of some rights in law even if I would rather not characterise them that way (eg the right to strike, the right to family life etc) because they generally increase the power of sections of society with which I identify. (However, I would rather that trade unionists take collective action to force employers to back down on abuses than go through the law courts.)

A side-point: would you accept that even if some strikes are harmful to the general interest it’s possible that curbing them would not be in the general interest because it would set a dangerous precedent that could be used against “good” strikes too?

“You hit the nail – however inadvertently”

BTW, it was intended. Maybe I’ve not been clear enough but I’ve thought throughout this thread that it is the lack of an independent legal construct that is the problem with workers’ rights right now.

As I said, you stated about people not being mature enough to sit around a table and come up with an agreement…and I agree completely, because when unions are fighting politically for tabloid space as much as they are workers’ rights, and the company is trying to show themselves as strong while also protecting the bottom line, there is nothing mature involved, and we *need* a legal way to treat these two biased parties like the bickering immature children they are.

104. Charlie 2

98. Sunny H. you ignore the demarcation disputes between unions. Disputes arose as to which trades would undertake the work , some were very arcane and resulted in conflict between the unions. A significant number of strikes arose from the competition between unions as to which one could win the largest pay rise for their members . Some people have said that is what the number of unions at place of work whcih was part of the problem, if there had been less, there would have been fewer strikes.

@Sunny

“Sure – but individuals don’t necessarily behave ‘fairly’ either. They behave in their own interests or of others. The point about collectivism is that the extra power helps you change things in your favour in a way that isn’t possible otherwise.”

Definitely, individuals can too, but the law can usually deal with that. If one person assaults another, all other things being equal, the law deals with it fairly (and it’s because this is the norm that the low rape conviction rate feels so appalling – because we can all tell that, at some level, all other things aren’t equal). It’s much harder for the law (or any other arbitration system) to deal with collective v. individual. There are two responses to this – the socialist response is to collectivise the individual and the liberal response is to make all other things equal for the individual. Interestingly, a lot of responses to the collective v. individual problem combne both types – advice charities who support individuals in disputes and also lobby for changes in the law which would make that support redundant, for example. (I guess Unions fall into this category as well, only you hear a lot less about the lobbying than you do the disputes.)

I think the liberal problem with going down the arms race of collectives route is that, whichver individuals they’re helping, they invariably have the power to hurt other individuals, so the collective v individual problem keeps arising again and again. In this respect, corporations and unions are no different – both arose as a way of helping particular people who signed up to them. Unions, like plenty of companies, have done things that have impacted badly on individuals – this isn’t because the unionists are evil, it just comes with having that much collective power. So I think this is why liberals tend on average to distrust collectives and default to the position that individuals need protecting from them (while, of course, accepting that collectives will always arise because they’re the product of an individual right to associate – companies and political parties as much as unions).

On the history question – I’m fascinated by this [Shouts of “OH NO! OH NO!”]. At the end of the 19th C, as I understand it, liberalism was coming into its own as a creed that sought a better balance between the needs of individuals – every individual – and the needs of society. (The Conservatives, by the way, get flashes of the need for this balance too, but they still think society “needs” marriage more than any individual needs a fair and unbiased tax system, for example). At the same time, the Labour movement was being born, with the specific purpose of the elevation of the worker who actually toiled over the bosses who did not. Both started to act on the old social order in the latter half of the 19th C. A lot of the time, the people they were seeking to help were the same people in practice, and still are. But the motivations are totally different – again I think something Tom Miller hits on above, if a little callously, when he says that liberals only arrive at leftish solutions “by accident”.

The trouble is, we’ll never know how a liberal 20thC would have run following the People’s Budget of 1909 (one of the biggest elevations of individual liberty over traditional societal constraints ever), because we got the Labour version of the twentieth century instead. I don’t know enough about the 20thC to do a “What if”. I expect a lot of the time, the means would look very similar – the Liberal Democrats are a collective themselves, after all. You can’t attempt to influence law without being a collective. But there would also, I think, have been a much more radical approach to breaking up power blocs, and much less emphasis on the precise relationship of the worker group to them. To a liberal, it can sometimes look as if the Labour movement’s values are frustratingly stuck in the old social order, the one that was about power blocs and privilege – private law – and who owns them. They didn’t want to destroy the old order and allow individuals to flourish, they wanted to seize the same old assets for the workers, be a player in the old order – and at some level, that still looks like what unions want. The Labour movement abandoned land value tax fifty years ago, and preferred to gather assets and powers to an organ – the state – which they knew perfectly well would be in the hands of their mortal enemies half the time. From a liberal perspective, they have utterly failed to secure the destruction of the old order, and this failure flows naturally from the emphasis on privileging groups rather than individuals.

Also, “aw thanks” to tim f.

