Monday, 19 December 2011

Why David Cameron Should Preach From The Union Rulebook..As Well As From Leviticus..

David Cameron this weekend spoke of how, as a country, we should return to Christian values. I have to admit that Mr Cameron trumps me on the religious activist scale. I am listed as Church of England, but have in truth only attended church on sufficient occasions to qualify for marriage, and the christening of my son.

Looking back at recent history, the financial collapse brought about by our over reliance on avaricious bankers, and the financial whims of free spending oligarchs in the stock market etc, in addition to the Tories historic derision for the lot of worker’s rights and unions, and I have to say that I couldn’t agree with him more.

This country has an ideologically contaminated government, blind to the precipice they lead us towards. Unemployment spirals out of control, benefit dependency balloons, and the government, instead of working tirelessly for a lasting solution that will lead us from the hinterland, train their collective fire upon union representatives, and those fighting for a morsel of fairness in their hard earned retirement.

We have seen recent attacks upon the paid time off for trade union representatives that were enshrined in law by Labour, much to the disgust of millionaire Tory backbenchers. Even the CBI recognise the worth of trade union representatives in business, yet still Cameron’s coalition of the cuts seems determined to remove the protection for low paid and vulnerable workers that these representatives provide on a daily basis.

We have witnessed the double speak and simple ineptitude of Francis Maude during the ‘negotiations’ regarding public pension reform, and the inflammatory and hypocritical remarks made by Michael Gove concerning the audacity of our teachers, nurses and public sector workers in actually daring to stand up for their rights and retirement. The hawkish element of the Tories, which recently seems to have assumed control of UK foreign policy, has always felt contempt for the NHS, comprehensive education, and the welfare state.

Their blind reliance upon the power of the free market has lead to an explosion in unemployment as they enthusiastically swung the axe at the public, charity and voluntary sectors, rather like the baby boom spiked our levels of populus at the end of the war.

Mr Cameron is plainly pandering to the core readership of the Daily Mail when making these comments, however, the merit of his words should not be lost upon those within his party who are shameless in their allegiance to the privileged few, and the destruction of the public sector.

Brotherly Love, Fraternity, Renunciation of Worldly Goods, Respect and Love of Your Neighbour are all extolled in detail throughout the bible. A few hours spent reading extracts from Matthew, Leviticus, John, Job, Thessalonians, Romans, and Peter, amongst others should tell Mr Cameron all he needs to know. I would also suggest that he consult the rules, aims and values of just about any democratic trade union within the UK.

We are built upon fraternity. We trade on mutual respect, commitment, public duty, community spirit, and a sense of justice that obliges us to stand united in the face of bullying, harassment, exploitation and unfairness, wherever manifested and whomever suffered by. It is our fraternal duty that has kept us strong for more than a century, and which will stand us between ordinary workers and unfettered exploitative excess, far into the future.

The irony of this is that, whilst Mr Cameron has plainly been attempting to commission a play right out of the republican election manual, all he has managed to do is highlight the listlessness of his party’s policy foundations, built upon increasingly shifting sands, whilst underlining the strengths of those whose values his party seeks to repudiate and destroy.

The Tories will continue to lament the passing of ‘collective responsibility’ ‘social cohesion’ and ‘moral values’ from their leafy shire strongholds, whist congregations encourage the onward march of Christian soldiers, whilst at the same time, the inherent values of trade unionism, ‘collective responsibility’ ‘fraternity’ and ‘mutual respect’ will continue to be ridiculed, demonised and maligned by the Tories, their millionaire backers and their right wing media bed fellows as ‘extremist’ ‘dangerous’ and communist’ when democratically actioned by workers.

