Press Watch 16/10/19

It’s not every day that you find similar stories in the Sun and the Financial Times. But today we see an interesting convergence. And the two connected stories matter because away from the Brexit froth, out in the real world, workers continue to be under pressure.

The FT reports that ‘Jobs market falters in the face of uncertainty over EU split’. The headline in the Sun is blunt. ‘Pay and dismay at low wages’

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people in employment dropped by 56,000 in the three months to August compared with the previous quarterly period. That was down from an increase of 31,000 in the May to July period and short of the rise of 23,000 forecast by economists polled by Reuters.

Alongside this fall in the employment rate, wages and salaries continue to be under pressure. Total earnings growth slowed to 3.8% in the three months to August compared with the same period last year, down from 4% in the three months to July.

Both the private and public sector and most industries saw slower growth in incomes, but the slowdown was faster in financial services. The FT suggests that “Pay pressure now appears to be easing, with falling productivity and fewer job opportunities suggesting that we are moving from a warm summer for workers’ pay packets to a cooler autumn,” according to Nye Cominetti, economic analyst at the think-tank the Resolution Foundation.

We wouldn’t be so confident if we were analysts. Yes, it's true that there was a slight slowing down of wage growth but at the same time there is evidence of growing combativity in the workforce. Many workers have suffered a decade of wage freezes and a declining in spending power and they have heard the governments words about an end to austerity.

But these are just words of Conservative Ministers and many people in the labour market are under real pressure and may well be ready to fight back against pressures on their living standards as wages stagnate but prices continue to rise.

It is possible that a first indication of this increased willingness to fight back against employer cutbacks occurred yesterday in relation to the Royal Mail which faces its first nationwide postal strike in a decade. Staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action in a dispute over pay, security and conditions. More than 97% of about 110,000 members of the Communication Workers Union voted to strike. The turnout of 76% was one of the highest for a vote by the union in years. This is quite a remarkable result by any standards.

Two separate ballots for CWU members in Parcelforce Worldwide, which is owned by Royal Mail Group, returned outcomes of 95% and 94.7% in favour of industrial action. Terry Pullinger, the postal deputy general secretary at CWU, reportedly said that: “Just over one year ago the Royal Mail Group board and the CWU agreed a blueprint agreement for the future, an agreement that included a historic pension solution, a mutual-interest-driven relationship and a joint vision for a successful postal service.” He accused the new leadership of the Royal Mail of breaking that agreement.

In the Times, Dave Ward, general secretary of the CWU, said: “The workforce has completely rejected the company’s plans to set up a separate parcels business and allow UK postal services and thousands upon thousands of jobs to wither on the vine.” Royal Mail management was reported as saying that “We want to reach agreement. Industrial action, or the threat of it, is damaging for our business and undermines the trust of our customers,”

Well, the management better hold on to their hats. In Dave Ward they have an intelligent and robust leader of the union with his membership strongly behind him.

The days of management action imposing change on their workforce as if they were the vanquished enemy are behind us.

One other story caught our eye. Yesterday the CBI were reported as attacking Labour’s plans to take a number of industries back into public ownership. Today that attack appears to be foundering. According to the Guardian, The Confederation of British Industry has admitted it made assumptions that exaggerated the “eye-watering” £196bn it put on Labour’s nationalisation plans. In emails between Labour and the CBI, seen by that paper, the business lobby group told the party that it recognised some of its analysis did not reflect the party’s policy.

For example, Labour questioned the CBI assumption that Labour would buy back rail rolling saying this was not part of its plans. In a defensive reply: the CBI’s principal economist told the party: ‘We have assumed the rolling stock would be brought into public ownership as the trains are currently owned by the private sector and therefore full-scale nationalisation of rail would require this. However, we recognise that this isn’t official Labour policy.’

And there you have it. Yesterday’s papers are today’s fish and chip wrapping paper, apparently full of misleading and indeed false accusations about Labours plans.

We advise you to eat the fish and chips but throw the papers into the nearest bin!

Press Watch is a look at the day's news by Labour MPs.

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