From today’s Lib Dem News

By Howard of Lib Dem News

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46 Comments

  • We obliquely discussed how funny or otherwise these cartoons are the other week. This one definitely isn’t – I think if the power of trade unions has ever been more needed during my life, it is difficult to imagine when that might have been. One of the unattractive things about our party has been the anti-union (or at best apathetic about unions) tendency.

  • @Rebecca Hanson
    “Whoever put this up – please can it just be removed?”

    I would concur with your plea to remove this ridiculous cartoon. However, given the Business Secretary’s announcement today to cap unfair dismissal claims (without capping the bonuses of the “fat cat” bosses who would seem to be free to do as they wish) it says more about the Lib Dems in this coalition that this is how the T.U.C. is viewed now…The last news item I read did not give any dates for any strikes organised or abetted by the T.U.C.

  • Simon Bamonte 14th Sep '12 - 6:08pm

    This is seriously unfunny. As average people (those who both do and do not belong to unions) face ever-further wage freezes, job insecurity, public services cuts for a crisis they did not create and rising prices of daily basics, a strike is often the last resort. It does us no favours at all to take the Tory “unions as dinosaurs” line. Trades unions are not the big, bad “enemy within” like they were in the 1970s and LibDems would do well to remember that these are exactly the type of people we should be supporting and working hard in government for. This cartoon is basically mocking the millions of people who face lowering living standards and are considering taking the last resort – striking – to improve their lot. If average people had more money to spend, rather than letting those at the top continue to hoard or offshore their wealth, maybe our economy would be in better shape. This seems, to me, just more proof that many in this party now hold the working class, poor and powerless with contempt. We talk big about “empowering” people, yet when people empower themselves and join together via unions, they get mocked. Charming.

    How dare average people band together to protect their families, incomes and what they already have! How very well dare they! Bloody dinosaurs!

  • Rebecca Hanson

    Excellent post and I couldn’t agree more

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th Sep '12 - 9:05am

    The irony of course is that those who call the unions “dinosaurs” would like to go back to a 19th century world where workers have fewer rights, and their employers can treat them pretty much as they please.

  • It might be useful to hear from Howard, the cartoonist, himself, about his judgment of the situation.

  • IMHO – the dinosaurs are the 18th century style monied toffs who run the Tory party and by extension the country. Nice of Danny Boyle to inform them that the industrial revolution has happened.

  • I would be interested in hearing from Howard the cartoonist. In the meantime I’ll generously assume his message has got lost somewhere in the cartoon.

    The too-low pay and job insecurity that have so weakened our economy are not particularly funny, while the people working together to improve their circumstances are surely something we should encourage (N.B. I don’t mean the bankers here!)

  • Paul McKeown 15th Sep '12 - 1:39pm

    So those complaining about the cartoon think that a rash of strikes would be a good idea?

    Certain disconnect from the public, there.

    Frankly some trades union leaders *are* dinosaurs, just as some right wing politicians and lobbyists are.

  • Paul McKeown

    I don’t think it is us that are disconnected from reality.

    The public believe what is fed them by a clearly anti-union media. The unions are not all good and, as said above, they betrayed their founders with the behaviour in the 70s but now they have changed and actually are one of the few forces left that fight against worker exploitation – not even the LD can claim that anymore!

    The pressure on society is coming from the feral rich

  • Paul McKeown 15th Sep '12 - 2:42pm

    @bazza

    The trades unions are generally much more responsible than they were in the ’70s and they do a lot of important work to the benefit of their members, the companies they are active in, and society at large. I see no sense in further regulation of trades unions, as certain Conservative politicians would like to see. However, I really don’t see how they will further their causes with widespread strikes; strikes will inconvenience the general public and any sympathy for the campaigns that the trades unions are engaged in will rapidly be lost.

  • “The trades unions are generally much more responsible than they were in the ’70s and they do a lot of important work to the benefit of their members, the companies they are active in, and society at large.”

    So presumably you wouldn’t think it appropriate to portray the TUC as a whole as a dinosaur?

    For a moment I thought you were disagreeing with the previous comments.