Incidentally, just seen this on another thread:

“For those that don’t know, Wes [Streeting] is the guy who sold the NUS down the river by “phasing out the outdated 1970s trade union model” (e.g. democracy and elected officials) and introducing a board of external trustees that run the NUS like a service provider to students rather than a national union to represent their interests.”

If any of this is anything like half true, it’s quite a good illustration of the innate problems with collectivism (and this isn’t a request for further information! See it as an abstract example). Once you’ve made a group more powerful than individuals, it can do anything – including turn itself against its original stated purpose. This is how totalitarian governments arise, after all.

“A policy paper from 2005, under different leadership, seems a bit remote.”

It is current Lib Dem policy, just restated by Vince Cable (as is the point of the above post once it was clarified that that is all he had done) and came from a motion proposed by Lib Dem constituency parties, and was then approved by their policy working group, before being put to the floor of another Federal Policy Conference and approved overwhelmingly, and then put in their manifesto for the last general election.

I think you may not fully understand how Lib Dem policy works – it doesn’t come from “the leadership” but is developed and agreed by the party as a whole through its internal democratic processes.

As for point 2 – Clegg may have said that, but the Liberal Democrats voted against the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill and have opposed adoption of the EU directive that it sought to implement, so I’m not sure exactly what he wants to do about it. Though I’m admittedly unsure what Lib Dem policy is other than opposing the agency workers directive, off the top of my head.

Their policy of privatising the Royal Mail is bitterly opposed by the trade unions so I’m not really sure where that gets us, but is anyway somewhat tangential to the main point of this thread.

109. Brian Robinson

@Nick (108)

“… for the last general election”

Yes, that was what I was getting at: it was some time ago. :-)

“I think you may not fully understand how Lib Dem policy works”

That’s very patronising. Actually, I do. And anyway it doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the point I made — and which you kindly quoted at the start of your comment — which was that a policy paper from 2005, under different leadership, seems a bit remote.

I agree that the Royal Mail issue is “somewhat tangential”. I was trying very hard to find something specific. However, in following up something else you said, I think I’ve stumbled on something which may inform the discussion about Lib Dem policy on workers’ rights.

You say that “the Liberal Democrats voted against the Temporary and Agency Workers Bill”. A BBC report from 22 February 2008 says: “MPs voted by 147 to 11 – a margin of 136 – to back Labour MP Andrew Miller’s bill, proposing to give agency workers the same rights as permanent staff.” (It also mentions that the Labour leadership was opposed to it, and wanted to find a better way to achieve the bill’s objectives.) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7258109.stm

The Liberal Democrats have rather more than 11 MPs — so it seems they did not vote against it, at least on that occasion. Abstention may indicate they did not like the bill’s drafting, for instance, rather than being opposed to what it was trying to achieve. Andrew Miller himself says on his website that he “did not anticipate it becoming law as drafted” (http://www.andrew-miller-mp.co.uk/7a1180b8-914a-9834-0146-20588f586324) and it seems it did not, because in the recent Queen’s Speech the government again proposed that agency workers should have “the right to equal treatment on pay, holidays and other basic conditions.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8366735.stm

Can you back up your claim that the Liberal Democrats voted against the bill?

Searching for the Liberal Democrat view, I found a conference motion passed on 20 September 2009 with a commitment to: “Strengthening employment law in relation to agency and temporary workers.” (http://tinyurl.com/yagehnm) The policy paper the motion refers to says only slightly more: “Strengthening employment law in relation to agency and temporary workers to ensure that the lowest-paid workers are protected.” (http://tinyurl.com/y8za6sx – see page 5 of the PDF)

None of this helps with regard to the right to strike, which is the main issue here, and I apologise to everyone for going on for so long Liberal Democrat policy — I thought I’d given up doing that many years ago! But I didn’t like being patronised by someone suggesting I “may not fully understand how Lib Dem policy works”, and also I genuinely wanted to find out what the Liberal Democrat position really is, and share that with you all. :-)

My point on LD policy is not to be patronising – lots of people do not understand the Lib Dem policy process…and frankly why would they?!

I simply wished to make two factual points – that the change in leadership isn’t all that relevant because Lib Dem policy doesn’t generally come from the leadership (this one certainly didn’t) and that it is current, rather than merely historic, Lib Dem policy. This is quite relevant because of the shock and outrage over Vince Cable’s remark – when all he was doing was stating the party’s official policy.

Looking at the Hansard, neither of us is entirely in the right. They did not get the chance to vote against the original (2007) Bill because it was talked out rather than voted down. But they placed on the record their opposition to it:

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I am required to place on record that my party does not support the Bill. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to do so.” [Hansard col 1250, 2 Mar 2007]

There was then the subsequent Bill promoted by Andrew Miller, which is what I think you were referring to above. As you may be aware, Private Member’s Business is not whipped, so there is often only the one duty Lib Dem frontbencher there on a Friday and the number of votes cast is fairly irrelevant. On this occasion, the LD spokesperson was Lorely Burt, who said “we will oppose the Bill on Third Reading unless it comes back substantially amended after negotiations with employers, and particularly with bodies representing the employment agency industry.”

