. Copying our neighbour's work ethic | London Progressive Journal
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Copying our neighbour's work ethic

Sun 16th Dec 2012

I may be guilty of being unkind towards David Cameron, but I take his comments on emulating German industry under the suspicion that he is being his usual ‘selective’ self when referring to our European neighbours.

It was once the case whereby the offspring of those suffering at the hands of Conservative policies would be schooled on the injustice of Tory rule. Today’s generation who are growing up in many areas without adequate nutrition, or hope for their futures will inevitably dine on lessons of coalition incompetence.

I spoke at length with members of the German and Austrian railway workers union during a conference I attended on behalf of ASLEF a few years ago, and was impressed at the greater freedoms afforded to unions within those countries, with statutory requirements for full time officials at locations employing over 250 workers, and a collective bargaining approach to pay and conditions that has successfully transcended privatisation and neo-liberal goverments.

It is commonplace for large German corporations to have trade union representatives on their boards, and the longevity in success that German companies have enjoyed can only be, at least in part, due to their willingness to embrace the opinions, skills, and aspirations of the shop floor, and staff representatives.

Whilst Germany and Austria are by no means perfect in their approach to trade union engagement, they are definitely examples of how outdated, dogmatic, and introspective our own industry is in the UK, which is why I am so surprised and suspicious of Cameron’s comments, given his and his party’s appalling track record on industrial relations and their open disdain for ‘blue collar’ occupations.

Historically when in power, the Tories have chosen their policies from the wish lists of the rich and powerful, cementing class divides and entrenching the poor deeper into poverty with almost every legislative act, and diluting the rights of British workers with undisguised glee.

The Conservative party of late, under the ‘leadership’ of David Cameron now seem to form their policies almost as if picking the left-overs from a stale wedding buffet, an image which is apt, given the recent warnings of a ‘triple-dip’ recession, and the continuing domestic strife between Cameron and his political shield, Nick Clegg.

Cameron is seriously missing the point on this issue. He talks of a ‘skills shortage’. There are thousands of articulate, able youngsters who would gladly accept the chance to plug the skills gap with both hands, yet they cannot afford further education because of the coalition’s disastrous policies. Cameron praises German innovation, yet seems not to realise that we have innovative engineers and designers who are the envy of the world.

We don’t need to copy the German work-ethic, we do after all, have the longest working hours, and the least public holidays in Europe. What we need to do is embrace the men and women who produce the goods that create wealth. If you took away from the Germans their approach to industrial relations, they would be left with a de-motivated and under-performing workforce that is under represented, bullied, stressed and resentful of an employer who takes delight in wielding an industrial cosh.

Spend a shift working in the average British factory, or an afternoon participating in pay negotiations, and you would find that description depressingly familiar.

What we need from our government is a clear commitment to abandoning austerity, promoting growth through progressive infrastructure investment and social housing, and an acceptance that the representatives of organised Labour are very much part of the solution rather than a problem to be swatted with fork-tongued press releases and sub-standard legislation.

As I await further clarification from the PM however, I find myself reaching for another gargantuan pinch of political salt.

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