Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/361/5940
Strength In Numbers
Why Trade Unions Are Still Vital
WHEN THE head of the bosses' organisation calls trade unions increasingly irrelevant, you can guarantee it comes from his fear of increasing militancy from workers rather than a genuine concern over our welfare!
Dave Gorton, TGWU 1/372 Branch (personal capacity)
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general Digby Jones used a keynote speech to Scottish business leaders to attack British trade unions, and by implication, the so-called 'awkward squad' of union leaders.
Apparently, the only protection workers need "in a tight labour market with skills shortages is to be so adaptable, trained and valuable that no employer would dare let them go or treat them badly".
Tell this to the hundreds of thousands of workers in the public sector who have high levels of unique skills but get paid a pittance and face daily violence at work in hospitals, schools and benefit offices.
Strength in numbers
Trade unions are as relevant today as when they were first formed in the 19th century. Workers need the 'insurance policy' to defend them against individual attacks from employers over such issues as sickness and disciplinary action. More importantly, workers need the strength in numbers provided by a union to resist attacks on jobs, pay, pensions, terms and conditions.
It's a fact that workers organised in unions get higher average earnings, better annual leave entitlement and are less likely to be injured at work.
However, Jones' attacks cannot be ignored by socialists and trade unionists. But rather than respond to the appeal to be less militant, we must recognise that it has been the increased preparedness of sections of the working class to contemplate strike action that is worrying the employers.
Sadly, the 'awkward squad' for the most part have proved to be awkward in words only - any increased strikes involving their unions have come through pressure from below as workers test out their new 'left' leaders.
In fact, leaders like Kevin Curran of the GMB and UNISON's Dave Prentis initially welcomed Brown's announcement of tens of thousands of civil service job cuts. Only disgust from within their own ranks and other workers caused them later to partially condemn Labour's mass sackings plan.
It's this sort of blatant cheerleading for Labour, along with inaction and failure in the face of employer attacks, that could lead to workers viewing unions as 'irrelevant'. Digby Jones, and other representatives of capitalism, know this. Will our trade union general secretaries recognise the double bluff and start to lead a fight against this anti-worker government and its big business friends?
Better wages, more security
A NEW International Labour Office (ILO) report attacks the world's governments and employers who aim to reduce trade unionisation. De-unionisation increases economic insecurity and workers' vulnerability as unionised firms pay higher wages and offer higher security, it states.
Capitalist 'globalisation' is creating a world of unhappy employees, the ILO says, by making labour markets more 'flexible' (for the bosses that is), and removing universal provision of social benefits.
The report measures income levels, income security, the level of services and the level of inequality in pay levels. Britain is 15th among 90 nations covered by the report, some way behind the Scandinavian countries that still, despite the worst efforts of successive governments, have extensive social safety nets.
The USA, one of the richest nations in the world, is only in 25th place. The ILO comments that only 8% of the world's people live in countries that provide even this basic level of economic security.
But this wasn't given by the capitalist class - workers had to fight for it, largely through the trade unions.
In The Socialist 11 September 2004:
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