Thursday, June 23, 2011

There's Still Power in a Union (2)


With a wave of industrial action expected this summer in response to the Coalition’s severe programme of budget cuts, we hear voices from the Right and the Centre calling for a further ‘tightening’ of union strike laws. We see no reason to change the laws at the moment, the Tories say (and the Lib Dems warn, as if they were reluctant passengers), because at the moment things are working fairly well, but we may have to review the laws at some stage if the situation changes. As long as the unions co-operate with us, in other words, they’ll be fine. If they don’t, we’ll start making their lives difficult.

That’s a fine example of democracy for you, isn’t it? They’re not doing what we want them to, so we’ll make it harder for them to defy us. They say the unions do not have a sufficient mandate from their members for the next wave of strikes. Most members, they point out, didn’t cast a vote either for or against industrial action. Perhaps. Although there are issues about how furtive a union member has to be in the workplace to avoid being persecuted by his bosses (if you don’t believe me, try it); a union member in this shiny new consensual age puts a bull’s eye on his forehead if he talks about anything other than sex, alcohol, football or promotion opportunities – so what chance does he really have to refine his views on this or that issue if he can’t discuss it with people who are facing the same problems? If an employee was allowed to vote on union issues at his workplace the response to a ballot would be 100% either for or against recommendations from the executive; and then you’d really have democracy. Which is what employers, and the Government, fear most. The new corporate model they both favour has employees settling disputes individually – never, ever, collectively – through HR Departments, which are staffed by ambitious young men and women of a corporate inclination drawing their salaries from the same company you’re in dispute with. I think anybody with an objective eye can see the Grand Canyon-sized flaw there.

I wonder, anyway, who this present Government are to wish to change laws to stop megalithic institutions acting without mandates. Most of the British population didn’t vote at the last General Election because they have come to see all politicians as liars and grifters. And the Conservatives still couldn’t get a Parliamentary majority out of the people who did vote. They had to form an alliance with a party even less popular in the country than they were to be able to govern. If irresponsible action taken without mandate results in a punitive tightening of the laws relating to that action, then David Cameron and George Osborne should be prevented from entering the House of Commons with all haste. And Vince Cable should stop bullying trade unions on television news or be let loose on the streets with no money, no credit cards, no mobile phone, no belt for his trousers, and told not to come back to Westminster until he has found his conscience.

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