Many have for years believed that the dogma of Toryism has lacked quality in many areas; a distinct lack of love and respect for fellow men, hatred for trade unionists and public sector workers, any real community concern, any regard for people occupying a lower income tax bracket and council tax band, the list goes on. If Mr Cameron has indeed enjoyed an epiphany which has illustrated for him the folly of his beliefs, and the misguided direction he leads our nation in, then I for one will doff my hat willingly in the direction of his fortitude and self awareness.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Embracing The Working Time Directive

If I were to advise David Cameron on the economy, I would suggest something that might force him to spit out his latte in disgust. Nevertheless, it is a strategy that would increase employment, decrease benefit spending, and free up public money which could be used to assist the regional economies which are being turned into scorched earth by current dogmatic Tory policies: embrace the Working Time Directive (WTD).

The heart is being torn painfully from the most vulnerable and poorest neighbourhoods in the name of 'market confidence' yet still we see unemployment figures rise, poverty levels rocket, and the continuing immolation of those sectors that traditionally lift working classes, ethnic minorities and women out of unemployment and benefit dependency.

The welfare bill is ballooning, thanks largely to Conservative indifference to rocketing joblessness in constituencies where they have no chance of electoral success. Even in 'true blue' areas, unemployment is creeping upwards whilst incumbent MPs focus attention on clamouring for promotion, rather than opening their eyes to the growing legions of jobless generations who will inflate the UK benefit bill for decades to come.

The right leaning group 'Open Europe' claim that a WTD without opt out could cost up to £11bn per year. These are frighteningly large figures, but when taken in the context of a benefit budget covering Job Seekers Allowance, Housing Benefit and Income Support of over £20bn per year, the opportunity for savings, deficit reduction, regeneration and increased employment become more obvious.

If the government were to set aside their distaste for EU regulation, natural contempt for workers rights and hostility to positive change, they would see that the end to the WTD opt out will no more destroy the economy than the minimum wage did, despite Tory claims at the time.

At a time of massive job shortages, rocketing unemployment and increasing social disconnection, it's surely logical to seriously consider the positive effects of a directive that, by nature, requires creation of jobs in order to fulfil its requirement? Placing people in work reduces unemployment, lowers benefit liabilities, stimulates the economy, and instils the work ethic that has skipped generations.

Positive effects of increased employment to disadvantaged neighbourhoods bring reductions in anti-social behaviour, and a feeling of personal pride that for many simply does not exist. It is plain to see that every penny used to implement such policies is a penny well spent. More importantly, such expenditure would save us money in the longer term.

Admittedly, the full implementation of the WTD would come at a cost, but this cost needs to be valued over the longer term, for the greater good, in the face of the bigger picture, bringing substantial social and industrial benefits.

The UK is an economy surviving on institutionalised overtime. We work harder, for longer, with fewer bank holidays than our neighbours. We have an adversarial, outdated approach to industrial relations, and successive governments have crowed about British 'competitiveness' Yet still we lag behind many other economies in terms of recovery, growth, poverty and investment. If we were running our economy in the best way, we would surely be lifting well clear of recession and racing towards economic nirvana, rather than speeding toward a fiscal tundra.

We need higher productivity, better work/life balance, and fresh approaches that will bring lower sickness rates, lower absenteeism, and greater profitability for our industries. The current system does not create these things, and needs to be consigned to history.

The economic downturn should be a watershed. The calamitous failure of strategies that scorned manufacturing and practical skills, instead worshipping financial services and all the confidence trickery that it brings, alongside an approach of selling the labour and toil of the most educationally disadvantaged and financial vulnerable for the lowest price needs to be abandoned.

Engagement by management with Unions needs to be encouraged, as does a greater openness to new ways of working on the part of those unions.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want. Do we want the status quo to prevail, whereby millionaires choose their tax contribution rates, poorer communities are left to decay and stagnate, and those fortunate enough to work are flogged into later retirement, scant pension provision and an early grave? Or do we want higher employment, lower sickness/absenteeism rates, better work/life balance, economic stimulation, better employee engagement, greater profitability and productivity, and true recognition of our manufacturing abilities?

