Attack on facility time is intended to have much wider consequences
In his excellent book “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, US cognitive linguist George Lakoff describes the use by American conservatives of what he calls ‘strategic initiatives’. Lakoff defines a strategic initiative as a plan “in which a change in one carefully chosen issue area has automatic effects over many other issue areas”.
Lakoff provides two examples to illustrate his point. Firstly tax cuts. There aren’t many people who oppose all tax cuts. Most arguments tend to swirl around who gets them and how much is cut. The political right (on both sides of the Atlantic) usually argues for tax cuts on the basis that people should be allowed to keep more of the money that they earn so that they (rather than the government) can decide how to spend it.
However if you’re a political conservative and want to shrink the size of government and limit what it can do, cutting taxes also serves a much more fundamental purpose. It starves the government of the resources it needs to spend on a whole range of services and programmes. Hey presto! You’ve cuts taxes AND reduced the size of the government.
Another example are reforms to reduce compensation payments resulting from successful legal actions against corporations – long campaigned for by US conservatives.
The most obvious objective of this strategic initiative is to limit the potential liabilities of corporations who as a result of negligence harm people or the environment. But reduced payouts also reduce the fees that the lawyers of successful plaintiffs receive. Why is this relevant? Well, the biggest single group of donors to the Democratic Party in individual states is lawyers who handle these corporate negligence cases.
So, reducing the liabilities of corporations eventually reduces campaign contributions to the Democratic Party reducing its capacity to campaign effectively in a political system where cash is king.
Of course, the British right uses strategic initiatives too and there’s one in full swing now that has particular relevance for trade unionists; the attack on paid time off for employee representatives. Why do the British right care about this so much that it sometimes appears that for some Tory MPs it is THE big issue in British politics?
The pretence for this strategic initiative is again concern for tax payers money; that in a period of cuts to public spending (which incidentally is the mother of strategic initiatives) it’s wrong for tax payer’s money to pay for trade union officials (by the way, please excuse me if I refrain on this occasion from saying exactly why these arguments are utterly dishonest – you can read my past rebuttals of this nonsense here and here).
But to identify the real objective of this initiative we need only look at what would happen if the Right was successful in getting rid of facility time.
Firstly, employees would lose what they value most when they are members of a union; having someone at their place of work that is trained to represent them individually and collectively. This would leave employees exposed to the worst that poor employers would do and with little or any ability to enforce whatever rights they have.
So in the same way that the US right wants to limit liabilities of potentially negligent corporations, British conservatives are seeking to give British employers the ability to treat workers how they want with little chance of redress.
But there’s more. Obviously no responsible union would let their members go unprotected so they would be forced to shift resources to effectively back fill the workplace reps that they’ve lost. And from where would they get this money. Well, it may differ from union to union, but political funds and party affiliations may well come under pressure.
So as well as reducing the chances of bad employers being held to account and reducing the ability of employees to protect themselves, you also reduce the ability of unions to campaign politically and ultimately deprive your main political opponent of an important source of funding; the perfect strategic initiative.