Tuesday, 14 June 2016

My thoughts on "The great wages grab", and what should be done about it

It's scary but true - the amount of the UK's wealth that goes into wages is falling, and has been since the mid 1970's.  The problem is very real, and even right-wing commentators have expressed worry that this could "lead to capitalism's undoing".

During the same period, the decline is linked to a dramatic decline in collective bargaining coverage:

The "Gini" index refers to inequality.

These graphs are grim.  Deliberate attacks on collective bargaining have reduced the amount of wealth going into wages,enabled greater inequality, and enabled out of control executive pay.  And as the next graph shows, the top 0.1% do perversely well where collective bargaining is lower:

It’s VERY hard to get a union going. In order to have your Human Right to bargain collectively for pay and conditions, you have to go through loads of hoops, often in a stressful environment as the employer applies it’s pressure.  

How ridiculous it would be if other Human Rights, eg trial by jury, was something you only got if you were well informed enough to register to opt-in? 

It would be laughable to say “people should have the right NOT to want trial by jury” – or indeed to allow people to opt out of other Human Rights. The point about rights is that they are supposed to be universal. UK law makes it much much easier to opt out of union rights than it does to opt in.

The is no justification for the way UK employment law is structured. The default position is that there will be no union and no collective bargaining. What we have got is a statutory recognition procedure that sounds reasonable, but isn't. In practice, the odds are stacked against achieving collective bargaining.  

The law doesn't even guarantee union organisers reasonable access to the workers so they can make an informed choice.  Normally, a "recognition campaign" starts with leafleting outside the workplace gates.  Not a fair start...

When it comes to union recognition, both the union and the employer run a campaign. This process creates a range of emotions in workers, eg excitement, stress, pressure. The nastier the employers campaign, the more stressful it can be for people.

Why should a basic matter of Human Rights be forced upon people as a controversial choice they have to make? 

Our law is upside down. Here's how I think it should look:

All workplaces should automatically fall under a collective bargaining agreement, with Union recognition the automatic assumption.  A de-recognition procedure is not necessary. If workers don't want collective bargaining, the workplace union will either fail to submit a wage claim, or to do so would be pointless if the workers did not support it. The "right" not to have collective bargaining is nonsense and the idea deserves contempt.

Smaller workplaces could be serviced via pooling them together into local union branches. (Currently, our weak recognition laws do not even apply to "bargaining units" of less than 20 workers, although the issue can be forced by industrial action.)

As part of a new law, all workers would be automatically enrolled into the recognised union via salary checkoff (but given the right to leave.) 

What is astonishing is just how fantastic for Britain the effects of this would be:

* All working people would have a collective voice at work, with access to advice from day one of employment.

* Sexual Harassment would be greatly reduced.

* Wages would go up. This would help economic recovery and social justice far better than any living wage policy ever could.

* Sick pay would gradually improve, reducing the need for workers to get into trouble with loan sharks. This would relieve pressure upon families.

* Society would become fairer and more equal.

* The pressure upon families of insecure work would ease as jobs become more secure.

* Things would get much better for "non-core workers", such as guards, cooks, cleaners etc, most of whom are treated terribly.

As wages go up, so do tax receipts.

The national share of wealth earned by workers would start to increase, delivering fairness, delivering justice. We would be building a Britain to be proud of.  There would be a floor you cannot go below, but also a capped ceiling you cannot go above. Social cohesion, increased equality and a happier population would undoubtedly be the outcome.

What's not to like?  Without a dramatic shift in law and policy on Trade Unions, the problems will only get worse. Pro-union policy is the only way to deliver a fair share of wages, stability of employment, and an improved economic system that's less prone to the reckless behaviour of the few.

Further reading:

LSE on the reduction of GDP going into wages.

NEF - "UK paying price for decades of anti-union policy and law"

TUC - Report, "The Great Wages Grab"

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