“…and share that with you all.”

I suspect it’s only us still on this thread now. :-(

And we should probably be doing something more useful…

111. Brian Robinson

Okay, accepting that it is probably only us on this thread now, and that we should certainly be doing something more useful, let me briefly follow that up… ;-)

Sorry if I was over-sensitive about your comment that I “may not fully understand how Lib Dem policy works”. It did feel very personal, and is entirely wrong. But I’m sure it was well meant.

I accept your two factual points — and I agree, up to a point. However, new leadership can mean new priorities, and party policy as determined by the members is not always the best guide to what will end up in the manifesto, for instance. It will be interesting to see what happens on that.

But I suspect you are right, and it will indeed turn out to be an accurate reflection of current thinking, it’s just that I wanted something solid to base that on in considering the implications of what Vince Cable has said (and not said) about strike action.

Just to tie up loose ends in terms of the 2005 policy paper, I think it was written by a party working group, and was then endorsed by a motion voted on at the spring 2005 conference. That’s the usual process (or at least it was, when I last had any involvement, about 20 years ago, and the documents I have found suggest that hadn’t changed in 2005). It appears there was a separate vote on the policy of binding arbitration, and it was retained. The relevant part of the motion refers to “introducing a right for the government, when supported by both Houses of Parliament, to require both workforce and employers to submit to binding arbitration where the workforce in a vital area of the economy has voted for industrial action” (see the PDF of the motion: http://tinyurl.com/ybpauvr).

I can’t find the policy paper itself. The party website only seems to have them going back as far as 2006.

112. domestic extremist

@ Tim J: Why we’ve not moved to a system of legally binding independent tribunals on the issue of fair pay I do not know.

Possibly because in relation to the struggle between capital and labour, no credible independent position exists.

Domestic, I think you have a point. BA and Unite are fighting over an economic rent arising from BA’s takeoff slots. Neither party deserves this rent, and so there is no independent fair distribution of it.

The rail dispute on the other hand is not between labour and capital, but labour and voter. Or rather between a tiny fraction of labour, and voter. If there is a “rent” to be fought over, it is the deep pockets of the taxpayer. But this view of course sets the rail workers against all the other workers in the country.

What has been possible in other parts of the public sector is a no-strike agreement that defines an “independent” view on pay, etc, and a body to determine increases, etc. While there are no cast-iron guarantees that either side will honour it, this would seem to be a good idea.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Carol Roper

    RT @libcon: Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 #abolishslavery

  2. AdamRamsay

    RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 << Jesus Christ – astonishing piece from @jim_jepps

  3. Tom Scott

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  4. AdamRamsay

    @amnestyUK – would you like to respond to @vincecable saying we should abolish the right to strike?: http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  5. gemma tumelty

    'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  6. Neil Wigglesworth

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  7. Leischa

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  8. melnik0v

    RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  9. Sarah Currier

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  10. Matthew Deaves

    Cuddly "Uncle Vince" Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes: http://goo.gl/FFf4

  11. Ellie Price ??

    RT @AdamRamsay: RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 << Jesus Christ – astonishing piece f …

  12. Victoria Mills

    RT @gemmatumelty 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  13. Elly M

    Hmph. Going riiight off Vince Cable. http://bit.ly/bLTB56 (via @libcon)

  14. bashmore

    Bit disappointed to read Cable saying he's against strikes: http://goo.gl/FFf4 need to read bit more into it,but doesn't sound good

  15. D Braniff-Herbert

    Not as cuddly as he appeared on Monday, then? RT @libcon Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  16. Paul Smith Bristol

    RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/c9PPXM

  17. Paul Smith Bristol

    RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/c9PPXM

  18. Paris Gourtsoyannis

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  19. Gus Baker

    RT @libcon: Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/8YE7ak

  20. Gwyneth Brain

    RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/c9PPXM

  21. Lee Griffin

    What Vince Cable *really* said about "banning" strikes (check my comment at 47). http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  22. House Of Twits

    RT @Niaccurshi What Vince Cable *really* said about "banning" strikes (check my comment at 47). http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  23. carrie sherlock

    RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  24. Tom Black

    RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  25. Elly M

    via @helenic Looks like @LibCon have done some bad reporting. More: http://is.gd/b8eql. Mind you, what he *did* say is bad enough. :-/

  26. Tribune

    RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/c9PPXM

  27. Tony Dowling

    RT @VoteDrinkall: Cable is against public and private sector strikes http://goo.gl/FFf4 That and his support for cuts shows Lib Dems to …

  28. NR

    RT @VoteDrinkall: Cable is against public and private sector strikes http://goo.gl/FFf4 That and his support for cuts shows Lib Dems to …

  29. Liberal Conspiracy

    Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  30. House Of Twits

    RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  31. James Cowley

    RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  32. AndyG

    RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  33. Political Animal

    RT @libcon Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 <Very illiberal stuff from the sage of Twickenham.

