Friday, 19 March 2010
Unite/Divide & Conquer
When was a trade union dispute last such a hot election issue in a Britsh election? The current dispute between Unite and British Airways has really exposed the British parties, when it comes to their true attitudes towards the millions of trade unionists across the British State.
The Tories have perhaps been the most consistent, in fairness. Their absolute hatred for any trade union prepared to challenge an employer has come out loud and clear. Not since the Thatcher period have I seen Tory politicians saying exactly what they think about unions. Can you imagine what they will do to trade union law if they win power in May? They will go way beyond what Thatcher even dreamed of, using the Unite dispute to justify swingeing restrictions in unions' ability to take industrial action, just before unleashing the biggest public sector cuts in living memory. Please remember that the UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in any western democracy-far tighter than even the US.
The Lib Dems have been true to form, desperately trying to take the middle ground and endeavouring to balance the conflict between their membership who want to steer away from the Tories and their focus groups who want the opposite. Such are the joys of being in an ideological free-zone, although there are elements of their party who are pointing in the right direction.
Labour are in a genuine mess and frankly, it is mostly of their own making. Unite have grown not from membership recruitment but union amalgamation. They have been thrown together as the ultimate mix of public sector, traditional private sector, new private sector and a miriad of smaller unions; all of whom have a different agenda relevant to their members. The sheer hypocrisy of taking the member's money with one hand while stabbing them in the back with the other is not something new, but the negative publicity is and that is what is hurting Labour.
I would say that activists such as myself are very much in the minority. Most members are not active within the union or take any active role in any political party. They join largely for a form of 'job insurance', understanding that a good union branch can give them effective representation and still work in partnership with a sensible employer.
This dispute has exposed the hypocrisy of Labour, the anti-union venom of the Tories and the ignorant drift of the Lib Dems when it comes to unions. Sadly, the movement itself is very unlikely to gain from the media frenzy surrounding this story-not that the British parties care. They want power and if it means walking over trade unions to get it, then what's the problem?