Friday 29 May 2020

We're Saved - The Unions Are Coming!

The signs are everywhere: t'unions reckon their hour of revival is arrived.  Well, the heroes of the hour are Key Workers and they are all unionised (well, errr, some of them), and lionised, and recognised, belatedly, for how important they are.  And the economy needs to be rebuilt, and the unions definitely need to be consulted about that.  And the Labour manifesto promised to make the new green future fully unionised ... etc etc etc.  Why, L'il Owen Jones has even changed his moniker!

Many of us hereabouts don't routinely think about unions, have anything to do with unions (pace, E-K), nor expected ever again to be troubled by unions.  Last time I personally dealt with a union delegation, was when they were begging (I think that's the word, really) to be allowed to come onsite at a shiny new plant I was responsible for in the North East in the '90s.  Rather cruelly, I replied: why would we?   All our non-managerial technical staff had been recruited from traditional unionised backgrounds in the locality, and were delighted to be under training to be multi-skilled.  As they (our staff) would tell us, if you'd volunteered to become multi-skilled in their previous employment "the union guys would break your legs".

Anyhow, it would be foolish not to recognise that there's a bit of a seachange underway, if only in the morale of these dinosaurs.  Here's some disparate thoughts on a union resurgence.

1.  They're actually a bit nervous

Well, after the beatings they've endured over the past 35+ years, wouldn't you be?  And they are of course deeply cognisant of how dependent they are on the policies and handouts of our dynamic new Covid Chancellor, who has basically "outflanked them on the left", moving faster and further than they were even asking for!  They'd like to be telling him what to do: but they are also pretty grateful for the substantial crumbs cascading from his table.  Could we please, errrr, just have a seat at this table?  Please?  They know where all the initatives are coming from.  And the £££.  And who's in charge for the next several years.

2.  Green Deal to be unionised - really?

Now Rebecca's "Green Deal" was for a fully unionised new industrial revolution, of course - and it was green in name only.  The noteworthy central plank of this policy was the "just transition", which meant, well, anything really, provided unionised industrial jobs were front and centre - new car factories, plastics factories, steel works, you name it.

I'm sure we can easily envisage Boris going for a massive Keynsian splurge.  And cars, steel & plastics may well feature - along with even easier quick-wins like roadbuilding and infrastructure renewal.  He may even call it a Green Deal, to steal Labour's thunder and give the pudding a bit of a spurious theme.  But: unionised?  No more so than normal-for-2019, I'd guess.  The big advocates of this kind of green Keynsianism, all the way to Ed Miliband (remember him?) are quite keen to be non-partisan (see 'nervous' above).

3.  Unions & Starmer: is he particularly keen?

Some say not, nay, they fear not.  You could see why.  What's less attractive than Unite, the Union and bad-boy McCluskey and his bad-old-days fixer reputation? 
Keir Starmer is pivoting Labour away from the support it has given to trade unions in recent years ... leading figures in two Labour-affiliated unions – the Fire Brigades Union and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union – released statements condemning Starmer’s favoured [and of course successful] candidate, David Evans, for party General Secretary as “divisive.” The former Blair-era fixer is deeply unpopular with many of Labour’s affiliated unions and seen as likely to diminish their influence
And never mind Starmer and his pivoting: there are plenty on the purist Left who despair of the undemocratic, unrepresentative machinations and general corruption (not to mention conservatism) they see amongst the ranks of the dinosaurs. 

4.  Good news for the rest of us

However, it is I think to be expected that they do elbow into a few more seats at a few more tables in the coming months and years - including various organs of the Peoples Party.  The great thing about this is, they are really incompetent.  Any board or body with heavy union influence is going to be that much more dull and leaden-footed, not to mention conservative - at a time when agility and sharp-sighted radicalism is what's needed.  The best you ever get is when some relatively bright union research-department wonk comes up with a load of incredibly well-researched, detailed, earnest, but essentially wrongheaded "roadmap" which may accidentally contain a nugget or two, but which nobody ever reads (case in point: Rebecca's bizarre 2019 energy policy which I believe I might be the only person on the planet ever to have gone through to the very end).

Boris has always been lucky.



Anonymous said...

