Moody's downgrade might be symbolic - but it's still correct

What does it mean, if anything?

Moody’s downgrade of Britain’s credit rating, from AAA to AA1, is largely symbolic, akin to a sticking plaster falling off a major unhealed gash. It will have no effect on the cost of borrowing, so what does it mean, if anything?

First, it was an anomaly that America and France had been downgraded months ago, and that little bankrupt Britain could sail on merrily, as if the only boat in the race without a leak, was plainly ludicrous.

Second, the fact is that there is a major hole below the waterline in the nation’s finances that isn’t being fixed. But compare 600,000 new jobs being created in the last year by the private sector, of which half are full-time: either the figures are wrong, or thousands of jobs have been lost at the same time, by bankrupt retailers and lost manufacturing output.

Third, sterling was on the slide in the FX markets before Moody’s even blew their faint-hearted whistle. This was after Mervyn King of the BoE voted for more QE, despite the fact that he is already sitting atop one-third of the national debt, and could easily topple off this pile of irredeemable IOUs.

Fourth, the national debt, which was meant to be coming down, is now going back up again. Osborne’s cuts were too little, and now are seen to be too late. But the Cameroons are such a lot of new-drippy Old Etonians that they are increasingly seen as a generation that hasn’t got the balls to pick up a sharp axe and really wield it. No pain, no gain.

As a result of reasons one to four, number five is that the economy is going nowhere fast except down a big, black hole called the IMF. Sort it Osborne, or quit! The answer is simple: slash government expenditure and taxation on March 20, not in some mealy-mouthed way as you are currently posturing, but in a determined and dramatic way.

Slash the Gordian knot of ever-advancing EU-driven socialist-bureaucracy! Cut the chain that is holding back the UK private sector, the people who have had proper jobs all their lives! Unlike you miserable lot in government, who have never had a proper productive job at all.

After all, the only man in Britain who is going to say you are wrong to do such a thing, is the utterly stupid, pathetic and ludicrous Ed Balls. And he is the one who assiduously dug the nation over many years into this great hole in the first place! But then, I suppose, he has never had a proper job either - a kindred spirit, perhaps?

This first appeared on Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

Stephen Hill writes for Spear's

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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.