Saturday, 8 November 2014

Transparency & The Establishment


Just a brief post as I am teaching at Ruskin this weekend as we have three cohorts of the BA international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) in. What a fine bunch of trade unionists! Even though I am not feeling great, it is reviving to be here and to hear of their natural, comradely support for the on-going UCU boycott of marking/assessment. It is great to also of how their research/study is having such a significant impact on their activism/campaigning.

Very proud of our Ruskin BA students: Dermot Finn graduates
on 25th Oct from the BA ILTUS 2008 cohort
I have been minded to pen a short item as this week the Coalition launched its 'transparency code' for local government. Whilst this is ostensibly a new process for weeding out local government corruption, it is in truth a ruse to attack municipal trade unionism. Read the detail of the new code here:

As you can see the new code requires that local authorities now publish data on the volume of trade union facility time taken by trade union representatives:

Trade union facility time
35. Local authorities must publish the following information on trade union facility time:

total number (absolute number and full time equivalent) of staff who are union representatives (including general, learning and health and safety representatives)

total number (absolute number and full time equivalent) of union representatives who devote at least 50 per cent of their time to union duties

names of all trade unions represented in the local authority

a basic estimate of spending on unions (calculated as the number of full time equivalent days spent on union duties multiplied by the average salary), and

a basic estimate of spending on unions as a percentage of the total pay bill (calculated as the number of full time equivalent days spent on union duties multiplied by the average salary divided by the total pay bill).

Of course none of this serves, as the new code suggests, "to place more power into the citizen's hands to increase democratic accountability" (by the way, we are not citizens of a republic, we are subjects of the Queen) and is instead a crude attempt to attack the role of democratically elected and accountable trade union representatives who act in pursuit of their statutory rights to safeguard the interests of their members, and indeed the wider public.

Of course because this measure is ideologically driven the code seeks not to capture any of the following:

(1) The extent to which trade union activity seeks to minimise the exposure to liability employers' actions e.g. reducing the likelihood of accidents, resolving grievances/disputes.

(2) In quantitative/monetary terms the money saved by such action.

(3) Trade union facilitation of whistleblowing activity which might reveal, for example, where an authority is not meeting a statutory duty.

Britain at its best (and saving employer's time and money)
I could go on, and on, but I am limited for time, and in any case, the TUC (working with NatCen) has calculated that trade union representatives saves employers on average £700m per year:

And,of course, none of the reality - of the actual impact of day-to-day-trade unionism - is acknowledged here, as this is an ideological assault.

The key thought that struck me on listening to Eric Pickles launch the new code on Thursday was how the UK desperately needs a transparency code for the UK's establishment - and by this I mean a toxic mixture of that which composes the state plus the media, sections of the upper class, and sections of the financial services.

Owen Jones visited Ruskin last month to launch his new book, The establishment, and how they get away with it. Although Owen focused largely on the finance sector-Parliamentary nexus, his overall thrust is of how a dense, opaque, pre-historic network predicated on class, power, the media and corruption has disempowered Parliament for centuries and routinely reimagines itself through, for example, the movement away from the selling of Parliamentary seats to the easing of corporation tax bills.

Although Owen's book is new, it was published too late for what I see as a profound insight on the way in which the British establishment has had, and continues to have, a corrosive effect on British public life, in the form of the disastrous attempts to find a chair for the Panel of Inquiry into Historical Child Abuse.

Both appointed chairs to-date, Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, have had to stand down in disgrace when it transpired that their establishment links, either by relation or friendship, had revealed profound conflicts of interest.

The reason why a transparency code is needed for the affairs of the establishment, as exemplified by the scandal of Butler-Sloss and Woolf is that:

(1) In appointing these characters the civil service (a deeply embedded aspect of the establishment themselves) could not of themselves see past the obvious linkages between the appointees and prior government ministers. So entrenched are their lives in this netherworld that simply to belong to it places one beyond reproach.

(2) Woolf claimed not to be able to remember relationships with fellow members of the establishment (the Brittan family) to such an extent that she had to be reminded that she dined at their house and was often seen out with them. Similar to the above point, but when challenged on her links, the hapless Woolf commented that you would have to be a hermit not to have links to prior Home Secretaries, and know their wife, and dine in their home. No, you need only be normal.

(3) On revealing that mistakes had been made in making the appointments the Home Office, rather than holding its hands up, tried to re-write history.

Uh oh, its the establishment! Keep an eye on 'em.
The list is endless, and I must say I enjoyed greatly the squirming of Theresa May when she had to apologise this week for the debacle over which she had presided:

Of course, the whole debate about the role of the establishment in British society has been discussed for decades. I remember. for example, reading as a student at Ruskin John Scott's 1991 classic Who Rules Britain? on this very issue.

Here is a more recent article of his, but where he explores the same theme of power, domination and the state:

It is, sadly, unlikely that the British people will ever a version of an establishment transparency code. No doubt MPs and the like would say that Parliament, standards bodies (OFCOM etc.), the media etc., are the transparency code, but the Levenson Inquiry alone proved conclusively, that
no such code exists.

Even today there is further evidence of the need for the establishment code, with the Observers' article evidencing further what we knew already of the deep, sustained collusion between the police and those bodies (Consulting Association etc.) who compiled information (much of it wholly incorrect) which was used for trade union blacklisting:

So, for now, even though we are under even greater scrutiny than ever, the power of trade unionism is the surest way in which transparency will be demanded and realised in the UK and internationally.

In Solidarity


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