Posts Tagged ‘labour market’

Just what the doctor ordered

May 14, 2009

I’m glad that, amid the clamour of the past month or so, a group of comrades has got it together to start the Wage Concern campaign, lobbying to have Tory MP Christopher Chope’s bill to destroy the minimum wage thrown out of the Commons when it is debated on Friday.

It appears to have some of the best usual suspects from Labour’s online presence behind it: Alex Hilton seems to be co-ordinating a large part of it, and born-again-blogger John Prescott is (of course) right where the action is. The facebook group already has nearly 4,000 members.

This is important, I think, for two reasons.

First, the national minimum wage is one of our greatest achievements in government. Millions of the worst off are its direct beneficiaries. It tells everyone exactly what a Labour government is meant to be about. Its defence should be an absolute concern for any good Labourite.

Secondly, it shows that – notwithstanding the bashing we’ve had over the past week/three weeks/three months/three years (delete depending on how many antidepressants you’ve started taking) – there are still good Labour causes worth fighting for, and good Labour people there to fight them.

It’s easy to lose track of what politics is meant to be about sometimes, especially when the narrative is all process driven. That’s not to say that the items of process being focussed on (expenses, Smeargate) aren’t important or serious or worthy of criticism; just that, fundamentally, we’re meant to “believe” in politicians not because of their personal morality, but because of their political principles and the policies they enact.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it – Stephen Fry agrees.


Shame! Government only 87% of the way to meeting its target!

February 23, 2009

The Tories are laying into the government over its “failure” on apprenticeships.

Soulds bad, doesn’t it? Especially when David Willets is saying it will take twenty years for the government’s target of 130,000 apprenticeships per year to be met.

But wait…how have they calculated it?

There were 112,600 apprenticeships started last year. I’d say that’s pretty good – we said 130,000 by 2011, and we’re 87% of the way there.

There were 111,800 the previous year – the year in which the pledge was made.

So, David Willets has taken the change in apprentices over a single year (and that a year in which Britain first entered an official recession since the early 1990s) and extrapolated that into a trend. If a man without a basic grasp of statistics can be revered in the Tory Party for having “two brains”, what does it say about the rest of them?

Agency work to go at Mini-plant

February 16, 2009

Apparently BMW-Mini are to make 850 workers redundant at their plant in Cowley, Oxford – and the workers bearing the brunt of the layoffs will be agency workers.

Of course, it’s better to have a changed shift pattern, lower production and some redundancies now than for production to carry on and the firm to go bust within the year. Every job loss is tragic, but some are sometimes justifiable if it means keeping a firm going and not having widespread capital scrapping and huge unemployment when firms gog under after desparately trying to carry on regardless in a recession. This isn’t necessarily the firm’s fault.

What I can’t condone, however, is the increasingly arbitrary distinction between permanent and agency workers. In the BBC report linked to above, one agency worker says that he has worked at the plant for three and a half years, working side-by-side with permanent employees. And yet, when it comes to lay-off time, they are the first out.

What this has led to is an increase in the size of the temporary and agency work force – because firms can treat these workers differently, and they have fewer rights than permanent staff, thousands of workers are being denied the security of permanent contracts because firms prefer the “flexibility” of being able to deny their workers the full range of rights to which a permanent staff member is entitled by law.

We could argue around the houses for ages as to whether the firm can be morally judged for this – they would argue that it is within their legal rights (which it is), while the workers and their supporters would argue that their legal rights do not necessarily contain their more nebulous moral obligations in their entirety (or something like that).

There is a wider discussion to be had about whether something legal can be immoral; however, when it comes to the economy, there is always an incentive for a firm to do the most they can within the law to maximize their profit. Otherwise, for all of their good intentions, they will see their profit eroded by less scrupulous competitors.

What this points to, clearly, is legislation to protect these workers – to ensure that all firms are on a level playing field when deciding how to treat their workers. Deciding how to treat workers on the basis of their worth, not on the technicalities of their contract, shouldn’t be at the mercy of competitive advantage.

Workers at the Cowley plant may be heartened to discover that the local MP, Andrew Smith (who gets the thumbs up from all at Paintbrush Towers), supported the Private Members Bill last year to provide extended rights for temporary and agency workers. We can only hope that, as the recession deepens, the government will look again at this issue.

The importance of public spending in a recession

February 11, 2009

It is compulsory for Labour Party members to illustrate any mention of unemployment with a picture of the Jarrow Marchers.

It is compulsory for Labour Party members to illustrate any mention of unemployment with a picture of the Jarrow Marchers.

