Some dubious use of stats in this article. On the question of whether Labour should distance itself from the unions, I wonder how many people answered don’t know, don’t care or not really bothered? For most it’s simply not a big issue in itself. As for the question of whether people think the unions are too powerful, it’s not surprising that the percentage agreeing has fallen so much, as it’s obviously and objectively true that the unions are indeed less powerful now than they were decades ago.
But if you click on the link to the New Statesman article which is the source of the contention that “66% of the public blame the Government for [the rail strikes]”, you find that in fact those 66% think that “the government has done too little to prevent the strikes from happening” – which is not the same thing. The same poll says that about half also say the RMT has done too little to prevent the strikes. Clearly it’s possible (and probably common) to blame more than one party.
Yes, one poll does indicate that “58% of the public say the rail strikes are justified” – but then another shows that “41 per cent of the public support the industrial action, compared with 42 per cent who are opposed.” As the New Statesman article observes, “Voters are sympathetic to the strikers, but they’re not explicitly pro-strike.”
And there’s the rub. The cost of living crisis is real and this country undoubtedly faces significant problems. But strikes rarely, if ever, solve anything. They make life more difficult for other working people – the ones who rely most on public transport, for instance – whilst doing nothing to solve the fundamental issues of inflation, low productivity, energy security and others that are feeding the present crisis. They are a relic of a bygone age when workers’ rights were nothing like as good as they are now. Most people are not impressed by strikes, and Labour are moving with the times in recognising this.
Good analysis of the data, which are not well examined in the article. Data rarely stand on their, they need some sort of analysis, and this can be subjective even when the analyst is being scrupulous.
Industrial relations law completely ignores the interests of the general public. In a typical modern industrial dispute, the public are not directly involved, but are used as hostages by the unions (with many crocodile tears) to extract concessions from their employers. Without restricting the right of individuals to withdraw their labour, or otherwise changing the rights of employees & employers, the government should give the public specific civil law rights to recover their losses from anyone encouraging or conspiring them to do so, such as militant trade union leaders. As it stands, immunity goes too far & is an injustice to the general public.
Given that trade unions have a reported membership of 6.67 million in the UK (and their members will have dependents) I think its reasonable to suggest a considerable overlap of interest with the general public, and not the complete dichotomy you suggest. Trade unions were formed originally to campaign against grievous injustices and sought to improve the human rights conferred on working people. Successive governments have already weakened the ability of trade unions to take such action in a number of important ways. This is evidenced by the massive reduction in strike activity in recent decades. Your proposed solution would appear to make it impractical for workers to withdraw their labour as the costs of doing so would become punitive. But I expect that is the idea.
So if you want to make it impossible to strike (without facing financial ruin) how do you propose workers ensure their wages keep up with inflation when their employer refuses to negotiate?
Why would an employer enter negotiations in good faith if they know the workers can’t withdraw their labour?
They, we, anyone in this country can withdraw their labour anytime.
Perhaps what you meant was “can’t withdraw their labour without breaking their contract conditions and ultimately losing their job”?
The original post to which I was replying wanted to make it almost financially impossible to do so. Therefore I was asking the question how would workers ensure their wages remain fair if striking wasn’t an option?
This article starts with a very partial view on the Grunwick dispute which suggests this was all about race and working conditions. Since I lived through the 1970s and heard this extensively reported at the time and the author almost certainly did not, I can say with confidence that this was not the core of the dispute. Nor was the dispute nearly as black and white as he would have people believe. It was more about pay rates (the employees no doubt had a good case) and whether employers has the freedom to operate within the law without secondary picketing (whether by Labour MPs or others). Whatever you think about Margaret Thatcher, she at least sorted out excessive union power which was – amongst other things – crippling Britain up to the mid 1980s.
But the author is still a young man and this is all doubtless outside his “lived experience”.
It’s hard to plough through the rest when the article starts out from a false premise.
The later assertion that there is majority public support for current rail strikes beggars belief. Perhaps some cherry-picked opinion poll might be found to indicate this. But I suggest that the author “needs to get out more” on this one.
Finally, is is notable that union activity these days is largely limited to state or quasi/ex-state organisations (like the railways and privatised companies like BT). New companies seem to neither have not want trade unions. In thirty five years working in technology in the UK, there has never been a single moment when I thought “I wish there was a trade union to stand up for me”. Quite the reverse – it is understood that you must stand up for yourself and negotiate your own salary and that life isn’t fair, never will be and more importantly should not be (the cost to freedom being way too high). One might wonder from all the above whether the state is in fact the worst employer in Britain … but correlation is not causation …
Peter B’s smug and patronising riposte may be confident, but it’s ill-informed. He speaks of lived experience. I was on the picket line – one of the most frightening and brutal I ever encountered. Police racism and overt violence part of their enthusiastic and totally disproportionate deployment in a proxy battle between government and organised labour. “You must… negotiate your own salary” indicates the writer has no knowledge of what it’s like to be hourly paid and powerless. The most successful manufacturing industries in Germany during this period opted for collective bargaining and union reps on the board.
Germany’s unions are nothing like the Left-dominated self-serving cabals of those in the UK. They recognise that their interests are best served by efficient, highly productive, successful industries and companies. The UK’s union barons are only interested in their own power bases.
Well said. Unions would undoubtedly be beneficial in Dickensian times, but nowadays employees are generally well protected and provided for. It seems that the Union bosses want to feed their own avarice, and would happily cause their employer to go bankrupt in the process.
Absolutely. I do business in both countries and there is no comparison with the UK unions.
