Recently, I got two emails off my Trade Union ‘Unite’. One was for a Young Members survey, which due to the collapse in Union membership these days is probably anyone under 30, asking me what mattered to me. The other was from my dear Leader Len McCluskey (salary £140,281 as of June 2014) telling me all about another pointless march held last weekend in London, which have become substitutes for genuine action.
Now before people start screeching, this isn’t going to be one of Tory “I support trade unions” (in the same way a noose supports a hanged man) or some nonsense about Unions being the far left strawman of Grant Shapps imagination. This is a criticism from someone who actually wants to see strong Unions, who are led, run and creating working class leaders to make long term improvements to their member’s lives.
This piece has three main criticisms of Trade Unions (we could go on forever otherwise) and they are: Number one, Trade Unions have become infected by middle class University Grads which brings us onto number two, Trade Unions being in favour of policies which actively hurt their members and potential working class members. Which leads onto number three, they have become obsessed with the state Fabianism which has destroyed the movement and is preventing Unions from being relevant in the 21st Century to the working class.
So number one. Now it is no secret to anyone who knows me that I despise middle class Fabians, they are the parasites who have leeched of the traditional labour movement to impose their snobbish statist failure on the rest of us. However, what has amazed me is the way they have so comfortably become the figureheads for the Union movement or been bankrolled by them.
Now I know from my experience of being in the Labour party (shudder) most of the young people who join Unions are doing it not because they need a Union (virtually all Young Labour members are middle class), nor is it even out of a sense of solidarity. No, the reason is that they see at as a good vehicle for funds or promotion within the Labour Party as they build their political careers.
I’m going to give more specific examples now before people state that these are unsubstantiated accusations by a bitter working class lad. Two examples come to mind of the sort of middle class preeners who have been given trade Union gigs in the past: Owen Jones and Dan Hodges. Both come from well off middle class backgrounds, both have glided through University and both ended up working at a Trade Union.
Dan Hodges is himself the son of Labour MP Glenda Jackson so not exactly from working class stock and Owen Jones… Well we will come back to him. The point I am trying to make here is that Trade Unions should be bringing through working class members to become the researchers, policy makers and leaders of the movement, not a bunch of preening middle class kids. This obsession with getting university grads is creating a chasm between prospective/current members and those who supposedly speak for them. As Maurice Glasman says, “I’m sick of hearing ‘a voice for the voiceless’, the poor have voices of their own.”
Moving on, there is no better way I can show Unions have become infected by the parasites then by the funding of the most pretentiously named think tank I have come across, that of ‘Class’ (here). Speakers at this years’ conference include the well-known borderline racist and private school supporter (but not for your kids) Diane Abbott, Polly Toynbee (whose family have been part of the intellectual landed gentry for many a generation) and the crown prince of middle class Guardian readers (as if any other class reads the Guardian), Owen Jones.
Owen Jones somehow came to prominence by writing a woeful book about working class people targeted at the middle class and anyone reading the book can tell it was done by someone who certainly is not working class. It is a book that manages to be patronising and dismissive of the working class in equal measure, in a way only middle class Fabians can.
Policy documents from this organisation have included the usual suspects including one being done by authors of the Spirit Level, a book which has not heard of the concept of outliers and all manner of policy documents demanding the state pass legislation, instead of ways which Unions can actually make changes themselves. The pièce de résistance, alongside ‘How immigration is good for all of us’ is the publication entitled: ‘How can the European left deal with the threat posed by xenophobia?’(Here)
Its 14 pages of the same nonsensical guff you hear all the time, I won’t go through all of it as it’s there to read should you wish to but I’ll go through some quick points which you’ve all heard before. Comparing UKIP to fascists? Check. Saying in the same breath we shouldn’t dismiss people’s concerns about immigration and then, in the very same breath, dismissing them? Thinking that the proles would be in favour of immigration if only those ghastly papers The Sun and The Daily Mail were shut down?
What stands out to me in all these things is just how much contempt those who write this guff show for traditional working class people. Take the comment from pg. 8 when describing ex Labour voters going over to UKIP having wondered why this phenomenon is occurring.
“They are Old Labour, the working class conservatives, and the ex-Tory working class. In summary, these voters are male, pale, stale and struggling.” Now I have heard this ‘male, pale and stale’ trotted out at nearly every Labour event and I can’t think a more derogatory way to dismiss the people you are supposed to care about.