  • @Paul McKeown
    “The trades unions are generally much more responsible than they were in the ’70s”

    But in your view, will that continue into the future? I’ve just read an article that may imply that there is a drift back to the far left within the Union movement (or at least the larger unions – which may have a knock on effect), if the article is correct (or even in the same ball park) then the unions may not care to much about public opinion.

    http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2012/09/14/the-unions-are-gunning-for-ed-balls/#comments

  • Ed Shepherd 15th Sep '12 - 9:49pm

    I think it’s odd that a cartoon from a political party that claims to place an emphasis on democracy is attacking working people who organise themselves democratically in unions. I work at a place where redundancies are being made. Many members of staff are wishing that they had a union to offer them support. If the Lib Dems are against strikes then what other methods do they suggest by which people can protest or effect change? I think strikes are a waste of time on most occasions and cause more harm to the employees than to the employers or government. However, with no other options for resisting unfair actions by employers or the government, I am not surprised that many workers think that strikes are an option worth considering. Presumably, the Lib Dem party are against any strikes either in the UK or abroad. Perhaps the Lib Dem Party should clarify it’s position on the subject of unions, strikes and workers rights. For the life of me, I cannot work out what the Lib Dem’s current position is.

  • @Rebecca – great contribution. Unions exist because there is a need for them, now possibly more than for a long time.

  • @Rebecca Hanson

    “But there was barely any of that lot left before this government came along ”

    I’m sorry but whilst you may feel that is the case, I think I’m more inclined to believe people who are Labour supporters, as they have the most at stake with regard to the unions. If they are worried that the unions (especially the big ones) are going to the left, then I’m inclined to believe them.
    As for the “barely any of the lot” statement, well that is really quite jaw dropping. Do you really believe that all of this started 2 years ago, or are you just lashing out at the government?

  • @Chris – if ATL hasnt gone on strike in 100 years but did in the last 12 months you can interpret that as a lurch to the left.Or as that last 100 years encompasses many periods where strike activity was generally common including the Thatcher years, you can interpret this government as taking or threatening the most anti union actions in 100 years which would suggest that in supporting this government, our party has lurched to the right.

  • @Alistair
    Rebecca Hanson didn’t say the ATL, she said the unions. Nor am I implying that all unions have “lurched” to the left, but I am saying that there are people in the Labour Party who feel the overall general direction of travel is to the left and (in at least one article) it may “drag the Party back to 1983.

    Some of the swing to the left may be justified, when Unite says “Only 9% of sitting Labour MPs have a working-class background; that has to change.” then I have a great deal of sympathy with that cause (as I would if any political party said the same sort of thing). Other things though can be quite worrying, such as:
    “We want to shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and professionals towards people who’ve actually represented workers and fought the boss.”
    Which pretty much sounds like they want their MPs to be union reps who will be mainly from the public sector (as the public sector is about 60% of the union base), by the sounds of that statement they may also like a bit of the old class warfare thrown in as well.

  • I don’t think this cartoon is very good, or funny. But it is interesting that similarly poor and unfunny cartoons posted here attacking in other directions receive no comment.

    Unions are necessary and useful organizations when they focus on representing their members. But many people worry that the aim of *some* union leaders in calling for a general strike is the anti-democratic one of trying to topple an elected government. That is a deeply disturbing state of affairs.

  • Plenty of room for big historical analysis here of, especially the 80s, the Alliance, the direction of the Labour Party, whether they “should” or “should not” have taken the path they did under Kinnock etc. In a practical sense vis a vis the Trade Unions, should they have “accepted defeat” at the hands of Thatcher – in fact did she defeat them? What did the SDP bring as any new thoughts about the role of Unions in society? It will be interesting with a focus on what happened at the time of Hillsborough (1989), how much of this debate will be seen in the media, and possibly reflected in current political directions.

    And into the 90s – why did John Major win the 1992 election? (personally I always felt the”major” factor was not Major, but anti Welsh racism in the UK media, and among English people – but having some Welsh connection, that may be a minority view). All this period had a profound effect on the Trade Union movement, as, of course, did privatisation and outsourcing.

    Again, in the Lib Dems, we have this profound difference about what “left” means, whether it exists in any meaningful way, and whether, indeed, we are a part of, the left. And our views of the unions may well be influenced by how we identify in that area.

    Chris sh for instance – your comment about Labour views doesn’t seem to take into account that there are different wings in Labour, and certainly nuLabour / Blairites would undoubtedly take the view you express. But a more mainstream Labour view would probably welcome a more activist Union input, which could encompass strikes where felt to be effective. Of course people affected by strikes don’t like them much, but the question is, what other mechanisms can people with little power in society exert? Tabman – your comment about useful and necessary is quite true, but you must surely agree that the likes of the right wing media, business lobby groups, wealthy party donors, etc, have been much more effective in influencing policy outcomes over the years. I would have thought as the democratic party, we should be striving to level this playing field.

