Sunday, 19 April 2009

Bring back the unions

This country lost something very valuable when Thatcher shackled the unions. Back in the 1970s, workers had a voice and it served as a bulwark against the more virulent forms of rapacious capitalism. When industrial unions were destroyed, that voice was gone and our democracy suffered enormously.

With the unions weakened, this country was comprehensively deindustrialized. Finance became the only industry that mattered. Today, trade unions only represent the public sector. Private sector workers have been disenfranchised and silenced by anti trade union legislation.

It wasn't just Thatcher who wrecked the unions. crypt0-communists infiltrated and politicized them. It gave Thatcher a cover for wrecking the only authentic institutions that could defend and articulate working class interests.

I would happy put up with a few extra days of industrial action to regain a degree of balance in our political discourse.

23 comments:

Steve said...

How would you prevent them being taken over by the rancid left again? They're still plenty of them about.

Anonymous said...

However, the programme did not go on to examine the military and security preparations that were being made behind the scenes during Thatcher’s confrontation with the miners in 1984. In many respects Thatcher’s government represented the fulfilment of the aims of the earlier conspiracies. Indeed, her attitude to what she described as the

“enemy within”

was identical to that of the coup plotters of the 1970s.

A military coup proved to be unnecessary because the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour leaders were able to direct the militancy of the working class into a purely syndicalist struggle that did not raise the question of political power. Elements of the ruling elite may have feared that they were facing a revolution, but workers themselves were left in ignorance of the depth of the crisis.

For the rest of this article please go to:

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/apr2006/wil1-a19.shtml

electro-kevin said...

As an ASLE&F representative I agree wholeheartedly. My own union appears to have an global agenda at its head office in Arkwright Road. Why should my union be focused on climate change and in Cuba ?

Its true power base is now parochial, very much dependant on the quality of voluntary branch representatives and the strength of local membership and the disparity between the pay and conditions of one company and another can be huge.

There is no going back to centralised unionism in the private sector.

K T Cat said...

For US automakers, the unions are doing just fine. They got everything they wanted until they killed the companies. Ditto for public employee unions. Jusat wait until the pension bomb blows up across the states and cities over here.

Fionally, we have the public education union, the biggest single political force in the nation. California can reasonably be said to be owned and operated by the Teachers Union. The results speak for themselves. The education system is a disgrace, the costs are outrageous and the state is totally bankrupt, but there any budget plan that includes even the smallest cut in education is met with wild howls from the Teachers Union.

sobers said...

You must be joking! You can go back to power cuts because the miners are holding the country to ransom if you like, or flying pickets intimidating (and worse) people who want to work, and the closed shop etc, but don't drag the rest of us into it.

Tim Almond said...

The unions were finished once the motor car arrived and people could go and work elsewhere. Find 2 companies, 1 unionised and one not, and 9 times out of 10, the non-unionised company will survive where the other one fails.

As for Thatcher, let's consider what she did to "shackle" the unions:-

1) Policed the miners strike so that people could be allowed to work.
2) Stopped Scargill from holding the country to ransom.
3) Banned secondary picketing
4) Allowed union members to opt out of the political donation.

Hardly "shackling" them. All she really did was to refuse to give into them like so many leaders had before.

The real problems of manufacturing decline in this country were about quality and cost of production, and the likes of Japan and South Korea beating us.

AntiCitizenOne said...

What have you been smoking again?

Have you not seen Unite union attempting to subvert British democracy?

Please don't let your blog go to shit with such stupid posts in future.

Mick said...

Yes, Unite are an absolute bloody disgrace.

John McClane said...

Alice, I don't know where you were in the 70s. The unions messed up the country. Look at British Leyland, the 3 day week.

As for Unite, take a look at Whelan's column in his local paper. It deserves the abuse it got.

Anonymous said...

"With the unions weakened, this country was comprehensively deindustrialized."

Ah! Perhaps you are you muddling correlation and causation?

Naturally, I take an opposing viewpoint.

It was the Unions that strangled industry from about the end of the first world war until their influence was neutered by Thatcher.

The UK had run industrial policy as some sort of industrial heritage museum since the end of the WW1.

Industrial policy had been hijacked *BY* the Unions then run not in the interests of the members, but rather in the interests of the hierarchy of the Unions themselves.

The badge of success was not 'how successful is this industry' or 'is the quality of our goods high enough'? Rather 'are we employing a lot of people' and 'is it impossible to sack any of our members'?

I believe there was a much different attitude in German industrial policy or even perhaps Japanese industrial policy, where cost and quality of product was recognized as the important factor that would lead to security of employment and increased employee benefits.

By the way, yes Thatcher is to blame in one reapect, even though she did neuter Union power, she didn't destroy the Welfare state, as a result, 48% of GDP is spent keeping healthy people on the sick roll, and encouraging the feckless to breed in an unrestrained and promiscious fashion.

Note: I don't care how many children you beget, nor how many partners a woman might choose to do so with, I do object to being compelled to pay for their upbringing, whats more, pay top shelf prices and get bottom shelf product.

The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. I think the most significant contribution of the Socialist Labour movement to the decline of the United Kingdom is the sense of entitlement, the idea that the State owes you a living regardless of your individual merit.


AC1: "Please don't let your blog go to shit with such stupid posts in future."

There has always been a lefty tendency to Alice's commentary.

dearieme said...

I once sat through a 70s union meeting in which the steward issued instructions to his members with a sneer of cold command that no-one would have tolerated from a foreman. Your view of unions seems to me to be sentimental tosh, Alice.

