Thursday, February 11, 2016
The state of our unions?
This anonymous contribution to the debate that isn't really happening about the crisis of our trade union movement is well worth a read.
For many at the top of our trade unions it is controversial even to suggest that our movement is in crisis (because that can be taken to imply criticism of leadership).
It's true that we are not suffering a cataclysmic decline in union membership on the scale of (say) the 1920s. However, we have not been able to reverse a generation of declining membership, density and influence.
In some ways though, the (relative) stability of some of our unions is almost part of our problem, as it breeds complacency on the part of officials and lay "activists" prepared to coast gently downwards to retirement.
(I oughtn't to have to point out that this does not apply to all full-time and lay officials as that is obvious, but it is as well to make that point to head off the mischevious characterisation of practical criticism as hostile disloyalty).
I think our unions are, by and large, in crisis because we have not been able to reverse our decline. Regardless of changes of Government or the changing state of the economy since our peak in 1979, our movement has continued to diminish (now faster, now slower).
Upsurges in radicalism and militancy in wider society, whether the opposition to the Iraq war more than a decade ago or last year's "Corbyn surge" have largely passed the trade unions by.
There are a wide range of factors (both internal and external) contributing to this state of affairs - and the interesting article to which I link above deals with some of these.
If we are to stand any chance of changing our trade unions for the better (a question to which I know an increasing number of UNISON colleagues are now turning their minds) then we have to have the debate about the state of our unions out in the open.
In some ways it's not the right time for this debate - but that's mostly because we should have been having it for thirty years now.
Workers need trade unions more than ever and I think we have to hope it's not too late.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.