11. Freedom and working people
To listen to a recording of the Freedom and working people session click here (to download it as an MP3 file, right click on this link and choose to save or download it)
Read a partial transcript of the session.
11.45 – 13.00
The democratic rights and freedoms of working people have been protected by trade unions for over 150 years in this country. But what price democracy in the modern world of 360-degree electronic surveillance technologies? In a workplace where the means of surveillance can be bought in the market, who is being watched – those subject to abuse, or potential abusers?
Faster than legislation can keep up, technological advances, from cameras and multi-directional hidden microphones to database-driven identity systems, are being rolled out in the workplace. Some working people must now operate these technologies on behalf of the government, with draconian controls imposed on their own lives as a result: in the legislation, anyone working on the new Identity Cards scheme who goes on strike could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and their homes may be searched by the authorities for up to 25 years following their employment. Others are simply being watched themselves, under new powers which leave standing the old controls of democratic debate and consensus, and call into question the hard-won freedoms of collective action.
The machinery is everywhere. Where consent to being watched is not required, and the use of surveillance technology can’t be controlled, is it possible to have a free and consensual workplace at all any more? What can we do to protect workers’ rights and their autonomy, while making appropriate use of powerful technologies which were never intended to control people, but were meant to empower them?
It’s time we had the debate. ‘Freedom and working people’ brings together trade union representatives and employers to work out how we can make the best use of the technologies we have, to improve workplace life; and what rights, responsibilities and actions we need to put in place to start a new era of liberty.
Sarah Veale (Head, Equality and Employment Rights Department, TUC)
Simon Zadek (Chief Executive, AccountAbility)
Jerry Hicks (Unite and candidate for General Secretary, Unite(Amicus))
Pete Murray (Vice President, NUJ)