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course, but that’s not stopped the right making use of a good crisis to demonise trade unionists and paint unions as outdated and led by ‘dinosaurs’.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

    Given workers rights are being rolled back, in fact your argument is they’re needed.

    The argument nobody outside the 99% should make decent cash, check.

    Yes, you’re shafting workers, and your anti-Union arguments are a massive part of it.

  2. crizz1066

    Company accounts aren’t broken down to that much detail, especially in regards to what they may be saving for

  3. Liam Fairley

    The arguments between crizz1066 and those who disagree with him (which seems to be the majority) just goes to show that the British Disease is still with us, having seemigly survived, laying dormant since the 1970s and has now come back to infect us all. I’m referring to the relationship between management and staff; or ‘us’ and ‘them’. Mutual distrust on both sides. Stubbornness, obstinacy and ignorance on both sides, unwilling to listen and work together. Part of the reason the German economy works as well as it does is the success of management/union relationships – a model we desperately need now more than ever.

  4. Matt

    “A common myth about trade unionism is that decent pay and conditions are won by bosses being kind rather than workers being rebellious.”

    Myth yes, common myth no. I have never heard of any argument that stated that wage rises are driven by managerial altruism, rather than market forces, of which collective bargaining is a part. This myth seems to have been invented by the author.

  5. sorrybadbeat .

    Listen bitch. In NB, the union is the only thing keeping Irving from raping this province. The only time a union isn’t needed is in places where the product, is limited thus it’s value isn’t predictable, consumable resources… Places like Alberta, do not need unions because it’s in the best interest of the employer to pay the workers whatever they ask for, just to get the oil out of the ground and sold. In NB, we have trees, as our main product…. There are no competing resources on the horizon, if there weren’t unions, Irving would tell the worker, if he doesn’t like 12 bucks an hour, someone else will, and he would feel safe knowing he has the time to wait on the labour market.

  6. sorrybadbeat .

    There is a big difference. The majority of the consumers are poor as shit. You don’t steal food from people as a rich man and then justify by looking to the poor who are stealing from each other to live. Are you fucking mental?

  7. crizz1066

    There are very few poor people in this country. Thats just an over exaggeration

  8. crizz1066

    But people don’t see this union bosses earning more than 100k,unions with millions in the bank. It will be interesting to see what happens to unions now workers aren’t forced to join. Hopefully they’ll start to look out for workers and the companies. Rather than the will of a small minority who want to push us all back 50 years into socialism.

  9. crizz1066

    That was there in the 90s I saw it on a daily bases. While on night shift when management went home at 6 6-30 having worked late a vocal minority would moan about management getting it easy even though management had done mabey extra time each day as standard. Then once it was nice and quite the testing machine at the end of the line was turned off, so machines came off the line faster. Returns went up to 20% but our section got to knock off n skive for 3 hrs every day. We even had a union rep with us. I had a similar experience at other factories I worked at. Which is one reason I have such a low opinion of unions.

  10. crizz1066

    Don’t worry worked that one quickly.

  11. crizz1066

    And what do you base this statement on? I don’t even like golf. Just proving my point again. Nasty, small little person making up stories about the man!!!

  12. Guest

    Tory party bankrolled by banksters financiers and foreign multimillionaires!

  13. Frank100

    So, you may be a virtuous company owner, and if so, good on you, but many are not and need good trades unions to provide a counterbalance

  14. Guesty McGuesterson

    Lolwut….Save The Children estimates that there may be up to 4 million children living at or below the poverty line in this, the 6th richest country in the world; a million people estimated to need foodbanks. I hope for your sake you’re joking, otherwise I’d advise you to read a different website – maybe an investment banker newsletter?

  15. crizz1066

    Yes and all trade union leaders are saints also and are purely looking out for their members. I don’t think so!!! I never said get rid of Unions as I do believe they are needed. All I disagree with is that a very small minority in unions drive the direction they go in. Just as destructive as a bad company , hence my statement. Unions need a majority of members to vote and a majority of that vote to force a strike.

  16. crizz1066

    Yes and how many of those children are in home where people actually work!!!! Very few! A large majority of those are from broken home where there parents are on drugs etc. There are very few truly poor and starving people in the UK. If people budgeted better, didn’t wast money on treats they can survive. My best friends and his wife, with 2 kids both un employed for 3years survived, if they could any one should be able to! The problem is instead of looking back a generation or so to see how much better we’ve got things, everyone’s looking over each others fences and saying, they’ve got more than me its not fair. Well life inst fair, its hard work and what you make it, no one owes you anything.

