Friday, 26 July 2013

Tories should not bash trade unions

As I often say, trade unions are a necessary part of the capitalist system. The current spate of anti-TU rhetoric has progressed (if that is the right word) from a justified exposure of the undue influence particular unions have on Labour candidate selection - possibly involving fraud in some cases - to a generalised attack on trade unionism as a whole. The intent is clearly to make "trade unionist" a term of abuse in the public mind. A similar attempt to tarnish "liberal" a decade ago failed, and one hopes that the latest effort will do, too. I would guess that the campaign emanates from Lynton Crosby, Cameron's "attack dog" (or should that be "smoking beagle"?). It certainly looks like a smokescreen to divert attention from the motley vested interests funding the Conservative party.

Anyway, I was going to deliver a long piece about how Conservatives should recall their party's history, but I see that Robert Halfon MP has got there first - and added a few surprising facts about Margaret Thatcher which I was unaware of. His whole piece is on the Total Politics web pages, but these are the key paragraphs as far as my thesis goes:

The truth is that while the Conservative Party has a long history of caring for trade unionists, the battles with Arthur Scargill in the 1980s and the miners’ strikes have clouded many people’s perceptions. I suspect you don’t believe me, but let me ask you this: who first set out to legalise the trade union movement? A Conservative, indeed a Conservative prime minister: the Earl of Derby. And who said that the law should not only permit, but also “assist” the trade unions? It was Margaret Thatcher.

In fact, Mrs Thatcher was a committed trade unionist. The first political office she held was in the Conservative Trade Unionists (CTU). Perhaps because of this she understood very well something that many Tories now forget: that most trade union members are not political. They are commuters, workers, people going about their daily lives. That is why, as leader of the opposition, she fought hard to recruit members for the CTU. It is hard to imagine now, but in 1979, trade union members flew banners in Wembley Stadium that read: “Trade Unions for a Conservative Victory.”

(I would only add that Norman Tebbit, Mrs T's loyal lieutenant, was a member of the airline pilots trade union before entering parliament, and even admitted in a recent Radio 4 programme that he was an admirer of Ernie Bevin, that formidable TGWU organiser.)

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