The Unions, The People and The Party

What is it about the Labour Party and the Trade Unions?  Why do we have these silly arguments about whether the unions are good for the party politically or not?  You know the ones where they say if the Leadership of the Party have a public falling out with the unions, the country like it and we have a boost in the polls.  What utter tosh.  It demonstrates a poor understanding of the relationship and dynamic between Labour and the unions and again brings us down to the level of personality politics.  We too often run scared of the media when the issue of funding comes up, so we have a fall out to show how independent and free thinking we are.  How cynical.  And proof once again that the public get this and see it for what it really is.

We need a grown up relationship which builds on the common values, hopes and aspirations that we share.  Not for each other, but for the people we represent.  Our constituents and our members.  I say our, because I am both, as are millions of others which we should never forget.

This relationship never seems to get the proper airing it deserves.  That’s because too many people don’t understand it.  I don’t mean about our shared history but about our common aims which are much closer to business and industry than the Tories or the media would ever like to admit.  Those hawks in the party who want, quite wrongly, to loosen, if not sever our links with the unions, walk right into the Tories trap and end up doing their dirty work for them.

So, what do I mean?  It’s obvious but it is never said.  The Unions need business and industry in order to support their members.  The Labour Party needs business and industry to succeed in order to maintain a healthy economy.  Everyone’s a winner! 

Let me give you an example.  When I worked at the Peugeot factory in Ryton just outside Coventry, one of the most far reaching and controversial agreements was reached between the Transport and General Workers Union, Amicus (now Unite the Union) and the company.  The agreement was about Annualised hours.  It gave massive flexibility and savings to the company but it also gave security of earnings and employment to workers.  Not everyone liked it and it had a difficult birth, but it led to Ryton getting the Peugeot 206, which turned out to be the company’s bestselling car ever.  The union played a crucial role in the success of the company.  It’s a pity the way things ended at Ryton, but this deal demonstrates how business and the unions need each other.

Where it all falls down is when Unions become overtly political because some particular leader has an axe to grind and the party are failing to stand up for ordinary hard working men and women.  Suddenly people get alienated from both their union and also what you would think would be their natural political champions: Labour. 

That’s where the Tories come in.  They play on the caricature of striking unions paying millions to Labour to support militancy and undermine the economy.  And we don’t fight back anything like hard enough to repel these stupid attacks.  In all my years as both a shop steward and convenor, I can count on one hand the amount of times I withdrew my labour.  Some say: “You weren’t strong enough.”   Mind you, the days of yore of endless strikes and three day weeks didn’t do much good either did it?

We need a new deal between Labour and the Unions.  How many deals have been negotiated between Trade Unions and companies with all sorts of track records both home and abroad?  Our deal should be to agree the best possible relations to secure the best possible deals for workers and company’s alike.  We should support this with legislation if need be, to free up companies whilst better securing workers terms and conditions.  It’s in the interests of all parties involved and it’s in the interests of the country.  And that’s why we should do it.  Don’t be afraid of our political opponents and don’t be afraid of our friends either.  To quote an ex General Secretary of the Transport and General, whom I knew very well, Tony Woodley: it’s a win win!

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