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Posts Tagged ‘Strikes’

Festive Strikes defy sense and reason, but we should all be mindful of the unspoken issues behind them which serve as a warning for us all

December 14, 2016 1 comment

download-1We should all recognise the value that Unions historically had in influencing positive change in the workplace. But times change and the question over whether they have continued to provide a genuine voice for poor treatment or have simply become little more than an archaic nuisance to business and government alike will certainly lend legitimacy to the arguments against Union power by the more neoliberal within them.

The effect and reach of equalities legislation has permeated through every part of society and our lives to a point which has arguably gone well beyond its point of good, and to a level where its influence has become fundamentally regressive.

From this standpoint alone, you could make a reasoned and valuable argument against any organisation or movement which seeks to progress the work of the rights lobby further, and beyond that see the power of Union Leaders as the menacing anti-business device that the untimely raft of strikes by Southern Rail, Post Office and Argos Staff this December would ultimately suggest that they are.

It is certainly true that in relative terms, there is no difference between bankers creating profit-focused financial devices that speculate the cost of products or services, indirectly raising the cost of living for us all, and a self-serving union rep who places a stranglehold strike on an employer simply to get a pay rise or a perceived improvement in terms for their fellow staff.

But should we really dismiss any kind of industrial action by narrowing cases down and concluding that personal gain is simply what its all about?

On the face of it, it really doesn’t matter if a debate is framed as a matter of health and safety or fairness over holiday conditions and pay. Gain does play a significant part, but so does the fear of loss, and both these two debates are representative of much deeper seated root causes of problems at work around us which are building up as a significant time bomb, whilst they continue to go unchecked.

Union leaders do not help themselves by behaving as if business exists only to create and facilitate jobs. It doesn’t and never has. Yet the drive to pay less for the same work to be done or to do away with specific jobs entirely in order to cut costs when profits are maintained and prices are soaring, rather gives the lie to where a public service provider’s priorities focus. The more concerning element of the Southern Rail strike debate however, is what the introduction of technology which immediately halves the staffing requirement for managing just one train alone will mean or may have already meant when considered outside of this specific context and becomes representative of the impact its is having in every area of business and employment.

Immigration is blamed by many for the loss, or rather diversion of jobs to foreign and particularly Eastern European workers, with the caricature of the Bombay-based call centre worker being used to account for the export of many others. The inference being that jobs are in some way set in stone and that it is just the terms under which they are awarded to an employee or contractor that changes.

What it doesn’t account for is the genuine loss of jobs due to technological advances having literally removed the need for a particular role to exist.

We would perhaps like to think that his march of technology is researched, developed and delivered purely on the basis of improving many different aspects of production and service delivery. That is certainly how the benefits are sold.

What is rarely mentioned – the elephant in the room, is that jobs have been disappearing for a very long time as a result of this pathway of progress, whether it has been within manufacturing, agriculture, public transport or any one of a multitude of industries and skilled areas where services or production have been highly labour intensive.

Up until now, the change has not been noticed. Workers have retrained and like the once redundant miners who moved into call centres in the North, many manual jobs have been replaced by others within newly defined service industries which are focused on producing an experience, rather than some kind of definable or tangible product we can buy.

It sounds good, and little is said when jobs are there for those with apparently transferable skills when a factory closes. But what happens when the new jobs do themselves become the target of efficiencies and the technological breakthroughs which leave a machine doing the job of many different people over its amortised lifetime at a fraction of the cost?

This whole idea will to some sound far-fetched. But the change is very real and is now becoming present as a very clear danger to a broad spectrum of jobs.

Take for instance Amazon Go, which is set to be launched in the United States early in 2017. This forward looking and innovative Company is not standing still when it comes to the platforms from which it seeks to acquire new market share. Within weeks, it will move into location-based grocery stores which do not require shoppers to use tills or a check-out system when they visit. You simply use the smartphone based Amazon Go App which does the work for you and the system even knows and calculates the change when you put an item back.

We need only consider the number of tills at a standard sized Asda, Morrisons, Tesco or Sainsburys near to where we live and the inevitable irritation that queuing to pay causes us all to appreciate just how quickly this new way of shopping could explode, taking many jobs from any one or all of these stores as the concept is rolled out and goes viral throughout the retail industry – which it inevitably will.

In business terms, this development by Amazon can only be commended as the groundbreaking step that it actually is. But the dark realities behind this very appealing change for our instore shopping habits is that its true benefit will be profit to shareholders. It will be masked by a transient benefit to us all as shoppers, but it will ultimately lead to the loss of jobs which may simply never be replaced or made available elsewhere.

