Friday 6 September 2013

The Friday joke: civil servants win legal battle against boss Eric Pickles

I was tickled to see this week that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles was taken to the High Court by his own departmental staff over attacks on their union PCS. And that he lost.

I have a friend or two in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and I know they have had a very hard time recently trying to represent the interests of their members at the same as they are no longer given time off work to do union duties, and the union has been banned even from meeting on the premises.

In the same way that Pickles offered his own departmental spending as a sacrificial lamb in the Spending Review, promising savage cuts to local government spending, for example, for which we are all paying now in reduced and privatised services, he has also dumped on his very own departmental staff.

The main dispute that the union went to the High Court over is the plan to stop "check-off" whereby union dues are collected at source from wages. 

Pickles prides himself on representing the interests of local taxpayers. In Barnet he has had, albeit obliquely, to apologise for the sneering attitude towards democracy of the local Tories. I give credit where it's due, and I acknowledge Pickles' solicitude for the rights of the little man and woman against Town Hall bureaucrats, where the Town Hall does act like bureaucrats.

Pickles, apparently, was a socialist in his youth but he abandoned socialism when the Russian tanks went into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the Prague Spring democratisation movement. When we organised our Barnet Spring march in the snow earlier this year, that was one of the echoes that gave our protest more poignancy.

However, just like many a leftist who ended up backing and apologising for vicious dictatorships just because they weren't Western imperialists, the politics of the Cold War seem to have disorientated Pickles and he went over to the right and joined the forces of Conservatism.

I would argue that it is a mistake to conclude that your enemy's enemy is your friend but, as far as I can see, that is what Pickles has done. From siding with the working class, he went over to the enemy, and has been batting for the rich ever since.

Now Pickles needs to remember that the people working in his own department are little men and women as well, who deserve to be supported against their own species of bureaucrat - their bosses. Trade unions serve such a purpose and always have - and always will. You can't kill the spirit.

Arguably, the key force that began the process that led to the collapse of the Soviet empire was the inspiring Polish Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union.

Alas, there is every likelihood that Pickles will appeal against this week's court ruling.

I would urge everyone who has drawn some comfort from Pickles' well-aimed jibes against Barnet's Tory Council to help him see sense over this issue. Send a message to Pickles via Twitter - @EricPickles - and watch for developments on the PCS website. Tell Pickles - hands off PCS!

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