  34. John

    Spot on. From all the hype you'd think we had a general strike on! RT @libcon Vice Cable's demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  35. paulstpancras

    RT @pickledpolitics Not very liberal of him is it? RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  36. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by houseoftwits: RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  37. Lee Griffin

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  38. Johanna Baxter

    RT @gemmatumelty 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  39. gemma tumelty

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  40. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  41. Joshua Fenton-Glynn

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  42. Darren Eurwyn Lewis

    RT @HouseofTwitsLab RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  43. irene rukerebuka

    @pickledpolitics "Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 " He's an economist&thinking what strikes do2an economy

  44. Mary Maguire

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  45. Ellie Gellard

    RT @BristolRed: RT @HouseofTwitsLab RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  46. Lisa

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/ Damn right.

  47. Two Seven Two

    Wow, the Lib Dems are really alienating me this time round RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  48. Joe Anderson

    RT @HouseOfTwitsLab: RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  49. Arnie Craven

    Vince wants to ban striking in essential public services? I might have to re-evaluate my opinion of him. http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5

  50. lee james brown

    RT @pickledpolitics: Not very liberal is it? RT @libcon: Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56 < or democratic

  51. David Hodges

    RT @BevaniteEllie: RT @BristolRed: RT @HouseofTwitsLab RT @libcon Vice Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  52. Lolwhites

    RT @libcon: Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/8YE7ak

  53. Colin Hall

    Not as cuddly as he appeared on Monday, then? RT @libcon Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  54. Gez Kirby

    RT @gemmatumelty: 'St Vince' not so saintly arguing an end to the right to strike http://tinyurl.com/yhnp5r5 (via @libcon) #disgraceful

  55. D Braniff-Herbert

    Not as cuddly as he appeared on Monday, then? RT @libcon Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  56. D Braniff-Herbert

    Not as cuddly as he appeared on Monday, then? RT @libcon Vince Cable's shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  57. Rick Coyle

    This is not "Liberal" or Democratic. "Lib-Dim" it is then! RT @libcon Vince Cable's demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  58. jynxzero

    RT @bristolwestpaul: RT @libcon Vice Cable’s shocking demand to ban strikes http://bit.ly/c9PPXM

  59. Ron Gordon

    RT @libcon: Vince Cable's shocking demand to curb strikes http://bit.ly/8YE7ak

  60. Liberal Conspiracy

    RT @Niaccurshi: What Vince Cable *really* said about "banning" strikes (check my comment at 47). http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  61. HouseofTwitsLib

    RT @Niaccurshi What Vince Cable *really* said about "banning" strikes (check my comment at 47). http://bit.ly/bLTB56

  62. Darren Johnson

    Vince Cable wants to ban strikes in 'essential public services', eg BA cabin crew. Where liberal values gone? http://bit.ly/bNLbbs

  63. Derek Oakley

    RT @DarrenJohnsonAM: Vince Cable wants to ban strikes in 'essential public services', eg BA cabin crew. Where liberal values gone? http://bit.ly/bNLbbs

  64. Lucio Buffone

    RT @DarrenJohnsonAM: Vince Cable wants to ban strikes in 'essential public services', eg BA cabin crew. Where liberal values gone? http://bit.ly/bNLbbs

  65. In which this blog is renamed Liberal Democrat Outside « Left Outside

    […] the Lid Dem’s latent antipathy to the Labour movement, I’m still happy that the anyone else is David […]

  66. Louise Johnson

    @fatrat Yes, &: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/ Brit Airways = "vital public service"??

  67. Robin Johnson

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/ This might have lost my vote again. Bother.

  68. Simon Barrow

    Does Vince Cable want to ban strikes? http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/

  69. Darren Eurwyn Lewis

    Guess Vince Cable learned his Union views wrkin 4 Shell http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/

  70. Joshua Fenton-Glynn

    @kateru http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/31/vice-cables-shocking-demand-to-ban-strikes/ :-)

  71. We still need the unions « Too Much To Say For Myself

    […] It’s already illegal for police or prison officers to strike, and there are some politicians, Vince Cable in particular, who’ve made it clear that they want to see a curb on the ability of workers in other key […]

  72. Kevan Nelson

    @MrsHobba He ain't got a heart – a treacherous Labour defector who would deny public sector workers the right to strike http://bit.ly/aALE53

  73. Josephine Grahl

    Vince Cable already has form on wanting to limit workers' rights, of course: http://t.co/KwnQxdM





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