Saturday, 29 January 2011

The state of the Unions

So trade unions are positioning themselves to be the organising force behind the opposition to spending cuts.

In my view this is a major strategic error as trade unions are still officially and practically affilliated to Labour, so their opposition cannot be considered non-partisan and one therefore has to question the basis for their opposition.

While I'm perfectly happy that unions exists and value much of the work they do in improving the conditions of employment in the country their party affiliation does create an explicit conflict of interest when people such as Mark Sewotka speak up ostensibly on behalf of workers.

It also plays directly into the hands of Conservative hard-liners who are arguing that union resistance to efforts to balance the budget is turning them into "forces of stagnation" - a neat reversal that!

As a case in point the LFA conflict (or Boris vs Ken rematch, as others would have it) proposes a showdown between 'over-mighty' trade unions in the red corner and 'bullying' employers employers in the blue corner - a situation which is exacerbated, not helped, by the association with political (rather than real) interests on either side.

I find it frankly ridiculous that it can be claimed as coherent or sustainable to be trenchantly opposed to every point of analysis offered, whether as a matter of principle or otherwise.

So I find myself strangely in agreement with this Guardian editorial that
"the public does not want an unreformed welfare state, a lame duck industrial sector or trade unions that seem more concerned with overthrowing governments than representing workers' interests democratically."
If that's what trades unions represent today then they don't represent me.


Tim Trent said...

Perhaps a digression, but based upon your final sentence: "If that's what trades unions represent today then they don't represent me." I find that the unions have rarely represented me, if at all. My wife is a union member because she is a teacher. Teachers need unions to safeguard so many thing, not just employment.

Apart from my first ever job, one in which I attended the Home Office and drew a salary for the occasional work break, the unions got in the way each year at annual pay review time. They held out for higher increases, after sic to nine months they accepted what had been offered in the first place, and we all got a lump of back pay. I would have been happy to make an individual settlement for my pay early, but no, that was not to be. So I never joined.

In all my other jobs the very act of joining a union would have got me fired. We needed them very greatly. American IT companies are hell to work for. But none had even a smidgen of a union. We were fired often enough, but no-one could protest.

I find I don't miss The Thames Valley at all.

I'm purposely ignoring the political aspects of unions. I wish they would, too.

Oranjepan said...

Hi Tim,
I think of the relationship between Labour and the unions as something like the relationship between the church and state.

Strangely ironic it is then that most of the advocates of separation between the church and the state tend to lean more towards the left of the political spectrum, where their established political vehicle stubbornly resists any loosening of their connection.

My standard solution for this is in reform of the HoL - union bosses are often denigrated as 'barons', so it seems to me there should be a TUC bench where the elected leaders could legitimately sit and represent their members, rather than seeking to dominate their opposing class through the commons.

It's only really because they are an estate within society without statutory positions (ie compared with Germany where workers councils are common and worker representation on company boards is the norm) that they have evolved an interdependent relationship with the Labour party.

And it's this failure of the system to provide satisfactory acknowledgement of their positive role which allows the distorting effect on national politics of a party which represents a specific interest group.

Tim Trent said...

The problem is historic, of course, along with the name of that political party.

Oranjepan said...

Agreed, but the party will be too unless they can answer what (rather than who) they stand up for.

Tim Trent said...

With some notable exceptions, whose politics I dislike, but whose unflinching stance I admire, the Labour Party is out for personal profit for its MPs. I cite Blair as a prime example.

It is the party of self above all things while putting up a pretence of theoretical socialism.

In the period when it was electable we did need it in power, for about one term in three. It curbed the excesses of the Tories. Now it has ceased to have any modern relevance.

Oranjepan said...

You may like to read this story wich has been the cause of some serious arguments locally

Tim Trent said...

If the payments were lawful one must ask why, and look at the morality behind such things.

If the payments were unlawful then those who authorised those payments should be prosecuted.

Oranjepan said...

It's a bit of a murky area.

As far as I can see it's black and white.

However Labour are arguing that the tories do it with their business backers, so it's all alright then - unless they want to face equal scrutiny on their accounting practices.

It's the unions vs ashcroft in a microcosm!