Daily Mirror Witch-Hunts Council Workers and Union Reps

Submitted by Janine on Thu, 11/02/2006 - 15:46

The Daily Mirror has launched a pathetic witch-hunt against public sector workers and against union reps. And apparently it does not see the irony in lambasting an engineer for being "overpaid" on the same front page that carries pictures of the genuinely and obscenely overpaid celebs who populated the National Television Awards.

It exposes a so-called 'scandal' of a Birmingham Council worker (Ian Smith) who is off sick receiving his normal salary and bonuses, and seems to think that this situation is even worse because the man concerned is a union rep. But it's pretty easy to see the flaws and tricks in the gutter journalism used.

The Mirror demeans Mr Smith's skills by describing his job as "changing lightbulbs" when he is a street and traffic light engineer. In fact, keeping street lights in good repair is an essential duty of local councils - even Hackney's Labour Council recognised that and made efforts to turn around its previous poor performance in this area. They would have a problem doing it without engineers!

Then the paper tries to trivialise his illness by stating that it is "not life-threatening". So, if you're not actually on your deathbed, you should either go to work or go without pay then? Has it not noticed that when you are sick, you still have to pay your mortgage and bills, and you still have to feed and clothe yourself?

The Mirror wants us to phone its hotline if we know a public servant who earns a ridiculous amount. OK, ring the number (020-7293-3831) and snitch up the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, Bob Kiley, the dozens of other fat cats at Transport for London, High Court judges - and, of course, the Royal Family. I suspect that's not who they are trying to get at though, eh?

But why just public servants? Why not snitch up overpaid people in the private sector? Doubtless their reply would be that public servants are paid out of "our money". So where do they think private-sector salaries come from, then? The Daily Mirror's directors are paid out the labours of their workers and the money of the working-class people who buy their rag. "Our money".

According to the Mirror, Mr Smith's sins include writing a letter to private companies to try to dissuade them from bidding for the street lighting contract. That seems to me like a perfectly reasonable action from a union rep trying to keep public services, erm, public. But no, the Mirror calls it 'bully-boy tactics', its evidence being that John Prescott's officials considered the letter 'intimidating'. Would that be the same John Prescott who famously punched a protester, and who lives in three luxury houses paid for by "our money"?!

It is quite right that a workplace union rep is paid by the employer and paid the wage for his job. There are two good reasons. Firstly, he gets no financial benefit or loss from being a union rep and remains on the same conditions as his colleagues and so more in touch with their needs. And secondly, union reps are part of the structure by which the employer operates - for example, workers have the legal right to be accompanied at disciplinary interviews by a union rep who needs to be released from normal work duties to do this.

The Mirror reports that Mr Smith is "believed" to have been a full-time union rep for more than a decade. Now, that is not an ideal situation. I would prefer the number of full-time union positions to be kept to a minimum - with more union reps on partial release rather than fewer on full-time release - and for unions to limit the length of time that someone can be a full-time rep. But that is for unions and their members to decide, not anti-union gutter journalists at the Daily Mirror or anywhere else.

Trade Unions