by Paul Embery
Monday, 15
June 2020
Debate
07:00

When will the trade unions speak up?

They sit idly by while workers face ever tightening constraints on their freedoms
by Paul Embery
Credit: Guy Smallman/Getty

It is inevitable that, as the West’s culture war thunders on, we will read yet more reports of individuals being hounded from their jobs, and in some cases forced to withdraw from public life, for saying the ‘wrong’ thing (or even, as sometimes seems to be the case these days, merely for failing to say the ‘right’ thing).

The hyper-sensitivity over issues of identity and race that already bedevilled so many of our institutions and workplaces has further intensified in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the attendant row over statues.

There is, it seems, no room for disagreement or nuanced debate in some quarters. Those who refuse to support the Black Lives Matter movement, warts and all, are, in some cases, risking their whole careers and reputations.

This pitchfork mentality was illustrated by the affair of the local radio presenter on the Isle of Man who was suspended from his job recently for the heinous crime of challenging the concept of ‘white privilege’ in a debate with a caller. His wasn’t the first and won’t be the last such case.

Some of these injustices have been documented by the Free Speech Union — set up recently by the conservative writer Toby Young — which seems to have placed itself in the vanguard of the resistance to such madness. Good for it. But it does raise the question of why the mainstream of the British trade union movement is so silent on these matters. Why aren’t our established unions protesting against the increasingly suffocating, accusatory atmosphere which infects our workplaces, oppresses workers and, at its extreme, prohibits them from expressing legitimate views or criticisms and sanctions them if they dare to do so?

The answer, of course, is that many among today’s trade union leadership are either in the thrall of our new national religion of liberal wokedom or too petrified to challenge it for fear of incurring the wrath of the rest of the movement. So they are content to walk by on the other side while workers face ever tightening constraints on their freedoms.

Trade unions have a proud record of fighting against prejudice. They have rightly campaigned long and hard to protect workers from discrimination over their race, age, sex, disability, religion and so on. Yet when it comes to the most fundamental right — that of freedom of speech and thought — they have deserted the battlefield and allowed discrimination to flourish.

It is a symptom of the rigid orthodoxy that pervades the wider Left — one which demands diversity in everything but opinion. And it’s another reason why unions are, tragically, becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Join the discussion


  • While I agree with the thrust of this piece in it’s present day context, I do feel that it paints a somewhat rosier picture of the trade unions than is perhaps merited. Until Thatcher tackled their power base, (and I’m no Thatcher apologist, I believe she did great harm to the country,) my main recollection of the unions is of elected governments of both persuasions being held to ransom over ever more ridiculous wage demands, and strikes. Lots of them.

    That said, I agree entirely with the author that free speech is an issue that the present crop of unions could and should be more vocal about. Any challenge to the concepts of white privilege or historical guilt are simply dismissed as racism, and rarely addressed or debated. Trade unions could become the collective voice so many dissenters to the current orthodoxy require.

  • Canada is at the forefront of The Great Woke Purge. I myself have been removed from a committee because I dared suggest a more positive way to help increase “minority representation” in med school is to help those communities increase things like high-school completion rates in their youth, rather than by further ratcheting down the standards (they are already lower than for white students). I found out that is NOT an acceptable view for the modern age. We seem to be doing a poor job of being a white supremacist-racist-patriarchal medical school, as 60% of successful applicants being women, and a significant over-representation of asians, east asians, and immigrants.

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