The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

union myths - #2 all unionists want to be Rick Barker

The second in an irregular series; another step forward on my ongoing quest to bust some union myths that the Right seem to like to wallow in from time to time.

Union Myth #2 - All unionists want to grow up to be Labour MPs

Look, we just don't.

I know oodles of trade unionists, from all sorts of unions, and I know very very few who actually want to be Labour MPs. (Seriously, I can think of about four, which includes people I don't know personally, and one person who is extremely unlikely to become an MP but desperately wants to. Oh, and there's this guy).

Having said that, being a unionist is probably quite a lot like being an MP - long hours, (some)people think you're a lazy arse even though you're not, fleeting gratitude when you achieve a good result for someone, abuse from the unsaveable (even when you miraculously save them), people hearing you say what they wanted you to say rather than what you actually said, others who tell you that your sick child is less important than listening to them whine, working really hard for a long time to succeed and feeling great about it when it happens but then having to move on to the next battle almost immediately, having people occasionally look up to you and give you some respect, etc etc ad nauseum.

All up being a unionist, paid or unpaid, is an iceberg job - the bit that's visible to the outside world is but a teeny tiny part of the whole.

Of course there are many unionists who would be heinously insulted to know that most of the Right blogosphere, from my experience, thinks they are Labour hacks (to be fair I've heard people on the Left say this too). Yes we are labour, but with a small l please.

Take for example those on the Alliance party list, which was saturated with unionists, both paid and unpaid. And Luci Highfield, who might have been a Green MP this week with a whole heap of good luck. Not to mention all those other radicals who do their day (and night) jobs and fit union work into their spare time, all the while realising the inadequacies of capitalism and hoping for a revolution.

Frankly I don't ever want to be a Labour MP (or even an MP for another party, really). I like union work. It's hard but it's rewarding, and you can actually see yourself making a difference to someone - because you listened to them and helped them at a bad time in their life, because you helped them to learn how to organise their workmates to make a positive change, because you pulled up a boss who bullied and thought nothing of breaking the law to get what they wanted; for a million other reasons too.

Why on earth would anyone want to give that up to move to the toxic environment of Parliament and twiddle their thumbs on the Labour backbench?

- union myths #1 - compulsory membership


The Doorman said...

No one wants to be Rick Barker. full stop.

maps said...

Some interesting debates on the Alliance and the unions on indymedia at:


Good comment by Dave on the difference between the ERA and ECA, which a lot of people get confused about (either by way of under or overestimation):

Sure the ERA is a 'charter for bureaucrats'. But its more than that. The thrust of the ECA was to put all workers on individual contracts to exploit them better. The thrust of the ERA is collective contracts to restore some balance in industrial relations to better exploit workers.

That's the Labourite idea of class reconciliation that goes back to the IC&A act of 1894. Today this has a Blairite twist, applied by the CTU, to disciplining workers. Organised unions become partners in productvity (exploitation) increases to increase profits.

Thus unions are now recognised as more than bargaining agents but 'partners' and 'stakeholders'. These partnerships can extend to national agreements, all the better to eat you my dear.

That's why is wrong to say that the ERA is the ECA with official entry only. The real entry is the penetration of the working class by the trojan horse of capital, the labour bureaucracy backed by the state.

That's also why its wrong to write off Labour as the yuppie version of National. National are still smash the unions people, wheras Labour are cultivate and control the unions people. Labour is more sophisticated in its management of capitalism so it talks partnership and creates the illusion that it is worker friendly.

While the unions are protected in law, treated as partners in produtivity, and are recruiting this is good for bosses, but also good for workers. It creates the rank and file membership with the potential to blow apart the parasitic bureaucracy that buses workers around the country for 5% campaign stunts, so that we can start busing workers around the country to picket strike sites, occupy them and take them over under workers' control.

This will blow apart class collaboration in the unions and in parliament.