With the news today that unemployment may top 2m for the first time since 1997, it’s now clear that the recession is well advanced and that the worst may well not be over.

Over the past 18 months, the widely-held notion that both main parties are “just the same” appears to have been blown wide apart: partially, at first, because of the stark sylistic contract between Brown and Cameron, but latterly because of their very different responses to the recession.


A Blogging Pick’n’Mix

February 4, 2009

I love the blog Harry’s Place. It is genuinely informative on issues around Islamic extremism in the UK and it delights in indulging in a spot of Trot-bashing now and again. However, the blog’s slant is firmly pro-Israeli, and although the regular contributors have nuanced and sensible views on the Middle East situation a lot of the comments are along the lines of ‘anyone who criticises Israel is Jew-hating anti-semitic Jew-hater’. This gets tiresome after a while.

A recent guest post by s.o.muffin at Harry’s Place was thus a breath of fresh air. The idea that Israel’s actions are not necessarily rational chimes with a lot of the foreign policy analysis work that I am reading at the moment. Here’s an explanation of the cognitive bias known as ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’: when one side explains the disliked behaviour of others as a result of their disposition, while explaining their own behaviour based on the situational constraints that they face, this is a fundamental attribution error. Sounds exactly like the mainstream Israeli view of Hamas (and, to be fair, the Palestinian view of Israel).

Once you’ve read that why don’t you pop over to comrade Don Paskini’s place where he criticises the media coverage of the dispute at Lindsey and the wildcat strikes. I of course agree with the sentiments expressed by VoteRedGoGreen here, but would only like to add my distaste at those middle-class newspaper columnists who dismiss the strikers as xenophobic idiots. These workers are not going to be simply reassured that, whilst they might be losing out, skilled British labour and those dynamic enough to travel abroad to find work do well out of the European market. Anyone who has studied the political economy of protectionism knows that societies tend to be more concerned about perceived losses than they are enthusiastic about relative gains! Hopefully some sort of settlement has been reached. One of the many lessons to be taken from this is that we all need to learn more about European Union law, how it works, and how we can improve it if we need to! Perhaps we will organise a test for our readers. I wonder what Frank Owen would have made of it all?

For some light relief why don’t you take a stroll over to Dave’s Part where David Osler lays into the Daily Mail for printing brainless reactionary codswallop (something it has been known to do on occasion). To be more specific, a Mail columnist used the recent report published by the Children’s Society to blame absolutely everything that had ever gone wrong on the silliness of the left. It is along the lines of ‘Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!’ Osler gives a firm leftist rebuttal. Dave’s Part attracts a lot of Trots and they are oft to be found lurking in the comment section. I especially enjoyed the comment about the nuclear family being a creation of capitalism and that humanity needs to return to its tribal instincts. The commenter disagreed with the Daily Mail piece, for in his opinion the left is not anti-family enough! Again, I can only wonder what Frank Owen’s take on the whole thing would have been. He had a wife and son of course, but he was also an openminded sort of chap.

And so in that spirit of intellectual enquiry we at the Paintbrush will endeavour to continue bringing to your attention posts from around the blogosphere which tickle our fancy.

Captain Jako

The oil dispute: a middle way is needed

February 4, 2009

The dispute at East Lindsay Oil refinery continues, unfortunately, after workers have rejected a deal brokered by ACAS.

All of the coverage of the dispute has presented the issue as a straight choice between two options: first, the “government” option, of upholding the free movement of labour and leaving British workers on the side; or second, the “workers” option, of keeping out foreign workers in order to keep British Jobs with British Workers (to coin a phrase).

This puts pro-European socialists in a difficult place: how can we do right by our workers, keeping them in jobs at a time of great hardship, and square that with ensuring that the EU is able to function as a single labour market?

Actually, the choice put here is a false one. I entirely sympathize with the workers at East Lindsay. However, they have unfortunately misdiagnosed their problem: although it may appear so on the face of it, the system of labour market freedom isn’t causing their jobs to be lost (in fact, it brings great benefits to a huge bulk of British workers and consumers).

However, I can see why they think that – and this is where there is a place for us to make a critique. Whilst we must uphold the free movement of labour in Europe, we must also move to ensure that this does not lead to a “levelling down” of workers’ rights, pay and conditions, in which British workers are forced to either bargain down, or lose out to cheaper labour elsewhere.

This year sees European elections across the 27 member states. I would like to see a robust response from Labour and the rest of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, rejecting the false choice between neo-liberalism and labour-market protectionism, and instead proposing that protection be given to workers across the Union on an equal basis, truly levelling the playing field and ensuring that British workers don’t lose out.