You are wilfully misrepresenting my words here.
You have also missed the opportunity to comment on what your view of what the Grunwick dispute was really about and gone straight for the personal angle. So come on – apart from your criticism of the police, what was it actually about ?
In fact, my “lived experience” during the 1970s included my father being unemployed for 2 years and being the only child in my class needing free school meals. I drew the conclusion that I would need to look after myself (if able) and a strong desire never to let this happen to me and my family.
I was certainly not saying that looking after yourself is going to work for everyone – merely that it applies to an increasing number of people. In my view, that’s a good thing. People who can take individual responsibility for their future should do so. The welfare state is for those who cannot – and there will always be some – and not a career option.
Being hourly paid does not mean you are automatically powerless. Success today is about skills, learning, teamwork and having a good attitude.
Personally, I hope my son gets his first job at somewhere like McDonalds where he can learn about these things – as well as customer service. I certainly do not look down on “McJobs” as so many on the left seem to.
I hope that doesn’t come across as “smug and patronising” for you.
I fully agree with your final sentence. As a union member myself, primarily as an insurance policy in case I should ever be made redundant, I see traces of that more mature approach to the proper role of unions in industry in the UK union movement. It would be great if that attitude prevailed in the UK. But they are only traces, I’m afraid. Rightly or wrongly, as a result of the political/ideological confrontations of the past, unions are seen differently in the UK. I am old enough to remember the 70s and 80s and Labour only became electable after it reduced the influence of organised labour on its policies and governance. Starmer may or may not be our generation’s Neil Kinnock, but the Labour party would be wise to ignore the siren voices of the author and others.
The Labour Party ceased to be working class party decades ago, leaving the working class, both unionised and non-unionised, without any political representation. It would de well to amalgamate with the Lib/Dems and The Conservative (not conservative) Party and fester away in the corner. Perhaps, in the resultant void, genuine political parties, parties funded by their members, might arise and prosper.
This is not quite correct. The Labour party still believes in middle-class trade unionism in areas like the Civil Service, teching and the NHS. Just not the “hands dirty” jobs.
Quite. If these were teachers, striking because they wanted little children to wear masks in schools, or because they had been prevented from teaching ‘gender’ ideology, Labour would support them. They would also support the BMA in its continuing campaign to prevent patients from seeing GPs.
I referred specifically to working class people – whether unionised or not.
Apologies. But I’m basically agreeing with you and share your frustrations.
What the article appears to be saying is Starmer should follow public opinion. His job is to help the UK overcome its problems. He should tell the Unions that inflation is caused by increased costs of supplies, particularly energy and labour shortages. In the immediate future average living standards will fall because total production of goods and services will be less. Using Union powers to sustain living standards will mean either others must suffer more or inflation will spiral up with no one regaining their living standards. Inflation can then be reduced by a recession – is that what they want?
He should also be saying the UK is nearly self sufficient in energy and the loss in living standards from energy prices is matched by windfall price increases for oil and gas produced in the UK. In a time of war the government should buy all that production at the pre-crisis prices and use the proceeds from selling it on the open market to buy the oil and gas needed in the UK, that it would sell at pre-crisis prices. Otherwise what is the point in being self sufficient? Oil and gas producers should not expect to profit out of wars.
Good post. Incidentally, I call him Ikea Starmer because he is so wooden.
Imagine the borefest when they elect Maybot Mark 2 as leader.
The big problem with Starmer is that, even if we take your argument as an objective truth, he lacks the guts to make this argument to the public. In fact, the over arching theme of his career as “leader” (someone who is supposed to shape public opinion, as much as being accountable to it), is explicitly a fear of public sentiment.
Unsurprisingly, despite being leader for two+ years, the public are now less clear on what Starmer stands for than Liz Truss or #Ready4Rishi (according to Ipsos)
What exactly does the Labour Party stand for if not worker’s rights?
Exactly. The clue is in the name!
The whole purpose of the Labour Party is to be the political wing of the trade union movement. It would win far more votes by ditching identity politics and supporting female rights than it will by turning against the unions.
I doubt there is a union leader in the UK who would not rather see his members on lower wages in a closed shop, than see workers get better money elsewhere with freedom of contract.
I have been in many unions over the years – the first 30 years of my working life was all heavy manual work – and been on strike many times.
There are some local shop stewards who really believe the legend and try to do right but they are outnumbered by the power-hungry as you go higher up the tree.
I’m not wholly on board with the argument but the nub of it seems correct. How can a political Party called Labour and founded by trades unions to represent their wider political and social interests, allow itself to be embarassed by trades unionism in practice. It doesn’t matter whether you like or support the Labour Party, or approve, or disapprove, of strike action. That basic problem is untenable. And Blair had a decade of global economic growth to allow that tension to be hidden, Starmer does not.
Game theory wise Starmer should adopt that pugnacious Callghan approach but without the Bennite or Corbynite analysis. “It’s a lawful strike, called under rules designed by the Conservatives and Labour will always back working people asserting their lawful rights in negotiations with their employers. That’s what we are here for. ”
People who don’t like unions or strikes or the Labour Party are not going to vote Labour anyway so he has nothing to lose. And I am not Labour and don’t support public sector strikes and definitely not this one. But I couldn’t disagree with a statement like that.
The Labour Party needs to make itself financially independent of the Trade Union movement.
The British electorate will be concerned that when push comes to shove the Unions will take precedence over the electorate.
Labour will struggle to win another election outright until they are seen to be independent of the Unions.