One Out, All Out
One of the big predictions of the Right when New Labour came in was that some day the mask of Thatcherite copycatting would slip and the cloven hoof of unburied dead, rubbish in the streets and mass walkouts would return. I don't like to give the bastards too much credit, but New Labour forcing (through indifference, incompetence and Gordon Brown's meanness when it comes to public sector pay) the prison officers out on strike does fit the pattern rather. The slight difference is that the strike is illegal and the reason that it's illegal is that the Conservatives banned prison officers from striking, a position confirmed by that leading light of Socialism and defender of liberty David Blunkett (although of course he
spun it as giving them back their right to strike).
"Colin Moses has made it clear that he wants an entirely different relationship, both with the management in the prison service and with the government," he told BBC Radio 4's the World at One.
"There's been a realisation that knocking bells out of each other really doesn't help."
Mr Blunkett admitted the new "partnership approach" would look "very odd" from the outside, but it was "actually for the best of outcomes".
It really is outstanding how Blunkett's legacy is the opposite of what he intended.
Incidentally, since this is important, the course of events seems to be this (derived from Hansard):
* 1994 - Conservatives outlaw industrial action in prisons in Section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Labour's shadow Home Secretary, one T. Blair, writes to complain.
* 1997 - Labour elected on manifesto including a promise to repeal Section 127
* 2001 - a voluntary agreement is signed where the POA promise not to strike
* 2003 - Blunkett gets a lot of credit for his announcement, thought to take about 9 months to implement
* 2004 - the voluntary agreement is ended in anticipation
* 2005 - a Regulatory Reform Order is made to suspend Section 127
However, there's a gotcha in here (isn't there always?). The suspension is only conditional on the POA and Government having a legally-enforceable voluntary agreement. Here's the money quote:
In other words, the prison officers have full union rights on condition that they don't use them! How wonderfully New Labour. It's not the 70s coming back after all, it's business as usual, screwing the workers. Further evidence for this comes in the revelation that after representations from private prison operators, Section 127 was kept in force for their benefit.