GOP in the South: 3 things to know

Will Mississippi and Alabama residents give Mitt Romney his long-expected breakthrough?

With Super Tuesday not so decisive as promised by its name, the votes available to Republican candidates today are as vital as any before them. The 90 delegates offered by the Deep South states Alabama and Mississippi -- plus 20 from the liberal Pacific island of Hawaii -- could deliver a sizable boost to the Mitt Romney campaign. But this is the conservative heartland; so what for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich?

1) Mitt: Southern man, ya'll?

Despite Romney's remark last week that the states were "a bit of an away game" for him, Alabama and Mississippi's delegates are very much in play for the frontrunner. Romney's health in the polls, though, may or may not have something to do with the vote-hustling techniques he's practiced in recent days:

 

2) The Dixie Vote's worth to Santorum/Gingrich

Polling Monday showed Romney and Gingrich neck-in-neck, with any leads within the margin of error. This resurgence for Newt complicates matters for Santorum: if Romney is to be denied the nomination, a clear second candidate should already be gathering momentum with US demographics other than those they've previously relied on. Yet since his two-week charge in February, the Santorum campaign has stalled. And now if he can't take the southern heartland, notable for its evangelical population and social conservativism, Rick looks unlikely to be man the GOP want. A win for Gingrich, meanwhile, would hardly clarify the race.

3) Obama, Rush and Darwin in the South

Some of the most interesting figures from two new polls by PPP are unrelated to the Republican candidates, such as those demonstrating the continued damage to the Rush Limbaugh brand and the views of Dixie Americans on interracial marriage.

One poll of note, though, does tell us something about the electorate drawn to each GOP candidate: in Mississippi, Gingrich is far ahead with the "Obama is a Muslim" voters, while in both states the comparatively more enlightened Republicans who believe "Obama is a Christian" are largely backing Romney. Just how enlightened they are is another question; only 26 per cent of Republican Alabamans and fewer Mississippians (22 per cent) believe in evolution. And who wins the votes of those who don't? That's largely Rick.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.