  17. blarg1987

    Then that will be covered by discussing it with the Union and saying this is our project (under the none disclosure point), also I think you will find under the company accounts this would come under reinvestment (as HMRC would be seeing these accounts) into the industry.
    Reinvestment however does not include the company owner buying a top of the range car that costs more then the pay rise he says he can not give his employees. So any proposed big secret should be used to benefit staff and not only the owner of the industry, as it would be unfair for staff to used there pay rise to invest into a factory abroad and offload the staff as you can get better productivity abroad at a cheaper rate.

  18. crizz1066

    Yes that right the price of one MD’s care will be enough for a pay rise for the whole company. What’s he getting Bugatti Veyron? Also if he owns the company surely he should be allowed to give himself perks. When I set my company up I sold my car and was on minimum wage for 2 years. So I see no problem that once all the handwork is done in rewarding myself! I still work longer hours than my staff after 15 years, I don’t have to, but to keep pushing the company forward I need to. Life is unfair, if the owner of said company wants to out source, why can’t he??? I don’t come round and tell you what you can and can’t do with things you own. The thing is there are leaders and followers, vast amount of people are happy to follow. Anyone can set up in business, its easy. Most choose the easy option.

  19. blarg1987

    There is an issue with outsourcing your business (possibly your companies big secret?) when you know about it way in advance and do not tell your staff, allowing them plenty of time to find other employment or using the pay rise they are after to do it!

    It would be like me promising you a large multi million pound project only to shaft you, they are both morally and ethically wrong.

    Yes you were on minimum wage as an income, however no doubt you were relying on the assets of the company and possibly tax relief perks as well to subsidise your living costs. Yes you may work longer hours then your staff and your reward is the success of your company.

    The point being if I was a major customer for your business and said to you well since I have worked hard to make my company successful therefore I am offering you 20% less on the products you serve me, you would rightly tell me to go away.

  20. treborc1

    You can still join a strike, secondary picketing is banned it would have been banned by New labour anyway if Thatcher had not done it.

  21. crizz1066

    Having a company pull deals like that happens every day in the business world. My company had no assets when I started out, no tax relief or perks to subsidise my living. You have a very old and distorted view of the business world. Yes I could pay my self in dividends to save on some tax, but the company needs to be making a profit for that to happen. Something which doesn’t happen to most company for 5 years! I’m not sure what you are trying to say there, but yes it happens. Also if I couldn’t afford to run company with out that customer I would have to suck it up and take the hit and do! There’s no one I can go crying to to demand more money. Which is my whole point!!!!! The business world can move very slowly or very fast, it is not always possible to keep going back to staff and going through every in an out.

  22. blarg1987

    If you had no assets how were you able to set up the company in the first place? All companies have assets be it equipment, facilities etc. Your company no doubt does get tax relief as HMRC guidelines do allow companies to claim against tax if they do suffer losses.

    The point I am making is that you took a salary of minimum wage however on paper when you include the assets your company owns, you are worth more.

    If a company does screw you over you can go to mediation, arbitration and possibly court if you have been wrongly screwed over so yes you do have recourse all depending on what was agreed etc.

    It is possible to get back to staff with good communications, for example a weekly meeting, however outsourcing jobs abroad is not an overnight thing so you would have easily plenty of time to inform staff.

  23. crizz1066

    You have no idea!!! I set up the company by taking a loan and selling things. Yes on paper I was worth something, but I can’t cook that or show it to my landlord. So I go to tribunal, force the company to pay the 20%. They don’t use me any-more, I’ve lost my biggest customer. I have to start making people redundant as there’s no work for them, the cash flow drops and I find it hard to pay staff. Tully brilliant business strategy. Do you know how long a weekly meeting takes??? Even with just my depart heads of 5 people its over 3 hrs, making sure everyone has their say. Again all lovely ideas but don’t work in the real world. Sometime you have 3 ideas going on, then for what every reason you have to jump!!! It doesn’t leave time to go back and check with staff. There is a big world out there which effects the UK and that world is moving faster and faster. Your ideas would slow us down and we’d lose out.

  24. treborc1

    When a Union leader moves into a labour party job or a shop steward become an MP or councillor that is because the Unions are the labour party or they were.
    You should not look at it like a Union leader getting a something extra.

  25. treborc1

    Well in the UK our Unions have to have a long hard look at labour and whether it worth staying within the party, at the moment the Unions are seen as a cash cow and not much else. if next year labour win I think state funding will happen and Unions will be dropped. Maybe with the £20 odd Million they give labour they can go and start another Union, but unless labour the party starts to think about how it’s going to get this country growing without cutting I think the Tories will walk the next election.

  26. treborc1

    We have not been forced to join for 45 years, where do you think we are forced, and even in the 1960’s closed shops tended to be the much larger companies, the 1970’s the Tories brought in wage controls on large contacts to stop companies cutting wages, building of power stations Oil refinery wages were the same on each contract and protected by law.

    Unions bosses are the only really elected people if a Union bosses messed up I can put in a resolution to have him removed then once voted on they are gone, Try that with an MP….

