The case for Trades Unions

There has been for some time a substantial number of Liberal Democrats who think that Trades Unions are an anachronism. They are wrong.

In the neoliberal times in which we live, one of the main neoliberal aims is to weaken wage earners so that companies can force down wages, leaving lower wage earners poorer and at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. The result is zero hours contracts and poverty wages.

Trades Unions are a block to this neoliberal aim so, starting with Thatcher, they set about weakening unions and deterring people from joining them. You only have to read the (largely) neoliberal press to see how any group of workers who take action in defence of the standard of living are labelled greedy, disruptive and are ruining companies by reducing their profits.

The truth is different. As a lifelong member of first the National Union of Teachers and then the University and Colleges Union, I can assert with authority that without Trades Union support I would have been in great difficulty at a number of points in my career.

When I worked as a maths teacher, my head of department and my head were unhappy that I had to take time off to be a councillor. They tried to make it impossible for me to attend council meetings, despite a legal right to do so and at one point I was taken through the disciplinary process on spurious grounds. I was very fortunate that my union rep was able to support me through the process and it came to nothing.

Much later in my life I had to take time off because of depression. Eventually, with trades union support, I was able to negotiate a deal to retire. The trades union provided me with full legal support, at their expense, to ensure the compromise agreement was sound and I got all that I was entitled to. A similar thing happened when my wife had to stop work because of a car accident. Without the help of her trades union, Unison, she would not have obtained the decent settlement she did receive.

I have been on strike twice in my life, once with the NUT and once with UCU. This happened because the employers would not negotiate on proposals that were to employees’ detriment or would not make even remotely sensible pay proposals. As a result of the strikes negotiations resumed and led to a successful outcome. Of course, both sides had to compromise, but that’s the nature of bargaining.

Look at the current dispute between Northern Rail and the Rail and Maritime Union. Northern want to remove guards from trains. They can dress it up as much as they like, but the real reason is to reduce costs and increase profits for shareholders. The press is once again focussing on unreasonable RMT and the disruption to the Christmas trade. Without a Trades Union, guards would simply have vanished from Northern’s trains at the expense of the safety of the travelling public. Yes, Saturday travel is being severely disrupted, but I for one support the RMT’s action.

As Liberal Democrats, we need to be much more supportive of Trades Unions and fight to increase their rights, making it easier for people to join by giving every employee in every company an absolute right to be a trades union member.

* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.

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59 Comments

  • Good article. I’m a big fan of trade unions.

  • Good article but has one fundamental flaw. Claiming to be in neo-liberal times is a typical misunderstanding of the philosophy. The definition of Neo-liberalism is freedom of markets and deregulation. That is NOT the what we have. Take fossil fuels… The market is rigged to favour the dirty fuels over clean low carbon alternatives. The renewable industry faces roadblocks in development at every turn. Neo liberalism has failed and fallen. Corporate totalitarianism has been in control since the late nineties. Using the term Neo-liberalism just reinforces the cheap shot politics thrown at Lib Dems by Labour.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Dec '18 - 8:52am

    A good article. And good that you recognise that anti Trades Unionism is part of a wider agenda with your comment that:

    “one of the main neoliberal aims is to weaken wage earners so that companies can force down wages, leaving lower wage earners poorer and at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. The result is zero hours contracts and poverty wages”

    I’d perhaps go slightly further and argue that ‘freedom of movement’ in the EU is really designed to function as ‘free movement of labour’ and so force down wages by increasing labour supply. This causes Liberals and Social Democrats some problem, because we all acknowledge that its a good thing that, especially younger people, should be able to broaden their horizons by having the opportunity to work in different countries.

    Therefore, for this and other reasons connected with a perceived interference with the free market, there can be a clash of ideology between active Trade Unionists and Lib Dems who see organised labour as anti-liberal its its approach.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Dec '18 - 9:10am

    Michael is right – trades union are as essential in today’s unequal society as they were donkeys years ago – my only concern is about a trade union being affiliated to a particular political party – I think that is completely wrong and only encourages the neoliberal press in their attacks on the unions.

    And I agree about the need for a second member of staff on trains for safety reasons.

