Strong unions won you your rights, not kind-hearted rich men

Decent pay and conditions for working people didn't simply fall out of the sky.

Decent pay and conditions for working people didn’t simply drop out of the sky

Reading some of the reporting on today’s strike action by public sector workers, you could easily believe that it was trade unionists who caused the worst financial crash since the Great Depression.

It wasn’t of course, but that’s not stopped the right making use of a good crisis to demonise trade unionists and paint unions as outdated and led by ‘dinosaurs’.

Conservative MPs often make the charge that the Labour Party is ‘bankrolled’ by the unions:

“More than half of Labour MPs have had their campaigns bankrolled (that word again) by the trade union threatening to disrupt the lives of millions and bring our economy to its knees,” was how Baroness Warsi scornfully phrased it earlier in this parliament.

Yet when people describe the Labour Party as ‘bankrolled’ by the unions they are actually saying that working people pay for the party – which is surely how you’d want politics to work under any system.

No, what the right are really doing when they attempt to play off the public against trade unionists is trying to turn the public on itself. After all, the ‘millions’ whose ‘lives are disrupted’ by strikes also presumably have jobs themselves – jobs with pay and conditions which have at some point been boosted by the existence of unions.

And that’s the nub of it: however fashionable it may be to decry the trade unions as relics and ‘dinosaurs’ of a bygone era, in reality a renaissance in trade unionism is long overdue. Economic growth may have returned but average wages have been falling for years now compared to inflation.

A common myth about trade unionism is that decent pay and conditions are won by bosses being kind rather than workers being rebellious. But history as well as extensive research contradicts this assumption. A recent study from Manchester University shows that countries with a stronger culture of collective bargaining tend on average to have higher minimum wages.

The widening gap between rich and poor in the past 30 years also reflects the loss of democratic restraint on those at the top. According to a YouGov poll from April, 56 per cent of people would like to see a more equal sharing of income – even if it reduced the total amount of Britain’s GDP.

In other words, millions of people – even many of those inconvenienced by today’s strike – want to see reduced inequality – and trade unions are one of the best ways of achieving that. As the graph demonstrates, countries with strong trade union movements tend to be more equal:

trade union graphj

As for the government’s argument that we need a 50 per cent ballot threshold in order for any strike action to be legal: what’s telling is that the people most keen on this have nothing to say on increasing the methods available to unions to ballot members. In other words, they have no interest in making it easier for members to vote in strike ballots, they simply want to make it more difficult to take any kind of industrial action.

No one on the left should gloss over some of the trade unionism extremism of the 1970s. But we’re a long way away from that era now, and the pendulum has swung much too far the other way. Trade unionism today is almost a dirty word, with politicians of all stripes practiced in a sort of collective amnesia whereby decent pay and conditions for working people simply fell out of the sky or came as a result of kind-hearted rich men.

It is a fantasy, and those who decry today’s strike action as ‘politically motivated’ know very well what the real political motivation is in all the talk about ballot thresholds: to take yet more leverage away from working people.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow James Bloodworth on Twitter

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125 Responses to “Strong unions won you your rights, not kind-hearted rich men”

  1. Guest

    Ah yes, “secrets”. Gotta hide the profits overseas, after all!

    And yes, well, you have accountants to cook em for you. Also after all.

  2. Guest

    Ah, of course he should be allowed to waste the company’s cash. Hmm.

    And yes, I’m sure you “work” unproductive amounts of time (or claim to), making sure you destroy as many jobs as possible.

    You follow money, indeed.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re talking with a blindly Capitalist “business owner” who has no clue about actual business…it’s clear he’s rich and has managers to actually run things.

  4. Guest

    Ah yes, poverty denial. Saying that reality does not exist because it does not suit your prejudice.

  5. Guest

    Ah yes, keep up the hate, smash the jobs and take the food. A rich man was unemployed, so anyone can “survive” with no cash!

    That YOU do drugs…don’t project onto others either, as you gloss over the fact that kids have it worse than their parents. They will have lower incomes relative to living costs, etc.

  6. Guest

    Yes, you’ve said you’d change them into guilds, as you say democracy should not control them, but rather your rich.

    Of course you need to ensure that basic rights are smashed so you can lower wages unhindered.

  7. Julian Gibb

    Interesting headline!

    You don’t see any contradiction in the very Rich funding the Better Together campaign against Scottish Independence which has the aim of building a fairer society by addressing the gap between Rich and Poor.

    Labour is aligned with the Rich UK donors here in Scotland – double standards?
    BT money is coming from Rich Tory donors at least one who is borderline in the legality of his wealth.

    Scottish Socialist Party, Greens, Radical Independence Convention, The Jimmy Reid Foundation, SNP on one side of the debate – YES – funded by common people.

    Labour, Tories, LibDems, UKIP, The Orange Order and several well known fascist groups on the NO side – funded by Tory Lords and wealthy donors.

    Change your headline, it would be more honest to add “when it suits you”

  8. crizz1066

    No I never said I turned it off, obviously you can’t understand or read things properly. Try to read and understand things before bashing the keyboard. You won’t look so stupid!

