"Labour in union crisis"

With Labour under its weakest leadership since Michael Foot perhaps the Unions see their way back to the power they once wielded

by Robin Mitchinson on 29 July 2013 13:44

The title is Private Eye’s cover page. The picture attached to the title is Ed Miliband saying ‘Trade unions fixing elections would be disastrous,' and McCluskey, the Union boss, replying ‘True. That’s how we got you!’

I have been delightedly following the row that rumbles on between Miliband and the UNITE union over allegations of vote-rigging in choosing a candidate for the safe Falkirk seat, vacated after the previous incumbent was booted out for kissing colleagues Glasgow-style. The ruse apparently was to sign up fictitious party members so as to ensure that Ms. Shoowin walked it.

But I am nonplussed as to why today’s Union bosses are such an unprepossessing, thuggish, ugly lot. They are incapable of speech except shouting. They rant as a normal conversational style. They divide the world into ‘fatcats’ and ‘workers’ who are exploited by the fatcats.

Of course, they themselves, with 6-figure salaries, cars and expense accounts are not fatcats at all. One of them even lives in a subsidized council house to show solidarity with hoi polloi.

Mentally, they are in a 1970s time-warp, when the TUC, the NUM and the TGWU told the government what to do; and rabble-rousers such as Red Robbo destroyed whole swathes of manufacturing industry. They reminisce about cosy chats with the PM over beer and sandwiches in smoke filled rooms at No 10; the 3-day week; flying pickets.

Their favourite song is ‘You can’t touch me. I’m part of the Union’. And yet they were scarcely out of their teens during those "great" days.

Over the past 20 years we had rather stopped even thinking about Trade Unions. They were no longer the ever-present malevolent power that characterized the 1960's 70's and early 80's.

Union membership has nearly halved since 1979. In former times, days lost to strikes averaged 13 million a year; in 2010 it was just 365,000. (It has crept up in the last couple of years, and 75 percent of strikes are now in the public sector.)

With Labour under its weakest leadership since Michael Foot, perhaps the Unions see their way back to the power they once wielded.

And perhaps they have a point in trying to get more ‘workers’ into Parliament.

Labour MPs divide roughly into Blairites and Brownites (with quite a few ‘ I don’t care; I’m in it for me-ites’).

As with the Tories, the people at the top have a certain uniformity of class, background, education – and lack of work experience outside politics. Both parties are under-represented by people who have earned their wages outside the public sector, and who have some idea of the condition of the ‘working classes’.

Perhaps it’s time to extend the membership of this cosy, upper middle class, members-only, no proles admitted, club.

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