  • John Marriott 3rd Dec '18 - 10:00am

    I joined a Trades Union in my first year in teaching (1966 the NAS) at a time when, I believe, only one Union (NAS) was a member of the TUC. In fact that’s where I got my first experience of ‘politics’. I stayed a member when abroad, even though they told me that they couldn’t cover me in either Canada or West Germany – no worries as I was a member of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and later the Philologenverband. I retired to ‘active duty’ with the now unisex NAS/UWT in 1974, serving on executive committees in Calderdale and Lincolnshire until I got hooked by party politics around 1983 and am still registered as a retired member today.

    For those colleagues, who used to question the role of Trades Unions, my response used to be “Where would we be paywise today if we had always accepted the management’s first offer?” Unfortunately Trades Unions got a bad name, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s (‘Red Robbo’, Scargill etc) and, quite frankly, needed sorting out. When Jim Callaghan and co scuppered Barbara Castle’s ‘In Place of Strife’ and when Union militancy, helped undoubtedly by ineffectual management, which culminated in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ and the 1984 Miners’ Strike, it took a hard nut like Lady T to sort them out. Unfortunately, in some ways, the cure ended up being worse than the disease!

    Of course we need strong, DEMOCRATIC and responsible Trades Unions under the umbrella of a TUC, led my people like Frances O’Grady, who are capable of effectively arguing on behalf of their members. What we don’t want, which we virtually got in the 1970s, is Trades Unions running the country. You’ve only got to look across the Channel to see what happens when they get too powerful and politicised.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Dec '18 - 10:15am

    As I understand it the Government is seeking to change the role of the guard by giving the driver the job of opening and closing the doors so that the guard can collect fares to reduce the cost of tax payer funded subsidies. The South Western had given a guarantee that trains will continue to have a second person on board but strikes continued almost every Saturday until the end of November. There needs to be a review of the type of person employed as guard or conductor. Most of them are doing what they should but not all. In these violent times there needs to be someone who can deal with dangerous situations, not just open and close the doors.
    The strikes seem to have fizzled out on the Southern as most services seemed to be running the last time there was one. Southern was not a franchise but a Government controlled management contract. What with the failures of the nationalised Network Rail and Southern those who want renationalisation seem to be barking up the wrong tree but I do not suppose they will change their views.
    I am in favour of trade unions to protect the interests of workers.

  • Callum Robertson 3rd Dec '18 - 10:22am

    Your article begins with two assertions that aren’t backed up by any hard data.
    Firstly you mention that there are “substantial numbers of Liberal Democrats who think trade unionism is anachronism. They are wrong”

    You don’t support the assertion on the numbers. Nor the body of the article do you explain why they’re wrong. That makes your argument reliant on someone not questioning the premise. Since the premise is flawed and not evidence based, your argument is flawed from the beginning.

    The second point of contention is the use of neo-liberalism as some sort of straw man for arguments you happen to disagree with.

    Neo liberalism doesn’t seek to do that if done responsibly, it actually advocates free markets not a free for all, the free for all you are talking about is utterly unregulated libertarianism.

    The evidence you supply of the David v Goliath battle over train guards is spurious at best. The Office for the Protection of Rail Users say that with the right protections in place it is a “safe method of working” (http://orr.gov.uk/news-and-media/press-releases/2016/orrs-statement-on-driver-only-operation)

    No one is arguing that trade unions are inherently bad things, a healthy market has functioning trade unions but legislation at the moment ensures that unions cannot abuse their significant power.

    There is a difference between responsible trade unionism and the unfettered free for all the NUM went for in the 70’s, the current one is a lot healthier.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Dec '18 - 10:36am

    “There needs to be a review of the type of person employed as guard or conductor. Most of them are doing what they should but not all. In these violent times there needs to be someone who can deal with dangerous situations, not just open and close the doors.”

    That was what I was thinking about in my earlier post – it wasn’t the door opening issue which concerned me – more the issue of being able to travel by train, minding my own business, hopefully free from risk of harrassment from other travellers. I see the future role of the 2nd person as being more akin – at least in part – to that of special constable, first aider etc. With appropriate training.