The very difficult message that needs to be swallowed, fully considered and then acted upon by policy makers as a whole is that the story which underlies comparatively simple squabbles with the Unions over pay and conditions do indeed relate to the range of still unanswered questions over the continuing cost of living crisis, but are in fact just the tip of a very large iceberg indeed.

In recent weeks, highly respected British Scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and US Tesla CEO Elon Musk have both alluded to these issues with Mr Musk going as far as to suggest that government may have to consider providing a basic income. He is absolutely right.

If industry continues to deliver efficiencies via technology in the way it that it is already doing so, whilst religiously maintaining or increasing margins and raising prices despite the savings being made, profit for the few and the effect it has on the many will unquestionably result in the Government paying the bill to finance a significant workforce which has become unemployable and left without choice.

Less people paying tax will exacerbate the difficulties that the Government faces and families in genuine need will not be sustained on a level of income which doesn’t meet the increase in the cost to maintain a basic standard of living which is being dictated by and large, by the very companies who will benefit from the implementation of the technology that enables them to shed so many staff.

The alternative will be that Government must take the concept of responsible capitalism seriously and consider the steps that may need to be taken to prevent businesses growing to a point where their market share enables them to become a monopolistic menace to the very society that buys its goods or services.

In the mean time, the methods, approach and lack of consideration for the impact of their actions upon people who are struggling in the very same ways as union members are themselves in the run up to Christmas may well make any feelings of support for the Strikes feel somewhat unpalatable. But we may all nonetheless do well to appreciate the value in the story which is not being spoken by the Unions, the media and Government when for far from obvious reasons, the voice of militancy leads an employee to act.

 

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A General Strike will be little more than terrorism in a sanitised form

The saying ‘everything is relative’ is perhaps the most polite way to tell someone that they are being insular; focused only upon the impacts of a wider issue on themselves, or simply failing to grasp that each and every one of us has a different viewpoint and that they could perhaps do well to look at things a different way.

Whilst the possibility has been grumbling in the background for some time, this week has seen the first clear indication that the Unite Union is seeking to take a lead in initiating a General Strike, of the like this Country has not witnessed since 1926. But is this throw-back to an age when Unions may have still possessed some form of genuine purpose actually going to help anybody?

The excuse given for a level of action which is more likely to destroy support for Union Members rather than be of any benefit to it, is of course the measures of ‘austerity’ that the Coalition Government has apparently been taking. It is indeed no secret that these measures are resulting in the loss of jobs and Benefits; but it has also brought an end to the seemingly ceaseless momentum behind enhancement of conditions for professions which are most likely to yield Union Membership.

Even as a former business owner and politician elected on a Conservative ‘ticket’, I myself can see that there was a time when the rights and welfare of workers needed much greater consideration so that exploitation became the exception, rather than a rule in any sense at all.

But we live in very different times and the rights, conditions and systems of support which now exist at every level of business and Government for staff are already far beyond that which the Strikers of the Twenties would have ever dared to have imagined – even in their wildest dreams.

Few businesses would survive today for very long without paying wages that the market can sensibly sustain, or by providing conditions which do not genuinely reflect the value of any role within a business. Therefore, the question that we should now be asking is not whether business and Government should be forcefully coerced into paying more money in wages because of the threat of strike action from Unions, but rather if we as a Nation are already overburdened with Legislation affecting employers and their ability to create new jobs?

I consider myself as being fortunate to know and socialise with people from all walks of life and count many of them as friends. However, it has become increasingly clear that nobody has been insulated against the affects of our age of ‘austerity’, which itself has far more to do with the spiralling rises in the true cost of living for us all, rather than it does the efforts of a lacklustre Government tinkering around the edges of policy, covering cuts with band-aids when the breaks in our whole Society are so very much more profound.

Ironically, it is the very same failure on the part of Politicians to consider the full impact and self-serving nature of their actions (or lack of them) upon others and ultimately themselves that the Unions are now displaying – even by just talking-up the potential of a General Strike. Sadly, the similarities do not end there.

The horrible truth in all this is that neither the Government nor the Unions hold any genuine level of moral currency either in the way that our times of economic hardship have come into being, or by how either would act in their contributions to ultimately attempt to resolve it.

No group that is politically motivated, other than one which is truly and comprehensively people-centric will ever be ethically and morally sound. Until that time, the Unions would do well to remember that even the poorest of our Governments have been elected democratically and by majority votes.

However frustrated any of us feel, there are many more people suffering financial hardship beyond the realms of just those with Union Membership and there are far more appropriate and reasoned pathways to bring about the change that we all now need.

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