Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Defending Trade Unions and the future

Worth noting amid fresh crackdown on unions that days lost to strike action fell from 2011 peak of 1.4m to 443,000 in 2013 ‪#‎QueensSpeech‬ (Prospect Union Tweet)

Trade unions are a long established force in British politics and have through struggle won and retained rights for their members over the years which has been for the benefit of millions of low paid and badly treated working people.

Unions have declined since the zenith in the 1970's and today the TUC is very much dominated by the public sector largely due to decline of both the manufacturing industry and mining since the Thatcher years. Yet for many they remain the first line of self defence against the excess of bad employers, of which there are many.

The Queens speech will contain the long threatened proposals to reduce the ability of unions to strike through measures reported in today's London Evening Standard:

A Trade Unions Bill will require a minimum 50 per cent turnout for union ballots on industrial action. But in key public services such as transport, health, education and the fire brigade, a strike will only be legal if at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to cast a ballot vote in favour of one.

Although not specifically mentioned in any reports I have read it is likely the Civil Service will be hit by the severe end of these measures.

Opponents will rightly point out that most MP's voting in favour of such legislation will not have reached a similar level of "threshold" and there is a high level of hypocrisy on the part of the Tory Government in pushing these quite unnecessary measure through.

Yes there are some badly run unions where strikes take place on very small turnouts (both PCS and the RMT are obvious examples) but the vast majority of strikes that take place tend to be smaller, more localised ones involving much smaller numbers of members.

These are those that are at the least political end of the trade union movement and tend to be over very specific issues and quite often in defence of a sacked or unfairly treated workmate. With Industrial Tribunals being made too expensive for workers, even in trade unions to undertake it seems the Tories want to have their cake and eat it, not that this will come as any surprise to the vast majority of the population some 63% who did not vote for this government.

More hypocrisy from David Cameron exposing his "one nation conservatism" for the charade it is. 

The legislation is not designed to benefit workers who "do not strike" as Boris Johnson tried to claim. Far from it. No one is forced to go on strike, the days of closed shops are long gone. The so-called militant union PCS has never managed to persuade the majority of it's members to go on strike at any one time. 

The nature of why people join unions changed a long time ago, but a lot of their leaders stuck in the 1970's mindset failed to notice due to their ideological preoccupations. Members see unions as "insurance", in particular personal insurance for when they get into trouble with management. A lot of union reps have become good advocates for their members and quite rightly so. 

Whilst not every case can be won (and sometimes there are a minority of members who cannot be saved due to the nature of their "offences") unions do a very good job.

Nevertheless there remains a huge gap in many unions between what members actually want and what their leaders and activists seek to use their organisations for.

Too much political nonsense that is not directly linked to trade union work and in the case of some civil service unions goes against the interests of large sections of it's membership. This is due to conferences and even internal elections being dominated by left wing activists who want to affiliate to and work for a whole range of activity that is of no concern to the average member in the sense that this is not what their subscriptions should be paying for.

If people want to get active in reactionary campaigns such as the totally misnamed Stop the War Coalition or the Trade  Unionist & Socialist Coalition then they should do so on an individual basis.

Unions exist to protect it's members within the industry or sector to which they belong. They do not exist to overthrow either parliamentary democracy or capitalism. The vast majority of members vote for the main political parties and more than a few will have voted either Tory or UKIP. Certainly far more than even considered the tiny and irrelevant TUSC.

Trade unions need reform and change but that needs to come from the inside. The old Marxist orientated left needs to be challenged and pushed aside. Not an easy task and one that may well take a generation to complete.

The sight of activists including some from the unions getting involved in rucks with the police outside Downing Street or Trafalgar Square does not impress the vast majority of union members.

However the oppressive legislation proposed by the Tories will backfire and give the far-left a boost they don't deserve.

The Bills proposed by the Tories in the Queens Speech are not democratic and pander to managements needs not peoples needs and should be dropped now.

Meanwhile the unions must modernise, democratise and prepare for a new less ideologically motivated future for the twenty first century.

Failure to do so will weaken the trade union movement further.

Time for change.

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