There’s a giant gap between trade unions of yesteryear and those of today

Robert Halfon MP is wrong to say that we should appease union members. Conservatives do not share their principles.

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Conservatives shouldn't compromise to appease this lot
On 16 March 2012 17:03

I feel like this issue was dead and buried last year when Matthew Sinclair of the Tax Payers’ Alliance set out just why trade union’s ‘are not the little platoons’ of the Big Society as Robert Halfon MP continues to insist.

In an article in the Telegraph, Robert once again asserted that because Margaret Thatcher was a trade unionist, and because unions are voluntary groups of which only fifteen out of fifty-eight are Labour-affiliated – that conservatives must bow their heads or doff their caps to these hulking vested interests.

What Halfon fails to articulate is that in the halcyon days he cites, union action was more through affiliations to private unions, not the monolithic public sector unions of today. The difference between these two constituencies is palpable today also, with public sector unions striking fifteen times as many days each as their private sector counterparts.

Union activism within the private sector now dwindles around the ten per cent mark in terms of the labour force, whereas the public sector still turns out around thirty percent. These are the unions we should be wary of when asserting that conservatives can and should be pandering to vested interests for the sake of votes. It’s simply unconscionable to concede ground in order for the Conservative party to win a majority in 2015. But that’s precisely what the unions would have you do.

There was a time, over some thirty years ago now, that Robert Halfon’s article would have been relevant. Today, we see a Trade Union Congress that by its very nature co-ordinates with the Labour party, as well as the lion’s share of union members opposing Conservative-led government policy.

Trade unions are one of the key reasons that this coalition government is unable to get an adequate grip on the nation’s finances. These ‘swingeing cuts’ that we hear so much about are in reality no more than a drop in the pond. It is because of union-led propaganda, endless strikes and marches and social agitation that we find ourselves still unable to foster growth (and yes, cut taxes).

If Conservatives truly want to ‘engage’ as Halfon puts it, then they should be quicker to assert the principles that they stand for – that is individual liberty and personal responsibility, not left-wing communitarianism that costs the taxpayer.

If, as has been stated, union leaders don’t always speak up for their members – then the question must be asked as to why these people maintain membership of trade unions, especially with such strict employment laws in the UK and within the European Union. Presumably because in reality most of them still do believe in the old Scargill-esque idea that they should bring down conservative governments. Whether this is through mis-education, inherited philosophy or for other reasons is a discussion for another day. Scargill represented crumbling industries reluctant to acknowledge that the jig was up. Modern public sector union types live in the same denial about big government and high public spending. This era is over, or at least – it should be.

Union members must understand that conservatives stand for empowering individuals and the rule of law so that neither the labour force nor the job creators can be exploited. Mrs. Thatcher presided over this country at a different time – so the active principles of engagement with trade unions no longer hold true.

What is still applicable however is the principle of what conservatives should do to reach out to new members in the tradition of Mrs. Thatcher - that is by convincing them of their positions, winning the arguments and not moving ourselves into the centre, but moving the centre to us. Robert Halfon is right that there are hearts and minds out there to be won – but completely wrong about how we go about it.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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