The Trade Unions Slam Tory Plans To Ban Strike Action And Sell Off Council Homes

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GMB members on a TUC demonstration against Tory cuts and demanding a decent pay rise
GMB members on a TUC demonstration against Tory cuts and demanding a decent pay rise

THE TUC on Tuesday rubbished Cameron’s claim of good news in the economy and slammed Tory plans to outlaw strikes.

It was commenting on the latest inflation figures published on Tuesday, which show Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation at zero per cent for the second month in a row, and core inflation falling to one per cent.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Zero inflation is a mark of the weak condition the economy has been left in by a failed economic plan.

‘Stagnating prices are not a sound foundation for the strong and sustained pay rises that workers have been waiting years for.

‘With the threat of deflation set to continue, the Conservatives’ plans for extreme cuts after the election look more and more like a suicide note for the UK economy.’

Commenting on proposals on tax policy in the Tory Party manifesto, O’Grady said: ‘This is not a manifesto for minimum wage workers.

‘Most already pay no income tax, but have been hit hard by higher VAT and tax credit cuts.

‘And the Conservatives cannot meet their welfare cuts target without further huge cuts to support for low-paid workers.

‘The big winners from the promised, but unfunded, Conservative tax cuts are set to be high earners and the rich.’

Responding to proposals on strike ballots in the Tory manifesto, O’Grady said: ‘The Conservative plans on industrial action ballots will make it almost impossible for unions to call a legal strike.

‘No other mainstream political party in the democratic world has suggested such a fundamental attack on this basic human right.

‘David Cameron has admitted that Britain needs a pay rise, but he wants to stop workers doing anything about it.’

The GMB union said: ‘We will soon see the double standards as, if the Tories are returned again, they will have no hesitation in forming a government while not securing 40% support from the electorate.’

It was commenting on the Tory Party election manifesto commitment that strike ballots in public services will require 40 per cent support from those entitled to vote.

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said: ‘Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010. Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support.

‘We will soon see the double standards in operation as, if the Tories are returned again, they will have no hesitation in forming a government while not securing 40% support from the electorate.

‘Yet they propose to use that power to impose a 40% threshold on trade union members voting for strike action.

‘As they make it harder to strike, they even plan to make strike-breaking easier.

‘The Tories are class warriors. They are the party of the rich and powerful seeking to shackle workers seeking to defend themselves after years of pay freezes.’

Unite, the country’s largest union, warned: ‘The proposed crackdown in the Tory manifesto to deny workers the democratic and legitimate right to take industrial action to defend their jobs and pay is a throwback to the worst excesses of the Thatcher era.’

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: ‘The Tories’ proposed crackdown on trade union rights is an attempt to turn the clock back to the era of Margaret Thatcher and her union-smashing agenda.

‘When it comes to electoral credibility and thresholds, David Cameron must be a little red-faced when so many of his own cabinet and ministers failed to win 40 per cent of the vote in the 2010 election.

‘The fact is that trade unions in the UK already face some of the most restrictive laws in Europe.

‘If David Cameron wants to increase participation in ballots then he should join us in demanding the right to secure online voting and the ability for workers to vote in their workplaces.’

Unite noted: ‘The Tory manifesto proposes to outlaw strikes in essential public services, such as health, education, fire and transport, unless at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots do so.’

Commenting on the Tory Party manifesto, Jon Skewes, Director of policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘We welcome the part of the Conservative manifesto that commits the party to improving access to mental health support for women during and after pregnancy.

‘Such care is very patchy across England right now, so committing to make it accessible everywhere would be a step forward.

‘Maternal mental health must be a priority, whichever party or parties form the next government. This improvement would require more midwives as well as health visitors and it’s unfortunate that there is no explicit commitment to more midwifery staff.

‘We are deeply concerned about the Conservative proposals to introduce new rules making it harder for staff to take industrial action.

‘It would be odd to require at least 40 per cent of union members to back any industrial action when, say, an MP like George Osborne has failed at every election to win the support of at least 40 per cent of voters in his Tatton constituency.

‘It sounds like they want to introduce one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.’

Commenting on the Tory manifesto pledges on education, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: ‘In the space of five years, the coalition government has de-skilled the profession by dropping the requirement that teachers should be qualified, atomised the education system so that schools are pitted against one another, and worsened pay and pensions to such an extent that many talented teachers are leaving.

‘It is a legacy of centralised power, an obsession with testing, and a narrowing of the curriculum.

‘Teachers are now working anything up to 60 hours per week, yet the Education Secretary’s vocal promise to tackle this problem came to little.

‘This is a government which sought to run 25,000 schools from Whitehall, despite it being impossible.

‘They also presided over a school places crisis which continues to grow.

‘By enabling the academies and free schools movement, the coalition government has robbed local authorities of the powers to plan and provide school places to meet demand.

‘Instead, we have schools opening where they are not needed and, elsewhere, class sizes are increasing.

‘The Conservative Party’s manifesto, aside from more of the same, pledges resits for those beginning secondary school who did not reach Level 4 in Key Stage 2 SATs.

‘The last thing that schools or pupils need is yet more high-stakes testing.

‘Recent research shows that children are becoming conditioned to the idea of school as a place for exams. Creativity and personal development have been sidelined.

‘The NUT’s education manifesto sets out a far more positive vision.

‘We need to mend a fractured education system by ending the academies and free schools programme, guaranteeing a qualified teacher for every child, restoring powers of oversight to local authorities, and reversing the downward spiral of education funding.

