HIGH Court victory for the Ministry of Justice over prison officers’ union POA will not achieve the government’s goal of ensuring an absence of disruption in Britain’s prisons.
This is not because of a lack of respect for the law on behalf of prison officers and their union.
The government has created a situation in the prisons estate where health and wellbeing of staff and inmates is at high risk because of substantial financial cutbacks, causing understaffing and tension.
Government ministers have failed to engage with complaints raised by prison officers and represented to them by POA officials.
They have imposed a pay freeze, cut back on staff numbers, paid off the most experienced officers and washed their hands of the consequences of their actions.
When POA members acted in line with trade union principles, government passed legislation to prevent them from taking industrial action.
Reliance on repression, however, only works when those denied basic rights agree to knuckle under and accept that they have no choice but to submit.
Neither members nor their leaders are prepared to do this.
They understand that refusing to speak out against the threats to life and limb in our prisons is incompatible with their responsibility for the health and safety of inmates and for their fellow officers.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke and prison reformers are united in recognition of the seriousness of the situation in adult prisons and also youth detention centres, insisting that a tragedy is just around the corner.
No-one wants this to happen, but government intransigence makes it all but inevitable.
As POA general secretary Steve Gillan states, not only has the union lived with a strike ban for 23 years but it cannot possibly submit to an injunction and fail to raise safety concerns.
The government has the solution within its own hands — negotiations or conflict.
Either it sits down and engages constructively with POA officials about how to tackle staff shortages and rectify issues they give rise to or it relies on obstinacy propped up by judicial rulings.
The POA is battling to defend its members’ right to a safe working environment, but it is also championing the welfare of those its members are charged with caring for.
May’s summer blues
WELL, Theresa May has staggered through to the parliamentary recess and warns her rebellious Cabinet that no minister is unsackable.
It’s easy enough to say that when MPs’ long holidays mean that her front bench will gather only for a few short days in September before the party conference season.
May’s failure to take action against Cabinet ministers undermining beleaguered Chancellor Philip Hammond provides more eloquent testimony to her weakness.
She knows that Labour has not stood down its crack troops, with Jeremy Corbyn launching a summer offensive of mass rallies in dozens of the most vulnerable Tory seats.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford seat is among Labour’s targets, so it’s not surprising that he intervened during shadow education secretary Angela Rayner’s speech to claim that she and Corbyn told students during the election that Labour would “abolish” student debt.
Tory Central Office has clearly decided that misrepresenting Labour’s policy on tuition fees abolition offers the best bet of pretending that the Labour leader lied to buy student votes.
Corbyn should make the Tories a pledge that, if they persist in spreading lies about Labour policies, he will continue telling the truth about theirs.