Unions, are they still needed?

According to new research by the Tax Payers’ Alliance, the public are subsidising the unions to the tune of £85 million a year, made up both of obvious things like the multi-million pound Union Modernisation Fund and less obviously the numerous union officials who are working for their union while being paid full time by their employers.

There was a time when worker exploitation was rife and unionisation was a force for good. Think back to the time when the factory owners also owned the lives of the factory workers, when a town had only one industry and there was no such thing as workforce mobility. In circumstances like that I would have joined a union.

As much as maintaining the spectre of the manipulative, all powerful mill owner or pit boss is good to justify the workers vs the bosses narrative it just doesn’t reflect the modern world of work. Today we have a mobile and informed workforce, the bulk of whom can choose where they live and what job they do. We have employers who are keen to keep hold of a workforce that they have invested in and we have consumers who care about the conditions of workers in the supply chain and adjust their buying decisions accordingly.

We more often see industrial action bringing to its knees the very industries the unions sought to protect, the most heavily unionised industries became the least competitive and died out, think of the ship building, car manufacturing and newspaper printing. BA is losing market share to lower cost airlines yet Unite is fighting to keep uneconomical business models which could see the company go out of business. Only in public sector monopolies has union activity really thrived.

We now have completely different circumstances to the ones when the unions were created. It could be argued that the unions have won their real battle, employers care for their workers, exploitations is now unacceptable and indeed illegal, the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is an history work of fiction. The dragons that the unions sought to slay have been slain, Bob Crow, Tony Woodley, Matt Wrack et al are like those Japanese soldiers alone on Pacific islands in the 1950s refusing to believe that WWII had ended.

So I say to the knights of the workers, the champions of the common man, turn your swords into ploughshares, go back to work and stop tapping up the public to the tune of 85 million quid a year.

4 responses to “Unions, are they still needed?

  1. Of course there is a need for unions to represent workers and stand up for their rights against exploitation, yes even today.

    However, the current mega-unions are not really interested in the average worker, they are interested in national and international politics. They certainly don't really care about the state of public services except when it is jobs for the boys (and it did take them a very long time to accept that girls should be entitled to equal rights and pay at work).

    Unfortunately the result is that it is now virtually impossible to take industrial action in the private sector after BA, RMT and the high court demanded that unions have better knowledge of their workforce than the companies themselves.

  2. A health worker – in your constituency – of many years' standing was suspended for over 6 months earlier this year and was charged with gross misconduct. Her employer had the full force of the NHS bureacracy behind it whilst the health worker would have had no one, save for her union membership. Her union representative bent over backwards to put together a case to rebut the charges and as a result the health worker's case was thrown out. An independent observer said afterwards that were it not for the expertise of the union rep. then the health worker would have been sacked. Unions aren't so much about factories and worker mobility any more, but they have an indispensible part to play in protecting, for example, health workers against the bullying tactics that are used in the public sector on the part of the bosses. Before you wrote your anti-union rant it would have been expedient to have sought to ascertain why it is that an extremely high percentage of nurses belong to a union. In any event what's union membership – and many of the other things that you write about – to do with your job as a member of the London Assembly? Do you write it all in your spare time?

  3. Dear Anon

    Many non-unionised professionals protect themselves from that kind of situation with professional indemnity insurance.

    Unions and strikes have everything to do with my job in the London Assembly.

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