Tuesday, June 07, 2011

In praise of Vince Cable's speech to the GMB Congress

Vince Cable's speech, made yesterday to the GMB Congress, has caused some concern, not least among his fellow Liberal Democrats.
That concern has centred on a passage about strikes:
We are undoubtedly entering into a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. In fact, until March this year the number of days lost through strikes was lower than at any time since 1931. And of course the right to strike is a fundamental principle. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not a compelling one.

However, should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act will ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid.
But it is hard to see what is so alarming here. If strikes were to impose serious damage to our economic fabric, the pressure on the government to bring in new legislation would ratchet up.

You may detect a threat here and believe that it is a pressure that Vince should resist, but surely this is largely a statement of fact? Strikes are rarely as popular with the wider public as they are with Labour and trade union activists.

Besides there was something in Vince's speech that should delight all good Liberals. A long section entitled "Ownership and workplace regulation" :
I last occupied my present office a third of a century ago when I worked for John Smith when he was Secretary of State in the Callaghan government. We tried to put through legislation on worker participation, following the Bullock report on the German model. 
That is long forgotten. But the underlying philosophy is carried forward on employee owned companies, like John Lewis and Arup, in social enterprises, coops and mutuals. I want to encourage these developments and we are looking at legislation to strengthen the ‘third sector’ of employers.
The moral is that you should take the time to read original sources and not rely on the headlines.


David said...

Delighted that Vince spoke on Industrial Democracy, not something that seemed of interest to the last Labour government. That alone exemplifies the importance of checking original sources but that doesn't alter what he said about strikes, teh wording of which I did check. You may say it was a statement of fact but why include it in the speech of a government minister ? It was a warning and a calculated one.

Tristan said...

The whole point of industrial action is to have an economic effect, otherwise what's the point?
To withdraw your labour must have an effect to be effective. Sadly Vince Cable here is acting on the side of power against those whose only effective course of action might be to withdraw their labour from their employer.

As for Industrial Democracy - John Lewis is hardly an expression of that - its run in exactly the same way as any other business.