Trades Union desk

“Things got out of hand.”

Whenever I hear government ministers exclaim their admiration for Singapore as a model for a UK unfettered by the rules of the EU Single Market, I reach for two things: The Amnesty International report on that low-regulation city-state, and my slim volume of the European Convention of Human Rights, writes John O’Farrell.

This is the great lie about economies which we are told are ‘light-touch regimes’. They may be featherweight for capital and those who hold it, but they are usually darned repressive for those who lack it. Singapore is no easy place for local dissenters or any opponents of the sunny optimism one expects from a polity ruled by a single party since 1959. Journalism is defined by self-censorship and regular applications of sedition laws. Migrant workers are exempt from local employment laws, with predictably ghastly outcomes.

The other threat made is for the UK to abandon the Customs Union, and seek a quickie deal with US President Donald J Trump. The UK trade negotiators would be led by Dr Liam Fox, whose last outing in government has already permanently attached the word ‘disgraced’ to his name forever. Trump’s idea of a Labor Secretary is Andrew Puzder, a fast-food billionaire who was successfully sued by the government agency he plans to lead for non-payment of overtime to his workers. He opposes any rise in the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour. Just consider the art of that deal and its consequences for fairness in the UK’s shrunken state.

“The Leave campaign promised people more control over their lives. But now bad bosses are trying to hijack Brexit to let them walk all over working people.”

General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC)

The Brexit-supporting tabloids are howling for a complete ban on strikes in the public sector, after their and the Government’s failure to subdue the train drivers and the junior doctors. So, can we trust the word of the Prime Minister when she says that employment rights are safe in her hands?
The UK already has the most repressive legislation towards trade unions that money can buy. Some donors are demanding more bang for their bucks. One is Simon Boyd, the REIDsteel boss (and contributor to UKIP and Business for Britain) who wrote to each MP urging them to use Brexit to scrap a whole swathe of protections for working people, including working time, holiday pay and health and safety. TUC leader Frances O’Grady responded: “The Leave campaign promised people more control over their lives. But now bad bosses are trying to hijack Brexit to let them walk all over working people. No-one voted to leave to lose vital protections like safe working hours and fair holiday pay.” Nor did they vote to leave the Single Market, which provides the floor for workers’ rights across the EU.

We cannot trust the Tories with workers’ rights. It’s absurdly simple. As simple as the obvious unsuitability of certain entrepreneurs to run businesses and manage human beings, Bosses such as these:

  • “The employee wasn’t a good worker so I didn’t think they deserved to be paid the National Minimum Wage.”
  • “It’s part of UK culture not to pay young workers for the first three months as they have to prove their ‘worth’ first.”
  • “I thought it was ok to pay foreign workers below the National Minimum Wage as they aren’t British and therefore don’t have the right to be paid it.”
  • “She doesn’t deserve the National Minimum Wage because she only makes the teas and sweeps the floors.”
  • “I’ve got an agreement with my workers that I won’t pay them the National Minimum Wage; they understand and they even signed a contract to this effect.”

Those are the top five excuses proffered by supposed adults who were caught not paying the minimum wage in the past year. At the ICTU’s Migrant Workers’ Support Unit, we hear this stuff every week. On such minds, the future of our prosperity lies…

One can respond with despair, or rage, or some strange way, hope. The people around Trump, the alt-Right with their ‘alternative facts’, the racists crawling out from under every rock, the free-market cranks and the know-nothing populists have something else in common beyond malevolence towards any progress from the past 100 years. It is the insight from Bob Woodward’s source into the Watergate scandal:

“Forget the myths the media tell you about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”
Those memories of the Nixon era can provide fear and comfort in equal doses.

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