We don’t hear much about the social contract these days but, growing up under Wilson and Callaghan’s Labour Governments, I used to hear it all the time. As I understand it, the social contract governs the relationship between government and people; it defines the responsibilities a government has to those who elected it in a fully functioning democracy of adults – we have to be 18 years old to vote. The electorate are adults. Within a healthy social contract, the government has the responsibility to act on behalf of the whole of the electorate. At least, that’s what I absorbed in my Guardian-reader family home. I didn’t take much notice of contracts or law at that time – those only came alive for me when I was the Staff Side Secretary (NALGO) for Westminster Council during the early 1980’s.
NALGO’s National Education Department ran three-day residentials on Employment Law, assisted by a very able National Legal Department, and I attended one of these in Motherwell. What I learned over those three days has stood me on good ground ever since and this was one of the things I learned.
A contract is made in ‘good faith’. It requires that both sides behave honourably. A Contract of Employment can be terminated by either side if the other can be shown to have breached the heart of a ‘good faith’ contract. Breaches were detailed in the negotiated and agreed disciplinary procedures and the worst ended the contract through dismissal, constructive or otherwise. How that would work with a Social Contract, I’ve no idea – best talk to a good lawyer about that. So I hope that I’m addressing intelligent people who don’t need me to start joining up the dots for them because you have your own minds and opinions. This works much better if we are all thinking for ourselves and coming to our own decisions.
One of the features of being both Convener of the Social Services Shop Stewards (awarded 50% secondment/TU during my tenure), followed by two years Staff Side Secretary (with 50% secondment /time-off for TU activities during my first year but which rose, on a personal basis only, to 100% for the rest of my stint) is I found myself ‘presiding’ over a great mix of people, working in different professions, under one ‘roof’. My job, as I saw it, was to make sure their voices got heard in the right places. It didn’t matter which department the person seeking help came from, or how many there were of them, it was my job to ensure that the points they were making were heard. Yes, it was a Tory Council just before Shirley Porter’s leadership. She ran the Highways & Works Committee when I was there. And, yes, there were the Tory and Labour wannabees but amongst other councillors were genuine hardworking people also doing their best to serve their constituents. I did a lot of business with them and, more often than not, we found that we had a shared concern. As Staff Side Secretary, I could enable real debate towards finding mutually acceptable solutions. Not always, but often enough for the Council to up my time off for trade union activities. I was told that I helped the good functioning of the Council and was easy to deal with. If I was dealing with a problem, it got solved using the Contract of Employment coupled with goodwill. Apparently I had this effect where everyone wanted to agree with me. When I went to run the in-house union at the Corporation of London, we rarely agreed and they lost because they didn’t know what they were doing. If I ever wanted to manifest such ability again, it is now.
One of the advantages of being a professional in a number of different fields is understanding the common ground between them. Within each profession, there is a social contract because it is simply not possible to be any kind of professional without it – public or private. It may be worded in different ways, addressing specific address issues related to the work, but there is always the element of ‘good faith’. Until a professional can be shown to have demonstrated ‘bad faith’, we are obliged to believe what we are told. It’s called professional courtesy and it is a common element throughout. That’s the theory, anyway.
The problem with individual professions – like Council departments – is we can become myopic, seeing the problem from only our own point of view. It’s a Staff Side Secretary’s job to listen to as many of you as possible and then ‘shake’ you with the overall picture. As professionals, I ask you to take this bigger picture back to your ‘departments’ and talk to your ‘membership’
This week has been a revelation of behavioural standards amongst professional politicians in this country. For example:
Michael Mansfield on Human Rights in the hands of Grayling (who has since silenced Probation Officers in the Social Media) and May (Guilty of ‘Contempt of Court ‘). Would any professional care to come to an opinion about whether their idea about a social contract on Human Rights is anything like ours?
This is Latent Existence on the Parliamentary debate (or whateveryoucallit) on Ministerial refusals to meet with the Disability Activist Community group known as Spartacus. Does this qualify as professional behaviour?
And this is the Labour Party supporting the Tories’ evasion of legal duty through a retrospective change of law. I give thanks to my God there were honest professionals in the House of Commons who could model good behaviour . And I thank Owen Jones for telling us Miliband’s real reason for sitting on his hands… again.
These are the issues I see… from this week alone!
From every professional viewpoint I can muster, I see persistent breaches to the Heart of the Social Contract between the UK government and the people of Britain to render it broken and beyond repair. I have consulted widely and have found agreement in surprising places.
What I want to know – from everyone who reads this – is what you intend to do about it? I don’t care who you are, if you understand the professional difference between right and wrong then you have a social duty to do something to correct social wrongs committed by those now unable to maintain any semblance of good faith in their public duties. THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE PAID FOR!
And I don’t know what it is you’re supposed to do. You’re a professional – I shouldn’t have to tell you. As the Personnel Manager at Westminster once said “We employ adults.” What I will tell you now is that if you don’t do something sharpish, and we leave these monstrosities in charge of the country, I’ll either be dead or destitute alongside thousands of others at the very moment when we all enter a famine. By that time, no-one will be safe, not even you.
On 1st April 2013, Britain is going to be thrown into the Shock Doctrine. The problem with this doctrine is its predictability – use it too frequently and people start to throw off the affect. Understanding the Shock Doctrine immunises you and enables you to keep functioning when you were supposed to be immobilised.
I invite you to examine the evidence here and in your own experience, take up your professional social responsibility to ‘good faith’ by acting in the public interest. This problem has never stopped of its own accord; it has always needed to be stopped! If there is any country on this planet that understands that, it’s Britain!
Now, what are we going to do about it?