Always been a union man, but I was disappointed in the reaction (as reported by the BBC, so maybe its dishonest) to the news that Nissan were closing an EU plant but keeping the UK one. It was all about - no diminution of terms and conditions etc - perhaps a tad churlish given the alternative of no work.

Sunderland car workers are fortunate - low house prices in the region mean its one of the few places where an industrial worker can still afford a house and maybe even a SAH or part-time wife and mother. Same for example with VSEL workers in Barrow.

Anonymous said...

I maintained my union membership even in the years when my job didn't need one because we were in demand, only left when I started contracting.

My former colleagues were TUPE'd out to an outsourcer, goodbye to the final salary pension (left out of TUPE legislation), hello to a long campaign of driving down terms and conditions (or driving people to take redundancy on again worse terms). The union batteled, but were constantly in retreat.

My decision to take voluntary redundancy before the TUPE transfer started turned out to be a financial masterstroke, my only one.

DJK said...

The unions may be weak and incompetent, and perhaps that has something to do with the shrinking labour share of earnings compared to the 1970s. Anon has a point that the death of unions has meant the end of working people being able to afford the things that matter (house, pension, decent schools, etc.)

But are the unions really so incompetent compared to HM government? Aside from the fact that with Covid-19 we've managed to combine about the worst death rate in the world and the worst economic hit. How about all the mixed messages coming out over the last two months.

Two weeks quarantine for overseas visitors (on, off, then on again) and only after it ceases to matter? Does anybody seriously think this will happen? Or what about the Turkish PPE fiasco?

Or how about the government advice on mask wearing. There's plenty of evidence that it makes a difference, not least from the European countries where it's compulsory. Even American officials are seen wearing masks, but I've yet to see anyone from the British government wearing one and such advice as there's been has been very wishy-washy.

We all get that Boris values personal choice and really wants to be liked, but some day soon people will notice that the lack of clear direction and grip has left the country with a lot of serious outcomes.

E-K said...

Now would be a good time to get a no-strike law through. A test of how truly Conservative this party is.

I've said to some at work who don't think they are going to be affected by job losses and think that strike action would prevent it "To be able to hold a government to ransom you need people to take hostages and right now we ain't got anyone to take hostage - they're all bust or working from home now."

Strike action for me should be a very last resort and for exceptional issues. I've been made redundant once and never been on strike in 30 years, I'm proud to say. The grass roots are pretty moderate.

What has happened, however, is that Boris's large majority 'oop North has made him a bit more lefty (his other half too) and he had no choice but to become publicly pro NHS (the institution, not the doctors and nurses.

Perhaps the Conservative Party should call themselves the NHS Party from now on.

Thank God the weekly clap has ended. I wasn't even able to hide my contempt at the last one. I was even chanting "Bring out yer dead !" as I rattled my cow bell.

Anonymous said...

"Or how about the government advice on mask wearing"

I assumed that was a Noble Lie, as in "masks don't protect against CV19 at all at all, unless you're a medical worker with a degree in Maskology".

Translation "We haven't got enough even for front line staff, let alone second tier or care home staff. But wait a few months and China will make them for us again!"

Anonymous said...

PS - interesting comment elsewhere, totally off topic. Ever wonder how there's a demo in India or Afghanistan on the news, but all the signs at the front are English?

"I was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti just after the 2010 earthquake disaster and saw a CNN camera crew set up on an upstairs balcony near the presidential palace and handing out placards, markers, and English language dictionaries so that protesters could hold up nice legible signs in English for the cameras. And of course people who wanted to protest would naturally congregate facing the sunset where the cameras could get a nice angle on them."

Anonymous said...

Are unions really necessary in a future world where there are no jobs.

National Union of ex-shopworkers

National Union of ex-hospitality staff

National Union of ex-car dealers

National Union of ex-bank staff

Tell me where there will be a workforce with the numbers to even consider a union?

Anonymous said...

In thirty years in retail I have never once seen a rep from the shop workers union. Never once had a reply from them to any questions asked.

I’ have been a member of two unions. Both a complete waste of time. haven’t the slightest interest in their workers.
It’s a party membership, political organisation. That is all. Labour Party cash cow.

Anonymous said...

I must say when Boris boosters talked about "Singapore-on-Thames" I didn't think they meant it literally.

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