  27. treborc1

    Because it should be the same as a Government election surely, if only 37% of the country bother to vote for a Government then surely that should be null and void then. Why not the same for Unions.

  28. treborc1

    I will not put them all down it would fill the site but here is a few of the good working conditions in Germany.


    Pilots strike.
    railways strike
    taxi drivers strike
    Amazon strike.
    Air traffic strike
    Lufthansa strike

    get the idea or do you want me to put more down, Germany has one of the highest levels of strikes the UK one of the lowest.

  29. treborc1

    Then your company should close down and you should get JSA for not having the interest in your company.

  30. crizz1066

    Because people were/are forced to join unions. Please don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Really cuz when Arthur Scargill started the Illegal Miners strikes, don’t remember him being sacked. In fact do I not read how he still expects to live in a nice big house all paid for by his union even thou he’s no longer leader???

  31. crizz1066

    The reason why the German system works so well, is that at the end of the 2nd world war it was destroyed, factories destroyed, industry destroyed and government destroyed. So they got to rebuild from scratch. From the way you speak I guess you’d love to bring the whole system down and start from stretch, to hell with the consequences. But not possible. But while business has changes drastically since the 70’s There one element that has fourght change very step of the way. UNIONS!!!!!

  32. crizz1066

    What are you on about, that was a company I was working for. You obviously arnt reading or understanding what I wrote, so I cant be bothered to answer you.

  33. blarg1987

    So basically you did have assets as a bank would not lend you 100% without you putting up money.

    You would still lose people / cut hours etc if you had to cut prices by 20%, they may not use you again, again on the flip side they may actually still use your company and services you provide and treat you with more respect and other companies may be more straight forward with you knowing not to try and shaft you, so you are not wasting time.

    So you are saying in your 3 hour meetings it are you saying that your heads of department can’t communicate things down to staff, or you can have a bulletin board or do a weekly email to all staff?

    Alternatively you can have a nominated member of staff to represent them at your department team meetings something similar to what they have in Germany.

  34. crizz1066

    You really have no idea of what you are talking about. If I make 40% profit and lose 20% I would still be able to function. If I lose the job I lose all the money. Something is better than nothing!!I am talking about situationist I deal with everyday. I am bored of talking to you as you have no grasp of what you are talking about. You keep making statement which you have no direct knowledge off. You are saying how you would like things to be in a perfect world. But its not a perfect world. If it was Socialism would work, but its failed in every country that’s ever tried it!

  35. blarg1987

    Hasn’t failed over here and in most of europe which has mainly socilist policies :P.

    But we will have to agree to disagree.

  36. crizz1066

    OK I’ll bite, which countries in Europe are running a Socialist system.? Because I would have said they we all Capitalist!!! Especially the UK we are a Capitalist country through and through. We near enough invented it. Thus proving you really don’t know what you are talking about!!!

  37. Frank

    Nowadays Unions are all about protecting their own self-interest and agenda. They are just as morally bankrupt as the RBS bankers.

  38. crizz1066

    You be careful there feller, you about to get jumped upon by people that have no idea of what they are talking about and think we live in some perfect world!!!! But I couldn’t agree with you more 🙂

  39. blarg1987

    Lets see, the UK has the NHS, we built large volumes of Social housing (socilist policies). France and Germany still has key industry under state control EDF etc, as well as other european countries, such as, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Belguim who all ensure that work is kept in their country with Goverment contracts.

  40. cole

    If we had such a rule for council and Euro elections, most would be void as turnout is rarely over 50%.

  41. cole

    But the Germans have a highly successful economy, much better than ours.

  42. Liam Fairley

    Well then, that can only mean that Germany has stronger, lager, more vocal and confidant trade union movement. So, to reiterate my key point, we deperately need the German model. Thanks for emphasising my point 🙂

  43. Liam Fairley

    Well, yeah, of course they are about protecting their interest. Unions are all about looking out for the inerest of their members – they don’t pretend to be about anything else. I don’t get the banker comparison, though.

  44. Guest

    My word. You are monumentally dim. They were not “illegal” strikes. And nobody’s forced to join a union. Sadly, ill-educated people like you are allowed to vote.

  45. crizz1066

    Ahhh name alling didnt realise we we’re in the playground.

  46. Guest

    Yes, of course you hate the workers, and think overwork is amazing.

    And I see, you disabled the quality testing, hence producing shoddy goods. Hmm.

  47. Leon Wolfeson

    You noticed.

  48. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep attacking workers, calling them corrupt. Keep equating wanting a wage to live on with Bankers…

    Regardless of anything else, that makes *you* corrupt.

  49. Guest

    Yes, of course you couldn’t be more corrupt.

  50. Guest

    So you’re chanting myths about closed shops, no surprises there.

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