The industry of exploitation has failed as spectacularly as the industry of investment banking. This government dines hungrily on its cosiness to the city, and its fabricated reputation for economic competence. For the appetite that we all hold for economic success to be satisfied however, the Tories, as well as business at large, urgently need to swap dining partners and choose their diet from a new menu.
(Also published by the London Progressive Journal)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

As a Driver Who Has Coped With A Suicide, I'm Shocked By Clarkson. (Republish of Comment Piece from The Guardian (5th December 2011)

This article was originally published by The Guardian website on 5th December 2011.

Recent comments made by Jeremy Clarkson offended me on a number of fronts. By belittling the struggles of trade unionists in places such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Guatemala and Colombia, they offended me as a trade unionist. They also offended me as a human being who lives by his values.

His comments on railway suicides faired little better when pitted against my own bitter experience in this subject.

On October 13th 2002, I was driving a train. I had been qualified as a driver for just 7 months. Without warning, a figure appeared in my view, and stepped in front of my train as I hurtled along at 75mph. I barely had time to react before my train impacted with her, killing her instantaneously. In that moment, my family life, perceptions, and professional confidence were as shattered as her body was pulverised.

Train Drivers are professional, well trained people, and I was fortunate in that my training helped me effectively manage the incident. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the psychological aftermath. I was immediately placed on sick leave and was unable to face driving my car for a fortnight. I was prescribed medication so I could sleep, following insomnia that lasted 3 days. I suffered nightmares, mood swings and all manner of psychological incidents, and underwent intensive counselling. In total I was off work for 7 months.

In that time I had to attend the coroner’s inquest. I was questioned by the deceased’s relatives at length, and made to relive details of the fatality in graphic detail. I had to look the children of this poor lady in the eye as I told the story of how she died under the wheels of my train. The incident still lives with me to this day, and my family still suffer my mood changes as the anniversary approaches, even 9 years later.

Despite this, I’m not the biggest victim here. Children, grandchildren, and a husband were left behind, as were friends and colleagues. I take to a point, the view that her actions were selfish, but I also lament her reaching such depths of despair that our lives had to intersect in such a devastating way. She was obviously suffering from mental pain far beyond my comprehension. I can only look upon the loss felt by her family with profound sadness and compassion.

As a result, I cannot help but be shocked by even Clarkson at the spouting of such senseless and tasteless comments. Initially I was surprised at his empathy for Train Drivers. That positive surprise was soon exchanged for disbelief. His fixation on “disruption” caused by suicides, and his wish for bodies to be “left for scavenging animals” reflects the worst of the most unfeeling commuter’s sensibilities (trust me when I say from experience that such views are not marginal, despite being the minority) as well as the type of intolerance only seen in Daily Mail editorials.

People ending their lives this way are obviously desolate and hopeless. They are in the darkest of places. They cannot see a way out. Most disturbingly of all, they are normal people. They are people like you and I. They have families, jobs and friends. It’s undeniable that their actions inconvenience many people, commuters and Train Crews alike, but they are as much symptomatic of society’s failure to grasp the nettle of dealing with mental illness, as Clarkson’s comments are a slap in the face to everyone who has ever lost a relative, friend or colleague this way, and every Train Driver who has ever had to react to, and deal with the aftermath.

Clarkson is guilty of tastelessness and insensitivity. Perhaps we as a society share this guilt in that we are complicit in failing to properly accept that we all experience some mental distress at times. We all need to change our perceptions of mental illness, and people such as Clarkson, need to realise that their comments can either further that cause, or undermine it. His comments were deeply irresponsible, and not only speak to his own questionable perspectives on life, but also the gallery to which he was clearly performing.

When all is said and done, if you are seriously considering the option of standing in front of a speeding train, you are ill. I would hope that Clarkson can push his ego to one side and ponder this point for a while. If people of his ilk could only apply themselves to helping society understand, empathise and deal with mental illness instead of using it as a vehicle to sell DVDs and books, maybe more people would know where to look for the help that may keep them from jumping in front of my train. I may cross my fingers, but I certainly will not hold my breath.