  9. crizz1066

    What! That makes on sense what so ever. Trying rephrasing that

  10. crizz1066

    If I have no idea about business, how did it become successful enough to have managers to do my work. You are the on who doesn’t understand business. Hence why I stopped replying to. Don’t try n make me look bad because of your lack of knowledge. What’s wrong with having managers to help me run my company. I employing people you complete idiot!

  11. crizz1066

    My friends were no rich, like me my mate has no qualifications. Yet he made it work with his wife through hard work. As I say they did it any can it’s not easy as you have to give up some things but you can still live. Again if you look at the save the children estimates, which I just have done. Parents on drugs is mentioned. Perhaps you should read it, then you won’t look such a fool.

  12. crizz1066

    I didn’t denied it, I said there are very few. If you can afford a big TV with sky, smoke cigarette you ain’t poor. I’m fully aware what the average family get on benefits as I have friends in that situation. That does not make you poor. You wanna see poor try a real 3rd world country. I’m guessing you’re the same idiot that’s just commented on everything I’ve said. I suggest you go back and reread everything I’ve said. You might understand what I’m saying instead of putting words into my mouth.

  13. crizz1066

    OK I’m not going to reply anymore. But I just like to thank
    those who’ve tried to disagree with me. Especially Leon Wolfeson
    & blar1987 or whatever. Both tried to disagree with my initial statement.
    But both neither read nor understood any of my comments. Also then put words
    into my mount about things I hadn’t said, ignored historical facts and made baseless
    equations. Then when it wasn’t going their way, they hide their name and start
    to argue with me again pretending to be a new person. But not being clever
    enough to realise their name still comes up. All this has done is validate my initial
    statement, which is that Unions are run by a small militant minority, who are
    only interested in pushing their own views and opinions. Whether or not these
    would benefit its members. The sooner
    news rules are brought in the better for everyone.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    You can hire managers quite easily. of course. And you are still replying to me, which means you’re lying – this really does speak to your honesty here.

    I’m sure your business of destroying UK jobs is doing just fine.

  15. Kozzzzzy

    You sound like a nice person.
    I am talking about Unions in the USA Only.
    I understand there may be need for unions in other places. I am for unions when they are needed.
    They help worker when other asshole workers call them “Fucking scab, moron, piece of shit”.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Fake claims of working again, I see, on your part, as you agree with yourself that anything outside your anti-British stance is magically “socialism”, and that history and economics mean you should get to rob the British.

    You spouted off quickly your dogma of your own superiority, nothing more.

  17. Guest

    You see smaller paycuts than the public sector, as you accuse me of being you, leeching off the government, as you say that democracy and workers rights are “blackmail”.

    No surprise the fact you have to pay workers and have to let them take holidays, etc, sickens you. No surprises at all!

  18. Guest

    Ah, you “fixed” it to pass sub-standard things, I get it – you’re even worse than I thought.
    Hopefully you were not involved with anything people actually relied on.

  19. Guest

    So you’re engaged in calling only your 1% deserving, I get it. You’re looking at the middle class and ignoring the majority, as ever, and spouting hate myths at people who can’t afford to eat properly.

    That you’re determined to smash Britain back to the state found in 3rd world countries…as you accuse me of being you, and scream when I read your posts and reply to them. Let’s see…from your posts, I have a suspicion you’re Lord Blagger and want to murder the poor. No People, No Problem eh? Good Commies like you…

  20. Guest

    Yes, the sooner rights are cut the better for you, screw everyone else. Democracy is something which is for a “militant minority”, and workers must have no views and opinions.

    Keep saying that your anti-British views cannot be criticised, that only your views are correct. And that your hiding – Lord Blagger – is magically clever.

    You always knew you were against paying workers, and you’ve confirmed it. Surprise!

  21. Guest

    Salmond is a close friend of Murdoch, etc.

    Keep up the revisionism, though, as you deny a good chunk of the SNP’s funding in a No True Scotsman attack.
    That you try and smear anyone who is not of your views with association with fascists, which shows your kind of mentality – I’m sure the witch hunt you want against those not “really Scottish”…

    Oh, and let’s not forget the Scottish fascists are SNP members, currently.

  22. Da

    They give us trouble and call it work, we give them work, and they call it trouble.

  23. Jennifer Gray

    I don’t

  24. ChasF

    There is a real necessity for Unions to start moving against the many ideological restrictions and ‘punishments’ that are being inflicted on those who can ill afford them. That is why the Government is aiming to curb them even further so that they can continue deconstructing our society without legitimate consultation or objection from the populace. Although they claim to have a mandate from the country to do whatever they want, they had little more than a third of the whole vote from the British public. If the Trade Unions have a voice that represents the blue collar community then they are reflecting what the Labour Party used to stand for before they were hijacked by the right of centre Blairites.

  25. crizz1066

    Wow really made me laugh reading through all this again. Well guess what I just sold my company. To the guys who work there, they now all own a part of the company they enjoyed working for. I’ve now got to find away to make sure the 2.5 mill is kept in my acct with out tax man getting grubby hands on it all.

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