Since they were formed, trade unions have improved the lives of millions and have caused a cultural change in this and other countries. They are still necessary: for every hysterical headline in the Daily Mail about union excesses, there are a thousand unreported meetings of well-informed men and women sitting down with management working out deals to benefit their members. Collective bargaining is effective and efficient for both sides in industry.
Even without that, union membership would be valuable for the legal protection it offers. I was a teacher and had I been accused of thumping a boy or seducing a girl pupil (or vice versa), my union would have provided me with a superb defence team. Most union members, I would guess, have some risk of falling foul of unsubstantiated accusations and it is a comfort to know that your case will be argued by a leading barrister.
That’s the good news.
When the unions were formed, businesses were mostly locally owned. You could walk out of the factory, march through the town up to the gates of the owner’s mansion. By the middle of the twentieth century national ownership had become the norm. Local stock exchanges were closing and shares were traded only in London. The unions adapted by centralising their operations in the capital. Big business demanded bigger unions.
You must have noticed that the only unions now operating with any real power nowadays are those that come into direct contact with the public. If the workers close down CalMac, the employers are forced to come to the table, but if they close down Grangemouth all that happens is that the owner shrugs and walks away. Business is international but unions are not, despite some more or less unsuccessful attempts at cooperation.
To continue to protect their workers unions will, in my opinion, be forced into cooperating with government. When a multi-national company threatens jobs in Britain, unions should brief the government, of whatever political colour, and have them argue the case. Their intervention may not be enough but it will carry a lot more weight than an effigy in the works manager’s drive.
Tories who have demonised unions will be outraged almost as much as union bosses who have demonised Tories at the idea of working together but if it brings greater good for the country they should swallow the stale bile and get on with it.