June 2012 We invented the Big Society

01 June 2013

Trade unions and Tories are never going to be the best of mates - but the deep-seated loathing of unions felt by Cameron, Boris and the rest of their Conservative cronies astonishes me. Their hostility is utterly out of proportion.

 

Cameron wants to end time off for union officials in the civil service because they dared to have a day’s strike. He has begun a major attack on employment laws and tribunals to make it harder for employees to prove unfair dismissal. Aided by Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, he has promised ‘the most radical reform package for decades’ to make it easier for firms to ‘let staff go’.

 

He is planning more restrictions on ballots before unions can take lawful industrial action. ‘A strong case being made for change,’ he says, ‘not least by my colleague, the Mayor of London’ - the same Bullingdon chum who wants to stop rail workers having any right to strike. And then there is what the Prime Minister calls ‘the health and safety monster’.

 

Yet at the same time he pontificates about the ‘Big Society’. Admittedly this is a pretty vague concept, but it is about groups and communities feeling ‘empowered’ and the having ‘the freedom to influence and discuss topics that matter to them’. It is about ‘social action and responsibility’.

 

Well, excuse me – but trade unions have been doing this for generations! We invented it! Union representatives work voluntarily for their work colleagues - and incidentally promote efficiency in businesses. Moreover, research shows that union representatives are more likely than any other group to play a part in voluntary activities in their broader communities, as councillors, magistrates or charity fund-raisers.

 

We don’t expect much from the Tories: but at the very least working people don’t deserve their instinctive and vindictive upper-class distain. It is appalling that they attack the seven million trade unionists in the UK, many of whom work in public services like teaching and hospitals. These people deserve thanks and encouragement – not contempt.

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