I was watching Question Time last night and the conversation turned to Trade Unions, at which point a panel member asked ‘it is 2015 what is the point of unions?’ I was shocked and appalled all at once.
Now as someone who’s weekend plans have been messed up due to a Union backed strike that actually didn’t materialise, I bear no malice to the members of the Union involved. Without trade unions in our history we wouldn’t have weekends, holiday pay, sickness benefits, health and safety in the workplace, restrictions on hours to be worked and many many many more things.
I was brought up in a union household, my Dad and his father before him were a shop stewards, working in the ship building industry of the 1930’s to the 1970’s they negotiated with managers many times to improve the lot of the workforce. Dad was driven by a sense of fairness, born out of spending mornings standing in a pen waiting to be chosen for work that day. He saw people killed at work on a regular basis and understood the power of the working people to come together for support and for unity. He was also blacklisted back in the early 1970’s for stopping a strike, and was unable to get work from a number of large companies right up until the end of his life in the mid 1980’s. I have since contacted the unions and received confirmation of the blacklist and the dreadful practices that went unchecked for many years.
A trade union represents workers. That is it. Somewhere along the way we have lost that truth. Somewhere in the mucky media that saw the demise of the print unions, we have managed to raise a population who do not understand just what a union is all about. This needs to change.
Whatever happens in Westminster, people still need the security and support of the trade union movement behind them. To support individuals through difficulties, to enable groups of workers to negotiate what is fair and right, and to assist managers and owners to provide a safe and harmonious workplace, for all of us.
I am proud of my Trade Union heritage. I followed my Dad and was also a union rep, in the public sector it was slightly different to his experience on the docks, but I was still able to help and support members in need. To my delight my eldest son also became a steward in his union and continued what is now four generations of my family fighting for fairness in the workplace.
So, next time you read in the newspapers or on line about union barons, selfish strikers and the like, ask yourself a question. Where would I be without the unions who fought for workers in the past? Who will stand up for me in the workplace? The biggest question of all, in whose interests is it to do the unions down?
I could tell you other stories, how my daughter aged 15 was supported by my union to gain compensation for an accident, how cheap my house insurance is and how good it feels to have the support of an organisation that is truly on my side in times of trouble These tales don’t make it into the press, but they should.
So, to the panel member on Question Time, I would say, I am glad you are a fair and honest employer, I am glad that your employees don’t need protection, but many many people working in difficult situations need the right to representation. To them I say, get it while you can.