    The economic process these days is, arguably the reason why we are in the state we are in, and internationally we need to do something about it.

  • @Tim13
    I do realise that there are many views within the Labour Party, like all parties it is a broad church of opinions and views. I’ll certainly admit to mostly reading Labour Uncut to see what’s going on though.

    “But a more mainstream Labour view would probably welcome a more activist Union input, which could encompass strikes where felt to be effective.”

    Some of those mainstream views are easy to agree with, as I said, if a party that is supposed to represent the workforce only has 9% of it’s MPs from that workforce then something has probably gone askew. It will be interesting to see who the unions will want to replace though – will they include such people as Harman, or is she considered OK because she is left enough?

    Having said that, I’m a lot less likely to vote Labour if they just stuff the House with Public Sector union reps, nor will I support them if they just want to continue the class war or revert to old days of “solidarity action” etc (which is what the likes of Unite are talking about).

    “personally I always felt the”major” factor was not Major, but anti Welsh racism in the UK media”
    I’m not so certain about that, it’s a long time ago but I do have a recollection of TV item where Kinnock was talking to one of the (very) old guard (whose name escapes me at the moment). One bit of advice he was given was along the lines of “don’t spend all your time smiling or the people won’t trust you”. Meanwhile Kinnock was stood there with what looked like the widest forced grin that you can imagine. I just don’t think he could connect enough with the wider electorate for them to trust him whereas Major did, so perhaps he was just trusted more when it came to marking the paper.

  • Tim13 – the aim of the Labour movement since its inception has been to kill off Liberalism as a political force in order to be the sole unopposed challenger to Conservative authoritarianism, in aim in which it very nearly succeeded.

    Every time we have got too large, Labour have sought to “kill us with kindness.” The same process has started again with Balls’ cosying up to Vince.

    There are numerous recent examples in the private sector of great union/management relationships working through recent problems, such as going to four dsy weeks, pay freezes or cuts in order to preserve jobs through the recession have shown. This is totally at odds with the confrontational approach of the likes of Serwotka.

    Where we see good practice we should praise it, and we should oppose strongly its opposite.

  • I would amend your words, Tabman, to “since the formation of the Labour Party”, by which time some people had lost patience with the innate conservatism in parts of the Liberal Party. But it is far from a linear or uncomplicatedly oppositional relationship. I would also add that it was the aim of some within the Liberal Party to kill off the nascent Labour Party, so I think we have to be careful in our arguments.

    I agree with you insofar it is good for all sides to work together in employment relationships, and I have always strived for that end in my role as a personnel person. However, I think we part company when you see less of a role for “the confrontational approach of the likes of Serwotka”. I think people like that are valuable to demonstrate that ordinary people can get “off their knees”, and oppose the powers that be in society. I think comparisons with the 1880 – 1930 period in Britain are very apt – we have an opportunity to play a different role this time around, and get hugely better outcomes. Unfortunately, we have started badly, by managing to lose many of our left-leaning supporters. We have encouraged further the gap between the haves and have-nots. Hopefully sense is now being seen, and we will move towards a more radical position justified by events and the state of the country and the world (end of rant, for the time being!)

  • paul barker 16th Sep '12 - 2:18pm

    The reason some trade unions are routinely reffered to as “dinosaurs” is because they often seem stuck in the past & because they seem to be dying out, presumably as a result of failing to adapt.Its a poor metaphor but useful shorthand for a complex argument.
    Evidenc for both parts of the argument came last week with news that union membership has fallen by half since 1980 & the TUC decision to look at organising a General Strike.
    There are probably many reasons why less people now want to join unions but part of the problem must be their association with labour or far-left politics & with strikes, demonstrations & more recently, breaking windows.

    Far from moving with their times much of the current union leadership seem to be living in a semi-mythical past – somewhere between 1917 & 1968.

  • Richard Swales 16th Sep '12 - 3:44pm

    @Rebecca, so your previous pay deal was that there would be no money put aside for your retirement at all, but that the power of the state (makes the laws, controls the police) would later be directed to force your fellow citizens to pay for it, a matter about which they would have no choice? Now apparently the government has said they are not willing to do it anymore, at least not to the same extent, and because the government is all powerful (makes the laws, controls the police).