The best workshop I ever worked with was manned entirely by refugees from union shops. They would have used stronger language than "sentimental". Or "tosh".

John McClane said...

I have to say, I'm with Anonymous 20.50 on this.

electro-kevin said...

"I believe there was a much different attitude in German industrial policy or even perhaps Japanese industrial policy"

This isn't the only area in which their attitudes were different.

Let's remember that both these countries had taken a thorough spanking in WWII and were aided by America in their recovery.

Post war Brits were under the illusion that they were victors. The victory seems to have been pyrrhic with hindsight.

I note that post unionist Britain still does its level best to undermine the ordinary worker (uncontrolled immigration is an attack on us). There seems to be a cultural antipathy towards the striving classes - this is why the unions once had the upper hand.

I heard recently "I need to get a little man in to fix the boiler" from one who considers herself middle class. And my friend heard the other day "We mix with the little people in the village sometimes" from over the fence of his second home neighbours.

This is what unions thrived on. Whose fault is that ?

Orlando Realtor said...

Unions drive prices of everything up, at first they were good and then they got greedy..

Anonymous said...

electro-kevin: Lots of good stuff which I don't disagree with.

not least: "uncontrolled immigration is an attack on us".

Yes.

Electro-kevin: "I heard recently "I need to get a little man in to fix the boiler" from one who considers herself middle class."

Sounds like my mother in law.

Regards etc.,

Anonymous said...

And Thatcher changed power generators over to imported Russian
gas operation,cutting out the miners.People always love fascists
at first because they appear decisive.People want action.
BTW..Thatcher loved Pinochet,so I guess that says it all....

Anonymous said...

Yes, a strange thing to say Alice. I well remember sitting in the dark with no heating as a child, thanks to the unions. They screwed themselves by annoying all their customers.
On a wider point you need to look at the bigger picture. A lot of the reason that both Britain and America deindustrialised was because of government policy. Eric janzsen at itulip.com has done a few articles on this.
Controlling the world is expensive, so we went onto a fiat money system. This secret taxation pushed up costs, which pushed up salary demands, which made industry less competitive. So a lot of industry closed down or moved abroad, which lowered wages at home, which caused more industrial strife as salaries didn't keep up with costs. This lead to the creation of housing bubbles by both Tory and Labour governments, to create the illusion of wealth, to mask the fall in real wealth.
The unions didn't really see the whole picture, but their remedy would not have stopped decline, as they wanted to restrict labour mobility and raise wages. if their ideas had been successful, we would just have reached out current position sooner.

Anonymous said...

The point Alice appears to be making is that of representation for employees, not bringing back the old 'beer and sandwiches' type union on the 70's.
It is clear that workers in Britain lack fundamental moderate representation in the current climate, the past decade has seen the wealth gap increase massively with the rich getting richer in a wildly disproportionate manner to those who actually do the work.
In no way should we go back to the mass and wildcat strike of the 70's, but employees need to have a option to legitimately make their point that they are not being treated properly. And before any bangs on about 'you can just leave and get another job' a lot of industries treat employees like dirt across the board.
Just allow people to have a voice.

Anonymous said...

It's arguable that the Heath-Barber dash for growth, consequent inflation, and the unions' justifiably wanting payrises in line with inflation, that messed up the country. The other parts of the mess were the lack of a work ethic on both sides of industry, simple class antagonism, excessive taxation and inadequate numbers of well-trained engineers (rather than arts graduates) in middle management.

Now let me think: Heath-Barber credit-based boom and bust, Thatcher-Lawson credit-based boom and bust, Blair-Brown credit-based boom and bust. The repeating pattern of failure seems to be on the side of capital, not the unions.

I take the point, though, that unions play in politics which shouldn't be their remit. I am also suspicious of where the money goes - it used to be for a strike pay fund, something no longer available. Could it be that Union bureaucrats and fat-cats are using up subscriptions wastefully?

B. in C.

Anonymous said...

B in C: "The repeating pattern of failure seems to be on the side of capital, not the unions."

With one minor change I would agree. Substitute the word 'government' for 'capital' and we are as one.

It was pointed out to me the other day and actually again today, that a 2% inflation target means that any savings you have will be worth half as much within one generation.

For the last ten years and as it happens under Thatcher a 2% inflation target was the norm.

The government triumph is that they have presented a 2% inflation target as something that would benefit the population, when in fact it robs them blind.

AC said...

Have you been sniffing glue ???

Why the hell do you need public sector unions ? Is the state a capitalist pig ?

Surely public sector unions are all about getting sweetheart deals that move capital away from productive areas of the economy and pump up the unproductive economy !

Andrew K said...

That's "Mrs Thatcher" to you Cook, you disrespectful hoon.

TDK said...

The 1970s were dominated by large PUBLIC SECTOR unions striking against the state not against capitalism.Some examples:

1. Miners strikes
2. Utility strikes
3. Winter of discontent - firemen, hospital, refuse collection etc.
4. British Rail
5. British Leyland
6. British Steel

The idea that workers in British Leyland who actually struck in order to maximise their own income and force continuation of subsidies were somehow magically helping workers in the private sector is just silly.

Unions in the 1970s were less about protecting the general worker than about rent seeking for themselves.

All that's changed is that whereas in the past public sector meant British Leyland, British Coal, British Steel, British Airways, British Rail et al, now they are replaced by the vast army of "essential" public services.

In both eras employees of the state were cushioned against the failure to provide a required service or of the folly of industrial action.