25 September 2011

Unions turning on each other?

I previously blogged about my time working at Unity (previously CATU) in Stoke-on-Trent.

Formerly a grand organisation representing more than 50,000 pottery workers concentrated in the city of Stoke, the flight of manufacturing to the far-east led CATU to now paint itself as a “community” union to try to attract new members. Sadly Unity as it now is boasts less than 5,000 members – the vast majority of whom are still based mainly around ceramics – and the union has all but given up recruiting into new members having laid off its trained organisers last year.

Today, sadly, a senior trade union representative for Unity appeared on television earlier today appearing to criticise public sector workers for considering industrial action in response to cuts.

The West Midlands section of the BBC Politics Show today carried an interview with Tommy Dawkins MBE one of Unity’s senior workplace representatives at the Steelite factory. You can watch it HERE.

Explaining how Unity had negotiated pay and hours reductions for members in a bid to save jobs at the plant in Burslem, even after redundancies had been carried out, Dawkins said of the public sector workers: “I’d like them to come here and see what we did” before stating that “no good comes of a strike”.

I am pretty sure the Unity leadership would have known what their rep intended to say on camera - its unlike them to allow any of their people to talk to the media without it being cleared at the highest level. I met Tommy a couple of times when I worked for the union and he was a very decent bloke, but his position unfortunately appears to reflect the line which bosses want us to take – not only merely meekly accepting cuts as inevitable and necessary but also demanding that everyone else accepts them too.

The truth is the “profit and loss” based cuts the private sector manufacturing industry face are utterly different from the entirely politically loaded cuts proposed by the government for the public sector pension scheme - a scheme that has actually been proven to be affordable.

UNISON regional secretary Ravi Subramanian quite rightly responded by inviting workers from Steelite to see how care home workers on £15,000 manage with their jobs and wages and learn a bit more about the truth rather than getting drawn into a slanging match over how public sector workers should be just as badly treated as their private sector equivalents.

It should also be pointed out the Politics Show item didn't feature any other interviews from other Steelite workers about the planned industrial action on November 30, raising some questions over the editorial line taken and whether it was truly representative.

Either way, the point here is we should ALL be resisting the race to the bottom – either in the public or private sector. Having trade unionists turn on each other on the basis of individualistic jealousy over perceived better terms one set of workers to the other  is EXACTLY what the government and political establishment want. Workers across different sectors have always historically had different conditions and terms and we must not allow the bosses to demand equality of misery.

Furthermore, if trade unionists appear on television accepting cuts in either the private or public sectors, it perhaps explains why unions are struggling to attract any new members outside their traditional bases. 

As a lowly UNITY member I will be attending the next lodge meeting (branch) to ask how the union will be assisting fellow comrades across the trade union movement in their battle to defend their term and conditions. And demanding they do not do the dirty work of the bosses and join in with the likes of Digby Jones demanding a race to the bottom for everyone.

EDITED 7.10pm Sunday - for minor factual detail, amended headline, typos and grammar plus added link to clip. Having looked again at the piece on the Politics Show in detail, I have also toned down my criticism of Unity in the hope they will issue a robust statement in defence of workers taking action to defend their terms and conditions.

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