It also surprises me why the Fabians are so shocked that the people they despise are not voting for them anymore, the question that needs to be asked is the reverse: Why do so many people continue to vote for a progressive clique that detests them in every conceivable way? Another example of this loony left nonsense is when the author states on pg. 7 (when talking about reasons the “fascist-lite” UKIP are gaining ground) that “This is firstly due to the fact that they privilege family, order, race and nation.”
Lumping in the family with connotations of racial superiority and privilege is up there for the most pathetic comment in this woeful pamphlet. Don’t worry though folks, a hell of a lot of working class people don’t have strong families anymore and their kids always turn out to be the really successful ones.
Have no fear though, because the author of this piece of trash identifies who the saviours are for the modern left on pg.13. “We should also recognise that there is a mirror image of xenophobes out there – young and internationally minded, liberal thinking and socially open individuals.” Basically, middle class ‘progressive’ people, people just like them.
Now there are some sensible people on the ‘left’ that don’t dismiss and face up to the reality that immigration has been bad for the working class, David Goodhart of the think-tank Demos is one of them.
Having wrote an excellent book on the issue and stated the rather obvious point, that mass immigration undermines the very bedrock of support on which social democracy & the welfare state lives off. This is a very similar point made by Robert Putnam donkeys ago about immigration reducing levels of social trust, which underpin our willingness to pool resources together.
Frank Field is another who has been banging on about this forever and a day and he highlighted the July 2014 Migration Advisory Committee report (here) which shows that migrants lower the pay of the working class as well as ramping up competition and the cost of other provisions. They also state what has been obvious for a long time: there is no minimum wage as it’s not enforced or “An employer can expect a visit from HMRC once every 250 years and a prosecution once in a million years.”
This follows on from the House of Lords report in 2008 (here) which found no evidence of economic benefit of mass immigration plus The Migration Observatory noting the reality that (here) “low-wage workers lose while medium and high-paid workers gain.” Bluntly, the working class lose.
The latest man who has tried to make a stand on this is Maurice Glasman and he has now become just as despised by the Guardian mob as David Goodhart, Frank Field and anyone else who dare mention what is a black and white reality: That mass, unskilled migration is bad for and unwanted by the working class.
So what is Unite’s policy on this? Have they been bravely championing the working man and screaming blue murder any time some progressive middle class Labour MP extolled the virtues of open borders? Well not exactly.
Apart from that god awful policy document about educating the stupid working class people in knowing what’s good for them, they fund a Labour party committed to open borders. They fund a political party actively committed to reducing the living standards of working class people.
I was going to say that I’m always amazed by this phenomenon of Unions actively pursuing a policy which is anti-working class but I’d be lying. Still, the next time a Trade Union releases a brief about stagnant wages or poor working conditions or the housing crisis they should have their progressive, pro unskilled immigration view thrown back in their face and told to shut up.
Although immigration is a massive issue it is not the only Trade Union failure worth noting or perhaps even their biggest one. Trade Unions biggest failure and cause of their own downfall is their obsession with a Fabian statist creed, as a consequence Unions spend all their time and energy lobbying the government to change instead of doing what Unions used to do, which was create change themselves.
If you look at the campaigns listed on the Unite website they are on the NHS, the minimum wage, public service pay, local government workers, etc. It’s all about the state and this has created a situation where private sector workers, where the vast majority of working class people in this country work, see no reason to join a Union. Where are the campaigns for those who work in call centres, MacDonalds or William Hill?
Well guess what, they aren’t state owned so Unite aren’t interested. It has a lot to do with the philosophy the runs Unite, if you believe everything should be run by the state it’s no surprise you show little interest in changing the private sector.
It’s a terrible bastardisation of the Union movement beautifully detailed in The Intellectual Life of The British Working Class by Jonathan Rose. It self-organised, not expecting anyone else to do it for them. It built libraries and colleges, reading classes and developed its’ own leaders, organising from the shop floor up. Now it just begs the government to do it instead.
It shouldn’t be too hard to see why people wouldn’t join a Union in this case as if you think all meaningful action should be taken by middle class state employees then what possible role is there for working class people, bar pointless marches or signing crappy petitions? You are there to be seen, not heard and you certainly aren’t expected to take part in any meaningful action.
