The barely lucid ramblings of a nasty union activist :-)

There exist many myths in the media, most generated by newspaper owners and/or editors, with their own agenda and an eye on their own investments and political beliefs. It, sadly, also makes “good copy” and the sales figures of some of the worst offenders demonstrate that there is a ready market for these simplistic scare-mongering and scapegoating tactics.

One of the great myths is that of Trade Union power and the belief that a small, unaccountable group of quasi-Marxists are plotting away to enforce a perverse set of values upon you all; you know, take all your money from you and redistribute it to schemes for Black, One-legged Lesbians Against The Bomb and so on (my apologies, if offence caused, to any Black person, Disabled person or Lesbian – it’s just trying to make a point)

I suppose I should declare an interest first. I am still, and have been for over 40 years, an active Trade Unionist. In my work life, I have been employed in the private sector (railway engineering), the “not-for-profit” sector (advice and support), and in the public sector (probation and local government). I have changed unions accordingly, always joining the one that negotiated my terms and conditions, and always being an active member. I do not see the point of not being anything else.

I have been a Shop Steward or a Staff Representative, a Works Convenor and a Branch Secretary, and I have held assorted Regional, Area, and National, offices. Never have I done it because I felt obliged too; always because I wanted to (and, whisper it, I greatly enjoyed it!)

In all that time, I can truthfully say that I have neither:- 
[a] held the country to ransom; nor, 
[b] plotted to overthrow the legitimate elected government of the day.  (I must have missed that training course !)

I have represented hundreds of individuals with grievances or who were subject to disciplinary measures. Some of the grievances were doomed but the individual insisted; some of the disciplinary charges were upheld and justified – some were even dismissed as a result (of what they had done, NOT my representation!! 🙂 )

On occasions, I have been asked “Why are you representing that person ?” 
My response, “Even Harold Shipman and Fred West were entitled to representation for what they did“.

Representation is not endorsing the action; it is about ensuring that the individual gets a fair hearing and a suitable solution.

Thousands of people, possibly millions ?, would have suffered injustice if not for their union steward – and the vast bulk of these activists do it in addition to a paid job. Few get any recompense – most get a fair amount of grief from belligerent employers.

(“ Hey Dave, is THIS the Big Society in action? If it is, we are a hundred years ahead of you mate  ! “)

Most of the positive changes to working life, and their consequential effect upon Society in general, are a direct result of unionised labour fighting for something. Like Equality (and I am the first to admit we have a way to go still, in all aspects – gender, race, disability, age, orientation, culture, and so on . . ); Health and Safety; Work-Life Balance; compensation; the list is endless – and none of it was given without some brave souls standing up for it – but is that an abuse or misuse of Trade Union power? Of course it isn’t.

When has ANY industrial action ever been fought without a heavy price been exacted on those taking it? The 1926 General Strike still resulted in starvation wages for the Miners for years afterwards; did the 1983 Miners Strike result in total victory for the participants? – morally, I would argue “Yes “, but actually? financially? physically? – far from it; 200,000 jobs gone in S. Wales alone. Add to that, the vast majority of Trade Unionists are never involved in any industrial action, ever – yet still they are painted as some reactionary force.

Ironically, the two most powerful Trade Unions in the UK – The Law Society and The British Medical Association – who really do squeeze governments of any and all political hue, are not even considered by most as unions! (Possibly because a lot of MP’s are members of them! :-O )

The image is not helped by some representation in the world of television or film – Peter Sellars as Fred Kite in “I’m alright Jack“, or Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa (US Teamsters leader, now – apparently – playing a “supporting role” in a major road flyover) in “Hoffa“. Even my own personal favourite, James Bolam as Jack Ford in BBC’s classic “When the boat comes in” has him as someone who exploits his union and his class to get on! Yes, I know there are dozens of more positive images, but usually made on small budgets and seen by very few (I know, I am generally one of the few!).

We need some more positive and charismatic role models, and we need them from a wider base than white, middle-aged men. To my immediate knowledge (and my memory is just as prone to error as anyone’s!), we have had only one black General Secretary (Bill Morris of T&GWU), and very few female General Secretary’s (Brenda Dean of SOGAT, Liz Symons of FDA, plus a “smattering” in the Teaching unions – apologies sisters, but your profile is such that even I’m struggling to remember any other than Mary Bousted and Christine Blower; dear god, I nearly forgot the legendary Dame Anna Godwin of the Clerks Union!). Considering women make up over 50% of society though, it is a pitiful representation.

Where is the next Jack Jones? Where is the future Rodney Bickerstaffe? 
Better still, where is the next JANE Jones or RACHAEL Bickerstaffe?

I’m rambling now, I’m sorry . . . Originally, this was going to be more specific to the role I, and my colleagues are playing in attempting to defend jobs in our own workplace, but I worried too much about possibly offending people who do not deserve that.

I will see if I can make the points later, and in a way that doesn’t. As ever, thanks for listening, and be grateful you can. 🙂

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Lynn on February 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Well said Mr K!

    Reply

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