What next for Libya?

Despite the scenes of jubilation in Tripoli, there are more questions than answers about the next er

If reports are to be believed, the end of Muammar Gaddafi's 41 year rule of Libya is nigh, as rebels storm the heart of Tripoli. Such is the pace of events that it is impossible to know whether the regime will fall quickly, or whether the battle for Tripoli will be on-going for several days. Either way, it is difficult to see how even Gaddafi will retain his grasp on power for much longer.

Attention is now turning to what the next era will bring, and there are far more questions than answers. As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, regime change is not an end in itself, and can lead either to deadlock, or to more extreme forces seizing the moment. While both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were unpopular regimes, this did not mean that there was an opposition with the widespread support to replace them. In Iraq, the widescale purging of anyone liked to Saddam's Ba'ath party created a power vaccuum. The existing tension within the Libyan rebel ranks, between life-long opponents of Gaddafi and those who have recently defected, could foreshadow a similar disaster.

Currently, the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC) is recognised by 32 countries, including Britain, as the official government of Libya. This body will be tasked with bringing order to the post-war chaos. However, it is deeply divided, and remains without a cabinet. The last one was sacked by chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil on 8 August, accusing it of failing to investigate the July murder of rebel military commander Abdul Fatah Younis. Questions remain over the role of Jalil's government in the murder, although Islamist forces have also come under suspicion.

According to reports, the NTC is too faction-riven to agree on who should form a new executive, which does not bode well before it has even taken power.

In today's Independent, Patrick Cockburn reports on the divisions amongst the rebel forces:

It is an extraordinary situation. The Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is now recognised by more than 30 foreign governments, including the US and Britain, as the government of Libya. But it is by no means clear that it is recognised as such by the rebel militiamen who are in the process of seizing the capital. The rebel fighters in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC. Their intransigence may not last but it is one sign that the insurgents are deeply divided.

A crucial difference to Iraq is that there are no US or Nato forces on the ground. It remains to be seen what role the west will play in the formation of a new government, but given the disastrous legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan, the indications are that Nato countries will encourage the Arab League and the African Union to take the lead. The neighbouring states have a clear interest in the country's stability.

Jalil, a former minister who resigned when violence was used against protesters in February, is still viewed with suspicion by many who do not want to retain any ties at all to the Gaddafi regime. At this stage, it is difficult to see how Jalil will manage to persuade different rebel factions to co-operate, incorporate existing state structures, and control the Islamist element, given that he has so far been unable to unite his own council.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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.