Ed Balls has described the current downturn as the greatest crisis of capitalism “in the last hundred years”, and wage-freezes and mass-lay-offs are biting hard. Many of the millions of workers who are members of TUC-affiliated unions will be hoping that this august body will be standing up for them at this difficult time, perhaps by co-ordinating some sort of campaign of action to defend jobs. What does this organisation (whose headline slogan is the appalling “Britain at work”) so keen on ‘training’ and ‘advice’ advise that workplace activists do to stop the redundancies?
All is revealed in two new TUC pamphlets, Coping with the economic downturn and Facing redundancy. That’s right, ‘Coping’ and ‘Facing’, not ‘Resisting’ or ‘Stopping’. Indeed, neither publication features a single word on collective organising to stop redundancies, in a fully accurate reflection of the fact that the TUC will not be doing anything to prompt such action. Anyone looking over the TUC website will search in vain for any reference to trade unionism as a useful tool to stop the employers in their tracks.
Brendan Barber, the bureaucrat-in-chief at Congress House, explains why this is the case, “unions have always been there to help people resolve issues and problems at work. But we know our members – and all working people – also need our support beyond the workplace.” ‘Beyond the workplace’ is quite a euphemism for ‘once we’ve done nothing to “resolve your problems at work” and you’re out on the pavement’. Console yourself with the redundancy calculator.
Unemployment may rise by more than a million, but the TUC say nothing about how trade unions might respond as collective organisations, only how they can give advice to isolated individuals, “if you think that your dismissal has been unfair – even if your employer has told you that it is as a result of you being made redundant – you should take advice and you may be entitled to compensation if you make a claim to an employment tribunal… Many employers will act fairly, and – particularly if a union is involved in the process – do far more than the legal minimum if they are making redundancies.” The primary result of redundancies will be to force fewer people to do the same amount of work, yet all the TUC says on the reasons behind lay-offs is “redundancies happen when an employer reduces their workforce. This may be because a workplace is closing down or because fewer people are needed or expected to be needed for work of a particular kind.”
Most of the pamphlet Coping with the economic downturn, in fact, is about what you should do after you have lost your job. Information about how you can claim benefits, or how you can get training (training for what jobs?) is all very worthy, although one might expect that the leadership of the British labour movement would have more to say about how we as a class can deal with the crisis than giving the extremely useful ‘advice’ that you could “look carefully at your spending and see if there is anything you are able to cut down on”, or that “many newspapers have job vacancy adverts, usually near the back under the ‘classified’ section”, or telling us the number for Shelter (a charity supporting the homeless and poorly housed, whose own workforce recently took strike action). There is absolutely nothing political, campaigning or reflecting that the TUC is an agglomeration of trade unions.
Essentially, the TUC argument boils down to the ideas that (i) mass lay-offs are unavoidable and the recession a force of nature: we’re all in it together and have to tighten our belts and ‘cope’ with poverty (ii) if you get training and look in the local paper and the job centre, there’s plenty of work going! Perhaps Brendan Barber should try flogging his pamphlets to the people visiting Hackney JobCentre, where there’s 37 claimants per job advertised and the job seekers’ allowance has fallen by more than a third in real terms since 1980.
The TUC is redundant! Lay off the bureaucrats!