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The P&O Ferries debacle happened because the government put capital ahead of workers

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“Totally unacceptable,” said a minister in response to news that P&O Ferries had suddenly laid off 800 employees without notice.

“No, wait, it’s ‘totally unacceptable.’ That came from the Prime Minister’s spokesman. Which one sounds harder? I am not completely sure.

“Terrible,” said another minister. There! That’s how you spice up the rhetoric. That tells them. The bosses of P&O Ferries will be trembling in their boots waiting for the government gavel to fall now… Oh…

James Heappey, the Armed Forces Secretary, who called it “terrible”, also said: “The reality is that P&O has made a commercial decision.” He went on to say there was not much the government could do. Were those crocodile tears?

While the company’s actions are shocking – the TUC and others have raised questions about their legality given the lack of notification or a supposed consultation period – they really aren’t all that surprising.

They are the inevitable result of a conscious decision by the government to put the interests of international capital – P&O is owned by Dubai-based DP World – ahead of its own people. So if this capital catches a cold, they will be washed into an icy sea.

The cold extends to both consumers and workers. Services have been suspended. While we are told this is temporary, some routes do not have alternatives to turn to. Would that have been possible elsewhere in Europe? You certainly cannot imagine this happening in another EU country.

Boris Johnson’s British exceptionalism seems to have made it possible to call in “handcuff-trained” security forces to evict any crew members interested in being stranded on their ships. Think about it for a moment. It should only be the police who are allowed to use these, and then under proper supervision. I suppose it’s also possible to question the legality of this move.

Although the devastating blow inflicted on them is a decision by DP World and P&O Ferries and the shameful way in which it was dealt with weighs on them, the government is nevertheless complicit in everything that happened. It is the inevitable end result of years of government policy.

The Tories have steadily curtailed workers’ rights, imposed ever more draconian restrictions on their unions, sat back and watched the development of nefarious labor market practices, sometimes with tacit approval.

Zero Hour Contracts? Sure, go ahead. We will say that employees like the flexibility, although we know that in practice it only benefits the employer.

Hiring and firing? No problem. You might hear a little fuss from one or two of our backbenchers if you do it in their constituencies, but everyone soon forgets. Now for the free port you were trying to run.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised a labor law, said it would protect workers’ rights, said the UK should be the best place in the world to work. But despite all these high-sounding words, his government has yet to make any progress. The unions suspect that he does not want that.

Government executives, meanwhile, ensured a backbench motion to ban fire and reinstatement was blocked last year. Ministers have also repeatedly refused to limit the use of zero-hour contracts.

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The Bank of England recognizes the role that collective bargaining and unions play in raising wage levels – something the government is said to want to see – but there is no sign that they are giving them decent access to jobs.

It is real-time disaster capitalism – a working example of the “Singapore on the Thames” that punk Thatcherists in the Tory party have been craving – in which small managerial and wealth-owning classes eke out a living at everyone else’s expense.

If this doesn’t serve as a turning point, there will be more along the way.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/p-o-ferries-firing-debacle-unions-capitalism-b2038935.html The P&O Ferries debacle happened because the government put capital ahead of workers

Caroline Bleakley

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