Notions of self-organisation and self-determination have been abandoned with disastrous consequences for the Union movement and the working class it should represent. Instead of a bristling confident working class movement, we have a passive poor whose self-proclaimed leader is Owen Jones. It’s enough to bring this working class lad to despair.
So I’ve given the criticism, what are the solutions? Well for the Trade Union movement, the past is the future. It’s time to reengage with the traditional values of self-determination, self-organisation and working class activism by dropping the Fabians progressive, middle class led statism.
What they could offer is also far more ambitious, far more radical than anything that is on the table and virtually none of it requires state control. It’s something that will thrive regardless of the election result and stops Unions being a vehicle to elect Labour MP’s, it would truly become a ‘movement’.
Firstly, if Unite believes (as I do) that workers on the shop floor aren’t paid enough, that salaries at the top have nothing to do with their actual value and owners pursue short term gains for themselves, regardless of the long term damage it does to the company, then how about we put our money where our mouth is?
That’s right, why don’t Unions actively target small and medium sized businesses to gain a stake and in the long run, take control of. Yes, I am talking about Unions running sustainable, profit making businesses. It would follow the exact same model a supporter’s trust has where it aims to buy shares in company and take control.
This would give people in the private sector workplace a reason to join a Union and a genuine goal to work towards. The more shares you get, the bigger your voice becomes. Instead of begging for change or striking for change you can just start throwing your shareholding weight around and get seats on the board.
It also will mean Unions have a vested interest in the company’s success and at the end game of full worker ownership will mean that the militancy often displayed when striking against the state would be avoided. That’s not to say their wouldn’t be strikes against private business, much in the same way supporters trusts boycott clubs but it would have a long term goal.
Unite would act like Supporters Direct in the sense that each Workers trust/co-operative runs its’ own affairs and builds its’ own leaders with Unite offering a supporting role. You can go so many places with this as many of the ‘big businesses’ are in fact franchises.
Why don’t Unite buy a franchise MacDonalds? Who would care as long as the food is the same? No-one, that’s who. We can then practise what we preach: We can cut out the zero contract conditions for the staff, give them fixed working hours so they know when they are in, not piss about with the rota, make sure staff have a good area to relax, reduce pay at the top of the franchise and raise it at the bottom.
What about housing for our members? Again, instead of waiting for the Government to build social housing (which could then be sold off at whenever they choose), let’s see Unite give funds to its’ members or people who join to set up housing co-operatives. That way money can be reinvested in the house and working members won’t be exploited by landlords, they would in fact be their own landlords and as a housing co-op is a membership club, being in the Darlington Unite housing co-op could be conditional on membership to the Union.
What about mutual welfare? Instead of leaving the job finding market to a crap Job Centre and agencies, why don’t Unions set one up themselves? It could build links with private employers as well as companies it already owns or has a stake in to find work for its’ members fast, in good workplaces. Plenty of those housing co-ops will need builders and those who have manual skills to fix up these houses we are buying. Again, a token £1 membership fee could be charged to use the agency and then on getting a job, joining the Union would be expected and culturally instilled.
Unions have the cash to start this: all they have to do is not hand over another penny to any Labour MP’s, candidates, think tanks or organisations in favour of mass immigration. They would do far more good building up these trusts and co-op’s than spending money on these people and the never ending lobbying, where so much money is wasted.
Overall, Trade Unions in this country can have a future. They can revert to their traditions and become the radical working class, self-organising institutions who seek to give their members the power to take control of their own lives. They can thrive and grow to be not only active in the private sector as the workers but an employer of people, by taking ownership and becoming the management. There is a brighter future for Unions like Unite if they find within themselves the courage and determination to seize the opportunities that are presented.
Or they can watch their hollow protests grow smaller, their petitions go unsigned until all that’s left is Owen Jones sitting in a darkened room, demanding a revolution from the people Unions long since abandoned.
As suspected, Len McCluskey on QT did absolutely bugger all to show why Trade Unions are relevant or even worth joining. He just demanded the state the do it all instead, so why bother to join a Union? If we get more Leaders like him, there won’t be any Trade Unions left in fifty years. When is the next Unite leadership election?
Class Publication: How the European left can deal with the threat of xenophobia?
Migration Advisory Committee July 2014
House of Lords: The economic impact of immigration
The Migration Observatory Briefing 2014