TUC targets Tories with attack on first-past-the-post system ‘no longer fit for purpose’

The Commons Chamber, November 2007 by Herry Lawford

Trade unionists escalated the emerging battle between themselves and the Tories on Tuesday in an attack on the British electoral system that referenced the slim mandate the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority rests on.

Debating at the Trade Union Congress’s annual meetup, the club backed a motion demanding a switch to a more proportional electoral system that would bring House of Commons membership in line with the national vote.

At present elections are fought through first-past-the-post, which gives each constituency seat to the candidate with the most votes in that area without consideration for how voters are dispersed across the country.

In the last general election in May this left the Tories with just over half the seats in the Commons despite netting a mere 36.8 percent of votes cast, whilst at the other end Ukip gained only 1 MP in a chamber of 650 despite capturing more than 12.7 percent of votes.

In the motion the TUC also pointed out that the “Conservative majority government was elected with the support of just 24 percent of the electorate”, a figure that includes those eligible but who did not vote.

The disparity between votes and seats was highlighted at the time of the election by the Electoral Reform Society, which campaigns for a change towards a proportional voting system.

UK general election 2015 FPTP vs PR by Electoral Reform Society

Commenting on the TUC motion, Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“Unions getting behind change was a key factor in New Zealand’s shift to proportional representation in the 1990s, so this could be the start of a major move away from our outdated voting system for local and Westminster elections in the UK. We hope that the Labour party under new leadership will take note of today’s vote and get behind real reform so that seats will truly match votes in future elections.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union which proposed the motion, added:

Far too many voices are shut out by our voting system. First-past-the-post writes off those who aren’t in swing seats, leaving millions on the electoral scrapheap. We urgently need a fairer voting system where everyone’s vote counts and so that the political diversity which now exists in the UK can be reflected in Parliament and in council chambers across the country.”

The move by the TUC coincides with parliamentary debate on the Trade Union Bill, a bill pioneered by the Tories which could curb workers’ right to strike and in turn weaken the power of the unions.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ukip are generally supportive of a proportional system, all of the parties standing to benefit from it, Labour has in the past been more equivocal on the issue, with some MPs opposing a change in a referendum in 2011.

First-past-the-post is one of the means by which the Tories have maintained themselves as the natural party of government in the postwar era, with most Conservatives campaigning against a change in that referendum.

Image Credit – The Commons Chamber, November 2007 by Herry Lawford, edited by the Right Dishonourable

Unite chief Len McCluskey disputes Tory dalliance with minimum wage

Transport House, Belfast in May 2015 by William Murphy

Len McCluskey of Unite called for more power for trade unions as he attacked the Tories’ record on prosecuting firms that avoid paying the minimum wage, in the wake of enforcement reforms from the governing party.

Speaking on Tuesday after the Conservatives detailed their plans, the head of Britain’s largest trade union questioned whether the self-declared “party of working people” truly had the plebs’ best interests at heart,  claiming there is “no substitute for strong unions at work”:

“Given the record of the Tory party on worker protection it will take some leap of faith to believe that they are now converted to the cause.

 

“Ministers themselves admit workers rarely secure the full return of the wages swindled out of them by an employer, and under this government exploited workers have been priced out of pursuing justice through industrial tribunal.”

On the same day the Tories announced plans to double penalties for those flouting minimum wage laws, increase the enforcement budget, set up a prosecution unit in tax authority HMRC, and disqualify wage cheats from directing companies for up to 15 years.

Though the business secretary Sajid Javid claimed the “one nation” Tories were “committed to making work pay and making sure hardworking people get the salary they are entitled to”, in July 2013 his party introduced employment tribunal fees for aggrieved workers and claims have since dropped.

Unrestrained by the Liberal Democrats, Javid and his ilk are also attacking union rights through the Trade Union Bill, which seeks to undermine unions’ ability to strike and potentially restrict Labour’s access to them as a source of funding.

“Trade unions are the frontline response to workplace injustice,” McCluskey said. “The truth is, when the government brings forward its bill to bring ruin to unions they will give rogue employers the upper hand.

 

“Instead of making it a mission to destroy unions, the government would be better occupied talking to us on solutions to the problems of Britain’s workplaces.”

Early this summer Unite backed hard leftist Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, one of the moves that has led the North Islington MP to become the expected winner of the contest.

Image Credit – Transport House, Belfast in May 2015 by William Murphy

Corbynite and chief PCS unionist Mark Serwotka barred in Labour purge

Mark Serwotka in June 2008 by Glastonbury Left Field

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, was barred from voting in the Labour leadership election on Tuesday after he sent in a ballot for Jeremy Corbyn via email.

The chief of the civil service and public sector union had signed up as a registered supporter of the party for £3, but was snagged by Labour’s vetting process intended to counter disagreeable lefties and trolling Tories, both of whom are seen as likely to vote for Corbyn.

Ruth Serwotka, wife of Mark, took to Twitter to complain about the decision, writing: “Mark [has] been prevented from voting in a Labour Movement election as an affiliated member. I’m very interested to hear the reasons.”

She went on to post photos of her husband campaigning with Corbyn, whose entry into the contest has ruffled a few Blairite feathers after he barely made it onto the ballot and proceeded to be much more likeable than his fake plastic rivals.

The PCS claims to be the sixth biggest trade union in Britain, with 220,000 members, and unlike the likes of Unison and Unite has not endorsed any candidate for leadership of the Labour party, which it is not affiliated with.

Serwotka has not been a member of the Labour party since 1980, according to the Independent, and has in the past voted and expressed support for other parties.

Though Labour refuses to comment on specific cases, it did earlier reveal that affiliation to other parties was grounds for being barred from the leadership election.

Other prominent figures barred in the election include comedian Mark Steel and science writer Marcus Chown, who mocked Labour on Wednesday after it was revealed the party had purged 1,900 Green party supporters in the leadership poll.

Steel has previously campaigned for the Socialist Workers Party and supported Green MP Caroline Lucas, whilst Chown joined the National Health Action (NHA) party in a bid to reverse “privatisation of the NHS”.

Image Credit – Mark Serwotka in June 2008 by Glastonbury Left Field

Unite slams cuts in oil that risk ‘another Piper Alpha’

Oil rigs, North Sea oil, Scotland, UK

 ABERDEEN – The trade union Unite has warned that spending cuts and job losses in oil could prompt another disaster on the scale of Piper Alpha’s, which led to the death of 167 people in 1988.

Tumbling oil prices in the last few weeks have led to a series of cuts in the sector, with energy consultant Wood Mackenzie estimating $170bn (£113bn) worth of cuts will be needed to maintain debt levels.

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