If the opinion polls are anything to go by, the elections to be held on 22 May are going to be the most interesting for many a year. They are also impossible to call, given the potential impact of UKIP on the vote-share of the three main parties. We must wait and see whether Nigel Farage’s party delivers the ‘political earthquake’ he has promised. However, there is no doubt that traditional voters of Labour, the Lib Dems and, most of all, the Conservatives have been attracted by the populist policies and simple solutions that UKIP offer.
For trade unionists and, indeed workers in general, the election of UKIP representatives at a local and European level is nothing short of disastrous. UKIP’s brand of turbo-charged Thatcherism, if implemented, would see the loss of many rights that workers have fought hard to gain over many years. The right to paid holidays, the right to a cap on the working week and the right to have sufficient rest periods would all disappear if UKIP had their way in removing the protection for workers afforded by our membership of the European Union. The party have also made it clear that they have little commitment to equality, and would repeal maternity and paternity rights that allow so many to raise a family without the threat of losing their jobs. Moreover, we see a depressing parade of UKIP representatives launching attacks on the rights of women, gays and most worryingly of all, immigrants.
Whilst UKIP have shown a complete disdain for trade unions and the rights of workers, the Coalition Government is not far behind. Since 2010 we have seen the Lib Dem led Business Department, under Vince Cable, make it increasingly difficult for workers to take their case to an Employment Tribunal. In addition to introducing prohibitive charges to access the Tribunal, Cable has now introduced compulsory arbitration, which many commentators feel will give employers an even greater opportunity to ‘starve into submission’ those that have been unfairly dismissed. Therefore, it is no surprise to see the number of applications to the Tribunal has fallen by 79% in the past year.
At the Cabinet Office we have a Conservative Minister, Francis Maude, doing his bit to restrict the effectiveness of trade unions. The savage cuts in facility time for Civil Service reps could have a devastating effect on the ability of workers and their representatives to hold their employer to account at a time of great change.
Alongside these attacks on workers’ and trade union rights in the public sector sit the detrimental changes to terms and conditions, a 4-year pay freeze and a massive increase in pension contributions. Never forget that the Coalition tore-up the hard won pensions agreement struck with the last Labour Government. Furthermore, this appeared to be nothing more than an ideological attack on the public given they presented with clear evidence of the long-term affordability of the scheme.
On May 22 only Labour offer a positive and realistic alternative to the hate-filled agenda of UKIP and the persistent attacks on unions and working people embarked upon by the Coalition. Labour have set the agenda in recent times, be it on energy prices, fair rents and the over-arching cost-of-living crisis. Despite decrying Ed Miliband’s suggestions, the Coalition have invariably hijacked his ideas because they have seen that they chime with how people feel. However, the commitment of the Coalition and the Conservatives in particular, to an agenda that puts working people and their families first is superficial. Only Labour will continue to fight day-in, day-out for those that have been most disadvantaged by the programme of austerity over the past four years. That is why you should vote Labour on May 22.
John Ferrett is Leader of Portsmouth Labour Group & Labour PPC Portsmouth North