democracy, labour and lies

MPs can't even get into to parliament to raise the concerns of constituents over the government's failure to call for an immediate cease-fire for the Israeli/Lebanon conflict.

resignations and rebellion in the Labour party

any idea why it is still called the Labour Party?

Britain has some of the worst working conditions in Europe. Britons work the longest hours in Europe. The prime minister continues to insist on an opt-out from the EU directive that limits the normal working week to 48 hours, and an exemption from the EU directive providing the same protection for agency workers as for their staff counterparts - a provision of particular importance for women. British workers cannot make a case for unfair dismissal until they have worked for an employer for a year - if sacked after 11 months they have no right of redress. If workers take legal industrial action, they have no protection - whatever the rights of their case - from being collectively dismissed after eight weeks.

Trade union recognition rights are still denied to the 6 million employees - nearly a quarter of the workforce - who work in companies with 20 or fewer employees. This exemption of small firms from most employment protection legislation is not found elsewhere. Yet it is in these small firms, which constitute 85% of Britain's employers, that protection is most needed. These workplaces often have the worst health and safety records. And they employ a greater proportion of women and black people, on lower pay and subject to more discrimination. This exclusion really matters when Britain is the only country in the EU with no proper inspectorate of working conditions, yet prosecutions of employers are rare and there is no other mechanism for the exploited to seek protection.

But it is part of a strategy to appease business and make the country attractive to foreign investment. In 1997 Tony Blair promised that "the changes that we propose would leave British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world". The government's own trade and investment website takes the boast further: "UK law does not oblige employers to provide a written employment contract," and "Recruitment costs in the UK are low ... and the law governing the conduct of employment agencies is less restrictive in the UK."

Easy hiring and firing is seen by the government as a major selling point for companies, whatever the costs for workers in insecurity and powerlessness.

But it is a counter-productive policy. Even leaving aside the obvious injustices of the current approach and Britain's defiance of the International Labour Organisation convention, it has not improved productivity or competitiveness. Recent figures show that British productivity is far behind that of our closest competitors - 13% lower than Germany and 21% behind France. Moreover, productivity in the UK has been raised almost wholly by shedding labour - arguably the worst failing of the British economy over the past three decades. And we have slipped down the competitiveness league from fourth a decade ago to 11th now.

by former cabinet minister Michael Meacher writing in the Guardian

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