‘Teaching must also become a more attractive career option – this can be achieved with better pay, greater trust, less bureaucracy and no more teaching to the test.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘The Conservatives’ manifesto totally fails to mention the imminent crisis in school places, presumably because they do not want to highlight a crisis entirely of their own making.

‘It is this, combined with teacher shortages, which will be the most toxic legacy of the Conservatives’ education policy.’

She warned: ‘Converting schools into academies is not a panacea for school improvement. What does work is collaboration between schools, underpinned by effective inspection.

‘The Conservatives’ pledge to reduce the burden of Ofsted inspections on schools is not supported by any firm proposals.

‘Teachers and heads need more than warm words about Ofsted because its inspection regime is driving teachers and heads from the profession and contributing to the recruitment and retention crisis.’

Bousted added: ‘Providing additional school nursery places, led by highly trained, qualified, valued and supported early years staff would be more valuable to children than simply giving extra hours of free childcare.’

On plans for the curriculum, she said: ‘The Conservatives’ fixation with STEM subjects demonstrates a staggeringly narrow understanding of the broad knowledge and skills that children need from a 21st century curriculum.

‘We question where the Mandarin teachers will come from in the midst of a teacher supply crisis?

‘Forcing 11 year olds who do not achieve “the required standard” at the end of primary school to re-sit SATs in secondary school displays an astounding lack of understanding about how children learn, and will label thousands of children as failures as they start secondary school. It suggests the Conservatives care far more about testing than teaching children.

‘We want qualifications to be academically rigorous, but by rushing through implementation of the new GCSEs and A-level exams, without time for piloting or evaluation, the Conservatives are treating the young people taking these untested exams as guinea pigs.

‘Exams should test whether pupils can apply the skills they have learned, not just how well they can regurgitate facts. And ironically, by de-coupling AS levels from A-levels and cutting funding for 16-18 year olds’ education, the Conservatives have made it likely that many young people will study fewer subjects at sixth form.

‘In their five years in government, the Conservatives have presided over demoralisation of teachers, a recruitment crisis and increasing numbers of teachers leaving within the early years of their careers.

‘The manifesto fails to address the looming teacher crisis and the Conservatives’ role in creating an increasingly unbalanced system of teacher training and recruitment which is leading to critical shortages in crucial subject areas and particular regions.

‘Teachers and heads will now need to be convinced that a College of Teaching will be truly independent and avoid short-termism and evidence-free, ideologically-driven policies.

‘The manifesto talks of supporting children and young people with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), but in practice the availability of support has been severely weakened by cuts to local services. Changes to SEN funding have meant a shortfall for many schools, and pupils with SEN are now beginning to suffer as their support is cut because schools are having to make hard financial decisions.’

Bousted concluded: ‘The Conservatives’ promise to replace lower-level classroom-based further education with apprenticeships, on top of their planned 24% cuts to the sector, reveals their aim to dismantle FE.

‘How can the Conservatives guarantee that employers will be able to will offer high quality apprenticeships to the 40% of 16 and 17 year olds currently enrolled on vocational courses in FE colleges? And how would this be funded?

‘The Conservatives’ plans will severely limit the opportunities for young people by eliminating the huge range of options currently available at their local FE College.’

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘The manifesto launched this morning shows that the Tories are hell-bent on ratcheting up their anti-union laws.

‘That is nothing new and any such plans would meet the fiercest possible resistance.

‘This is the clearest possible case of one law for the political class and another for the working class.

‘Only a tiny handful of the hypocrites advocating these ballot thresholds has ever been elected on the same kind of percentages they are demanding in a strike vote.

‘The front line of defence against cuts and austerity is the organised working class and that is why the Tories and big business want to tighten the legal noose around our necks.

‘That’s the same as it ever was and they will have a fight on their hands.’

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, condemned Tory plans to sell off social housing.

He said: ‘The Tories are having a laugh when they say they are the party of working people. The Tories are a party for toffs, a party formed by the boss class to keep workers in their place.

‘By extending the “right to buy”, as he calls it, to housing association tenants in England, David Cameron is continuing the destructive tradition of Margaret Thatcher by making it much harder for ordinary people to find somewhere to live.

‘Because the Tories, between 1979 and 1997, destroyed the public rented sector in this country. That’s why so many people find it so hard to find somewhere to live.

‘Very little public housing has been built in Britain – the money from council house sales was siphoned off – private sector rents have soared as have the prices of privately-owned properties creating another bubble which is bound to burst soon.’

ASLEF stressed that the Tories’ plan to build 400,000 new homes is unfunded.

The Gmb said: ‘While tens of thousands of ordinary London families are unable to find a council house to rent, rich farmers and the elite are scooping them up by the tractor load and the “right to buy” has turned into a rich harvest for greedy farmers’.

A new GMB analysis shows that of the approximately 4.2 million households living in private rented accommodation in Great Britain the rent to landlords in 1.6m or 38% of them is paid in part or in full by taxpayers, paying them an annual total of £9.2 billion to these landlords in housing benefit in 2013/14.

This new analysis was published as the Tory Party pledged to open up housing association property to buy the let landlords as the Tory party did with over 40% of the council housing sold in the 1980s, the union added.

It said: ‘Of 15,874 dwellings in council blocks in Wandsworth where tenants acquired the leasehold under “right to buy” legislation some 6,180 dwellings are now owned by private landlords who rent them to private tenants.

‘That is nearly 40% of the total sold by the council.

‘There are 977 private landlords who own more than one of these 6,180 dwellings.

‘One private landlord owns 93, another owns 32, another 15 landlords each own 10 or more and a further 83 landlords each own between 5 and 9 of these dwellings.’