Thursday, 26 December 2013

Unions need more political clout

According to a respondent to a piece in the (Thurrock) Echo concerning London Gateway finally agreeing union recognition with Unite: "Unions are of their time... yesterday. Over the decades, they achieved many good things with regards to working conditions and workers rights. Unions are of very little use in todays workforce and only achieve negativity in the workplace. These days they only have political agendas and rarely give a d*mn about individual workers."

Yes, unions have achieved great strides in workers conditions and rights; and this is an ongoing process. Just as with our health we don't hear people saying that medicine has had its day because it has eradicated many of the diseases and conditions that led to premature death among much of the poorer classes. No, we strive to enhance our knowledge and further improve the health of people.

In other words the march of medicine has no limits. Similarly the rights and conditions of working people have no ceiling. As new forms of employment are introduced into the workplace; as modern work applications are brought onto shop floors, offices, building sites, etc; as capitalism strives to retain a greater share of the cake, so new challenges are thrown at workers.

The idea that we, as workers have reached some magical point in our struggle for equity is risible. Across many sectors. Both public and private, wages remain frozen; or if they rise it is below inflation thus in real terms a pay cut. This Con-Dem government, in obeisance to neo-liberalism, has done its damnedest to roll back hard sought and fought for regulations in vital areas such as health and safety; and given another term would drag us back to pre-war conditions.
Which brings me to the final point made by our misled Echo reading Comrade, which is unions having political agendas. There is no pint condemning this person. After all he is only voicing an opinion held by many who don’t understand the purpose of trade unions. Indeed the many who have become so distanced from the political process to feel disenfranchised.
Yes unions do need a political voice, or if you wish ‘agenda’. Those critical of unions flexing their political muscles aren’t as vociferous in condemning the boss class for their outings into the political field. Seemingly, politics is the natural playground, the personal preserve of capital. 
How, I wonder, does our friend from the Echo think workers improved their conditions and rights? Does he suppose philanthropic bosses lobbied parliament in order to bring about health and safety measures in the workplace to reduce the working week to five days to pay people a minimum wage.

No, all these measures and more were won by trade union organised workers fighting on behalf of all workers. Sitting back waiting for employers and the capitalist class to understand the concept of fairness in the workplace would be a waste of time, indeed a betrayal to the workers of today, and those who follow tomorrow.

Industrially, politically and socially trade unions have demonstrated that theirs is a progressive agenda. Therefore, rather than having less political input I would argue that trade unions need to have a far greater influence in the political life of this country.