Friday, November 14, 2008

A great day to kick off our celebrations – 10 Years of the NMW

I’ve blogged before about the National Young Members Forum’s plans for campaigning around the 10th Anniversary of the National Minimum Wage. Monday saw the first part of that campaign as it was launched with a seminar in London.

The day was a great gathering of people interested in the minimum wage from different perspectives. From the labour movement and the student movement to young people’s organisations and poverty groups.

The day was kicked off by our own Dave Prentis, highlighting the minimum wages importance. But not only that, he set out UNISON’s commitment to fighting for the minimum wage and a living wage.

It was followed by the legend that is Rodney Bickerstaff, former UNISON and NUPE General Secretary who was a driving force in the fight for the minimum wage. Rodney was able to give us a flavour of the history of struggle for the minimum wage, stretching back over a hundred years. But as is his style it was full of colour and entertainment.

Our own Heather Wakefield, speaking as a Low Pay Commissioner, tried her best not to dampen our spirits as she discussed the difficulties ahead in even getting a rise in the minimum wage for the next round. She also usefully set out the working of the commission and how we need to be getting involved.

A highlight for me was the speaker from ASDA. Now ASDA (particularly with their now parent company Walmart) didn’t strike me as the obvious ally. But it was fascinating to here from an employer why they (and the Employers Forum on Age representing a number of large employers) want to see the removal of age rates in the minimum wage.

On apprenticeships we heard about the scheme at North Yorkshire County Council, from both their Assistant Chief Executive (HR & Development) and UNISON Branch Secretary Wendy Nicholls. This is a scheme that UNISON is promoting heavily and included in the submission on apprentices to the Low Pay Commission. After a detailed presentation it was great to here the excitement amongst people such as poverty campaigners about the benefits schemes like that can have. It was also great to hear for NYCC that thanks to the promoting of the scheme we’ve done they have started getting approaches from other authorities interested in the scheme.

The morning was ended with the President of a Student Union in an FE college who gave a really passionate presentation on the minimum wage, highlighting the unfairness of both the age rates and the apprentice exemption. It was a great way to be sent off for lunch, and the end of the morning session ably chaired by President Sue Highton.

The afternoon was a chance to go into smaller groups and really look at the issues involved. I went into the group looking at the apprentice exemption ably led by the YWCA England and Wales. As part of the campaigning work that the young women they work with set, they have done some great work already around apprenticeships. Throughout this work the YWCA have absolutely smashed my preconceptions of them, especially as they aren’t a faith based organisation and they don’t do housing!

We then finished up with a panel session to wrap the day off with, which I chaired. This gave us all the chance to come together and have any final questions asked and round the day off.

I really enjoyed the day, after starting with some nerves that nobody was going to turn up to the party.

We’re currently working on a briefing to go out to Regional Young Members Forums to help them get involved with the campaign.
We will be organising another meeting of our partner organisations.
And setting the planning in motion for the 1st April event in Parliament.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

World politics – just a light subject for today

It’s clear that the world is changing, though sadly comrades the revolution isn’t here yet. But what the global financial crisis has brought about is that, if we must live in a market driven society, then that needs to be accompanied with strong intervention into those markets. Now I definitely support the Labour Party, but we can’t quite wriggle out of all responsibility. 3rd way politics under Blair in the UK and Clinton across the pond deregulated much that in hindsight (esp. as I am no financial expert) it would seem shouldn’t. The disaster in the US was then along came Bush who continued the low regulation regime while deliberately skewing the tax system to benefit the rich. Now our Government does have some responsibility, though everyone appreciates this is a worldwide problem; but things are changing.

Within the financial storm that’s ripping across the world; there is becoming clear distance between those that would intervene in market and those that would pull out and leave them to fail. I think the route of that division is who you care about? I’m glad to say that our Labour Government have looked at the prospects for ordinary working people, middle and low incomes alike, and decided that we must intervene to protect them. Labour are borrowing in order to maintain public spending, both to avoid the way public services were devastated for a generation and to continue to drive the economy, while bringing forward and funding new capital projects to help meet the reduction in demand from the private sector. And they are intervening to help business stay open and employing staff, and when business do have to lay off staff, Labour will do as it did close to me with the Longbridge Taskforce, supporting people back into work or training.

Whereas the Tories, Cameron’s ‘caring Conservatives’, look to the wealthy who can weather the storm and in all likelihood come out on the other side with greater ability to get richer and richer. They would certainly not be maintaining public spending, and they certainly wouldn’t be using public building programmes to drive the economy. Instead, they’re spending their time trying to rubbish Labour’s record on debt (which is good by international standards and when compared to what the Tories gave us), and calling for spending cuts to keep down the deficit. And with their proposals to benefit the richest in society through inheritance tax, it really is tax cuts for the few, service cuts for the many. It absolutely shows that the Tories have not changed, and have not learned, from the disaster they inflicted on working people when the economy faltered on their watch. They cut public spending, ruthlessly attacked public services and public sector workers and left those in need with nowhere to turn. They failed to intervene to support companies and maintain employment, turning workers on to the scrapheap and telling them to get on their bikes.

And as for those ‘left wing’ Liberals, their response is tax cuts and closing the Government department responsible for supporting businesses. They have shown nationally what many have been saying about them locally, right wing with a nice face. Now I can’t talk about world politics without a mention of the US President Elect, and the hope for a US that is there supporting all it’s people and wanting again to be a friend in the world. But as for economics I know too little and in any case it’s too soon to tell. But what there is, is hope for change.

Labour still need to do so much more (and there are lots of other blogs about that), but at the moment they are showing their metal. I hope the people of Glenrothes give us a boost today, it's time to Go Fourth for our 4th term in Government.