Pope Francis says “organising in unions is a right.” In a speech to the International Labour Organization this month, Pope Francis called for “deep reform” of the economic system in response to the pandemic. Drawing attention to increasing levels of inequality in society, and poor working conditions for migrants, women and gig workers, the Pope declared that “the protection of workers and the most vulnerable must be ensured through the respect of their fundamental rights”. This must include the right to organise in trade unions.
Social partnership. Recognition of the role trade unions have played during the pandemic (e.g. in negotiating the furlough scheme) has led many to call for a revival of more collaborative relationships between unions, business and government.
~~Collaboration at the local level. The RSA has argued the Government should replace Job Centres with Job Security Centres, bringing together unions, employers and others as part of a new “Blueprint for Good Work”.
Trade unions and inequality. Since the 1970s, the UK has seen a declining share of national income go into wages and salaries and a rising proportion returned to the owners of capital and assets. A 2018 report for the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice found that rising inequality was correlated with the fall in trade union membership. Arguing that stronger trade unions can boost productivity, and for the fruits of automation to be more fairly shared, IPPR argued for easier statutory recognition to enable firm-level collective bargaining, accompanied by sectoral collective bargaining in low-paid sectors.
~~The role of collective bargaining.The TUC has called for a series of reforms to make it easier for workers to negotiate collectively with their employer, and to broaden the scope of collective bargaining rights to include all pay and conditions, including working time and holidays and equality issues.
~~The economic case. The New Economics Foundation and the University of Greenwich have set out the economic case for trade unions, demonstrating the relationship between wage levels and union membership.
Two economies? In its landmark report Work in 2021: A Tale of Two Economies the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) argues that the pandemic has reminded workers “of the purpose and power of trade unions”. It brings together analysis of ONS data, interviews with trade union representatives and a survey to paint a picture of workers’ differentiated experiences of the pandemic and how they are organising in response.
Inequalities and public services
Educational inequality. The House of Commons Education Committee published a controversial report on the underperformance of “white working-class pupils". It was widely criticised for suggesting that the concept of “white privilege” has contributed to white pupils from low-income backgrounds falling behind in academic achievement.
Closing the funding gap. Common Wealth published a report by educational geographer Sol Gamsu which proposed closing the private-state school funding gap under which pupils in the former receive on average nearly four times greater funding per pupil than the latter. The report’s recommendations range from minor changes within current arrangements to structural reforms that would see the full integration of private schools into the state system and the ”democratic ownership of their economic and cultural resources”.
~~Summary. The report recommended the development of a “net zero test” to judge all policy decisions in the future and called on the Treasury to release the necessary funds. The report especially criticised lack of progress in decarbonisation of housing and surface transport, two sectors responsible for the largest volume of carbon emissions, as well as leaving politically difficult issues like meat consumption “largely ignored”.
Greening the Bank of England. NEF and Positive Money issued a report showing how the Bank of England could implement its new mandate from the Chancellor to support the government’s net-zero plans. They argue that the Bank could facilitate the UK’s transition into a world leader on green finance ahead of COP26, while supporting small businesses and creating green jobs across the country. (Twitter thread summary).
Amazon waste. An investigation by ITV News covered the scale of waste in one of Amazon’s warehouses in Scotland, with an anonymous employee revealing company-set goals to dispose of 130,000 items of unsold stock every week, with most unused goods sent to landfills. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is considering opening a formal investigation in response.
~~A circular economy. Commenting on the forthcoming Environment Bill, the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett explained the case for a circular economy to create “an economic system based on regeneration and resilience”. The EU’s Green Deal involves a Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) to assist their net zero target and halt biodiversity loss.
~~Ireland.Ireland began a six-month trial to test the benefits and effectiveness of a four-day working week, with businesses in receipt of training, support and mentoring to facilitate a smooth transition.
~~Britain? A poll by Survation showed that two thirds of the British public would support the government piloting a four day week with no reduced pay, with only 13% opposing. Surveys have shown “consistently” growing support for a four-day week since the beginning of the pandemic.