    The mistake you made is the same one made by people who think it’s a good idea to lend money to the mafia, when the other side is so powerful, you assume that they can bully someone to pay you, but they can also just bully you not to pay. And no, I don’t have any sympathy in either case.

  • Richard Swales 16th Sep '12 - 3:55pm

    the second paragraph above should end with “.. there’s nothing you can do about it”.

    I think it’s worth mentioning though that in modern times strikes and heavy union activity is almost always when there is a monopoly employer. So in the USA there are a lot of strikes in sport where the teams run pay cartels, and not many in schools where each county school board negotiates with the teachers and a teacher can move to the next county if he thinks he deserves more, whereas in the UK, strikes in sport (where we have a free market) are unknown but we have strikes where there is one national body setting pay and conditions in health, schools etc.

  • @Rebecca Hanson

    Thank you for the clarification.

    “When I was growing up there always seemed to be strikes and riots”
    As someone who was born in the early 60s, I can relate to that statement (especially as my own father was Labour thru & thru – cut him in half and read it in the rings etc).

    “There are traces of it in some unions but it’s tiny, tiny pockets.”
    That statement I do have issues with, although I understand that if your own Union has a moderate stance then it may seem that way to you.

    Obviously I don’t need to tell you Unions are democratic organtisations, which means those who lead them must have been supported by a majority of the membership (or at least the membership that bothered to vote). Admittedly it may have been the vocal minority that decided this, but as the vocal minority often have more say than the silent majority then they will probably set the direction (that isn’t a dig at unions, I consider political parties to be the same way inclined).

    Leading Unite we have Len Mcluskey, someone who previously supported Militant – nicknamed Red Len (probably by the right wing press), the Chair of Unite’s National Political Committee is Dave Quayle, he is the one saying “We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015″. Len Mcluskey’s COS is Andrew Murray who, I believe, was a member of the Communist Party of GB until fairly recently. Of course, it is said that Unite may yet merge with the PCS (currently headed by Mark Sewotka), but even if they don’t. they have stated that they are working closely together. I seem to recall that the Indie speculated that McLuskey was in favour of a merger as there were to many “right” wing candidates who may take over when he leaves, where as Sewotka is years away from retirement and could take over the merged unions.

    That is just a snippet of course, we’ve not even started to talk about the unions trying to eject Progress, or that well known moderate Bob Crowe, plus probably many more cases.

    As a matter of interest, did you manage to keep a straight face when you corrected your post to include “(in other words stop looking at how far left of right we’re going – look instead at the depth.)” – when the next paragraph (on the origanal comment) started with the phrase “The ‘Tory right wing’ is actually a bunch of anarchic libertarians.”

    I think I’ve often seen you commenting on John Redwood’s blog so you must be aware of many of his views, are you saying that you actually class him as an “anarchic libertarian”?

  • Richard Swales 16th Sep '12 - 6:13pm

    @Rebecca, if previous teachers are paid out of the funds contributed by new teachers then what you are describing is a Ponzi scheme. What happened to the funds they (or the first members) contributed during their own careers? Anyway, if the government needs to use money taken from private sector workers to keep it going then my original point stands.

  • Richard Swales 16th Sep '12 - 6:30pm

    @Rebecca, that still doesn’t answer the question of what happened to the money previous teachers paid in, why isn’t it around now to pay them out? If people have historically got out more than they paid in (or was paid in on their behalf) above any investment gains, then what you are talking about is a Ponzi scheme, albeit a particually stable one given the steady supply of new members. The question is, why didn’t the profession at any stage object to the way the scheme was being run? The answer to that question is that they thought the government would mug private sector workers to make up the shortfall later on. As I understand the issue now is that the government isn’t willing to do it for them.

  • @Richard Swales.
    1. The teacher’s pension scheme runs a surplus – teachers thus subsidise the services received by the rest of the population, including those working the private sector.
    2. It is categorically not a Ponzi scheme (is this the Daily Mail?) given that the current pensions are paid by current teachers.

  • Two points.

    1. the structure of trade unions as ‘democratic’ organisations is undermined by their partisan, undemocratic behaviour – workers will be better served by separation.
    2. the purpose of cartoons is to inspire comment – obviously this has been very successfully.

  • Richard Swales 17th Sep '12 - 11:22am

    @Rebecca, I don’t care. I just want you to keep your hand out of my pocket. Presumably the union that represents you oh so well would find out what has been happening to your money under their noses.

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