As a Councillor you spend a lot of time listening to presentations … and you learn to smell a rat, too – that point where the speaker starts to talk a little faster, or glosses over an issue, or become a bit vague.
THAT’S the point to ask the question – to probe a little further into the matter.
Whether or not this applies in the House of Commons I can’t say, of course, but if I had been a Labour MP last week listening to George Osborne’s speech, these are the bits I would have been questioning.
Divide and Conquer
I can also announce that we are asking the independent Pay Review Bodies to consider how public sector pay can be made more responsive to local labour markets – and we will ask them to report back by July next year.
Some newspapers have picked up on this. What it LOOKS like is that the government intends some time in the future to pay public sector workers less in the north than in the south. One corollary of this will be to destroy the power of the national unions – negotiations will be done at local level. What chance do you think the north-east has if this becomes the case?
Mortgaging the Future
The Government has negotiated an agreement with two groups of British pension funds, to unlock an additional £20 billion of private investment in modern infrastructure.
This has been widely, and generally favourably, reported on the news and in the newspapers. It sounds to me as though it is going to be a variant of PFI – the pension funds will put up the money, but will get a return over time. I am worried that the Chancellor has given us no details just of what return they will get.
The point about both this scheme and PFI, of course, is that they don’t show up as borrowing, but they are nevertheless a kind of borrowing – except that, instead of paying the low interest rates it can get at the moment, the government commits the British public to some catastrophic contract for the next N years, by which we pay back much, much more than a mere 2%pa!
An Assault on Workers’ Rights
This Government has introduced flexible working practices and we are committed to fair rights for employees.
But what about … the right to work all hours running a small business and not be sued out of existence by the costs of an employment tribunal?
It’s no good endlessly comparing ourselves with other European countries.
The entire continent is pricing itself out of the world economy.
This passage of the Chancellor’s speech is by far the blackest and most frightening.
And it’s not just the phrase ‘the right to work all hours’ that British workers need to fear.
What Mr Osborne is saying is that all Europe – ‘the entire continent’ – is too soft on its workers to compete in the world economy. And the implication of that is that all Europe needs to be heading down a path to give European workers rights which WILL compete in a world economy … the same rights, for instance, as workers in China? or in Thailand?
That paragraph, Mr Osborne, was a glimpse of a TERRIFYING future for workers under this socially-fascist government.
The Youth Contract and its Implications
Finally, whilst outlining the new proposed ‘Youth Contract’, the Chancellor said this:
But as the Deputy Prime Minister has said – this is a contract.
Young people who don’t engage with this offer will be considered for Mandatory Work Activity, and those that drop out without good reason will lose their benefits.
This is ‘workfare’ writ large. It appears to be saying that young people will be offered an apprenticeship, without remuneration other than their JSA benefits. If they don’t (can’t) pursue this apprenticeship (and does this include if they are sacked, fail the exams, refuse to do certain tasks?) they will be set to ‘Mandatory Work’ … and anybody who refuses that will starve.
I’m reminded of the ‘them-that-don’t-work-don’t-eat’ philosophy of my mother’s boss during the war.
And you are blind if you cannot see the implications for the existing workforce of a large body of unemployed youths, available free to industry, and obliged to do anything their employer chooses to demand.
A Worry for the Future
When Mr Osborne was delivering his Autumn Statement, he was talking as much to the Markets as he was the people. He was wanting to assure them that – however successful the #N30 strike the next day – the government was still going do the Market’s bidding, still going to screw down the workers and maximise returns to business.
So he might simply have been showboating for the Markets.
But what ought to worry every worker – and especially those in the targeted Public Sector – is how far he meant what he implied.