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Union militancy is a problem for the Labour Party - it is an opportunity for the Government

By Harry Phibbs
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I thought my free market Conservative comrades Allister Heath (in his City AM column this morning) and Lord Forsyth (interviewed on BBC Daily Politics at lunch time) were ungenerous in their response to the Chancellor's proposal that workers should be allowed to trade with their bosses more flexible working conditions in return for shares - all with a Capital Gains Tax exemption to give it a nudge.

If the incentives aren't enough let's boost them. If there are technical difficulties let's thrash them out. Let's get stuck into the details and make a success in practice of this idea.

One of the curious objections was that the policy was addressing two problems at once. Firstly, the reluctance of employers to take on staff due to the bureaucracy involved. Secondly, the need for more employees to become share owners, even on a modest scale, with all the benefits that can bring. Yet if this policy can address both challenges simultaneously then surely that is to be celebrated rather than decried?

The other point is that the arrangement is voluntary. So what harm can it do? If nobody wants to start a new job where this is the deal on offer they can look elsewhere. If existing employees do not want to sign away their rights in return for shares they don't have to. But what of those workers who would like to take advantage of this opportunity? Perhaps there will only be thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. In any event the trade unions have made clear they oppose this addition to workers rights, for however many workers wish to take them up, which the Government is offering.

It is a good fight to pick with the unions. Who do the Labour Party back? The workers, who might wish to exercise this choice, or the unions who wish to prevent it being offered?

Of course it is not just Mr Osborne prepared to take on the unions. Francis Maude declares that full time trade union officials should not have their salaries paid by the taxpayer. It's a pretty easy guess that the public agrees. But does the Labour Party?

Then this morning the Education Secretary Michael Gove was tough with the teaching unions.

He said:

"They are arguing that teachers give only the most perfunctory reports. They are saying that teachers shouldn't do photocopying, they are saying that teachers shouldn't put up displays, they are saying that teachers shouldn't invigilate exams. They are saying that teachers shouldn't do what has drawn them into the classroom in the first place, which is to devote themselves to the children. I have a simple message to those union general secretaries: don't let your ideologies hold back our children."

Hard to believe that the unions would come out with such stuff. But if anyone had any doubts the Conservative education press officer tweeted this link. It covers a list of instructions, instructions mark you, from the NUT and the NASUWT.

Here is "Annex 4 – Administrative and clerical tasks":

1. Collecting money from pupils and parents.
2. Investigating a pupil’s absence.
3. Bulk photocopying.
4. Typing or making word-processed versions of manuscript material and producing revisions of such versions.
5. Word-processing, copying and distributing bulk communications, including standard letters, to parents and pupils.
6. Producing class lists on the basis of information provided by teachers.
7. Keeping and filing records, including records based on data supplied by teachers.
8. Preparing, setting up and taking down classroom displays in accordance with decisions taken by teachers.
9. Producing analyses of attendance figures.
10. Producing analyses of examination results.
11. Collating pupil reports.
12. Administration of work experience (but not selecting placements and supporting pupils by advice or visits).
13. Administration of public and internal examinations.
14. Administration of cover for absent teachers.
15. Ordering, setting up and maintaining ICT equipment and software.
16. Ordering supplies and equipment.
17. Cataloguing, preparing, issuing and maintaining materials and equipment and stocktaking the same.
18. Taking verbatim notes or producing formal minutes of meetings.
19. Co-ordinating and submitting bids (for funding, school status and the like) using contributions by teachers and others.
20. Transferring manual data about pupils not covered by the above into computerised school management systems.
21. Managing the data in school management systems.

We can all speculate what good teachers, with the right attitude and professional spirit, will make of this. We can also guess whether or not parents their children will be helped by the unions issuing these instructions.

But what does Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary think? What is the Labour Party's response?

Rather than being afraid of the unions with their far left leaders the Government should take the opportunity presented by going further.

Reforms should include cutting off all taxpayer funding to the unions, prohibiting strikes in emergency services such as the fire brigade, bringing in Raab's Law so that strikes only take place where the majority of the workforce back it, in replacing opting out of the political levy with an opting in system and ending the abuse where public sector payroll systems collect union subs on behalf of the unions.