  • John Marriott 3rd Dec '18 - 10:42am

    Come on, guys, Trades Unionism is much more than who opens and closes train doors! For what it’s worth, if I were on a train, I would rather have two people in charge than just one, for a variety of health and safety reasons.

  • Andrew Toye 3rd Dec '18 - 11:22am

    Group action helps combat the fraudulent claim that there are “plenty of people out there who are willing to work for less”. When confronted with a choice of a detrimental offer or no work, of course people will choose to work, and when everyone is told the same lie, and is led to think that everyone else believes it, they, as individuals, have little option but to take the detrimental offer in the (false) belief that plenty of people “out there” are willing to work for less. A trade union with a majority of the workforce can bust this fraud by saying with a united voice: “Oh no we’re not”.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Dec '18 - 11:34am

    Nonconformistradical: More akin to special constable, first aider etc. Yes absolutely – just what I was thinking but could not put into the right words.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Dec '18 - 11:56am

    Definitely yes to Trade Unions, but no to Unions affiliated to a political Party. I am a member of a non-affiliated union (Prospect) which began as a union for mid-ranking civil servants (below FDA and above PCS), and most of the problems that people identify with Unions come from those Unions that were affiliated with the Labour Party as @John Marriott identifies. Even now certain Unions wield too much power in local Labour parties.

  • I don’t like the use of the term “neoliberal”, does anyone describe themselves as neoliberal? It sounds a bit too much like liberal.

  • I am broadly in agreement with nonconformist radical.

    Happily, lots of unions have broken their ties to the Labour party.

  • “There has been for some time a substantial number of Liberal Democrats who think that Trades Unions are an anachronism.” There are? Perhaps some specific trades unions and also the use of trades unions as a political tool by the Labour party. Are there really that many Lib Dems who think trades unions as a concept are an anachronism?

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Dec '18 - 12:56pm

    If anyone doubts that there is an agenda by those who seek to becoming ever richer at the expense of working people – commonly known as the ‘neoliberal’ agenda – and that they wish to reduce the power of working people to determine their pay and conditions then I recommend reading PostCapitalism by Paul Mason. I don’t agree with Mason in many of his pronouncements but his analysis of what has happened before and after Thatcher certainly made me think.
    I wish it were true that many Lib Dems are pro Trades Unions, but my own experience of discussions with many LibDems especially younger newer members don’t bear this out. Far too many people believe the myths put about in the late seventies and eighties by the Tories about Trades Unions to justify emasculating them.
    Unlike many more recent LibDems I actually met Arthur Scargill. The mining industry was being threatened with destruction by a vengeful Tory government and the miners were fighting for the very existence of their jobs. Now I never approve of violence, but if you believe that the violence that flared during the miners’ strike was one sided then you would be misinformed. The mining industry was destroyed and I suggest this was a part of the overall plan to break Trades Unions.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Dec '18 - 2:12pm

    @ Steve,

    Using the term Neo-liberalism just reinforces the cheap shot politics thrown at Lib Dems by Labour.

    The term neo-liberalism isn’t anything to do with the present day Liberal Democratic Party or even the ‘liberal’ left wing of the US Democrats.

    The word ‘liberal’ can have quite a different meaning, ie more right wing, in Europe and its probably this which has been more of a factor in its origins.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

  • @David Raw – I’m uncertain as to the point you are making with respect to Wetherspoons, given the pay rates you cite are above the national minimum wage. (Not saying I consider the national minimum wage to be a living wage or that the pay is appropriate to the work, just that your point isn’t clear, given the various contributory factors being discussed.)

    Personally, I believe some of the events of the ’80s was necessary and encouraged many unions to do some hard-headed naval gazing and become better at providing the member services that Michael Taylor used and getting their act together to better justify industrial action.

    I, however, think we need to go further down the joint board and employee participation path – as was implemented in Germany post-WWII – further eroding the dividing line between business owners and workers and re-establishing the social responsibility link between business and community.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Dec '18 - 2:26pm

    Liberalism is about equality of opportunity, trade unions are essential to that in a number of areas of endeavour.

    Liberalism is about freedom of choice, trade unions must be one such, but ought not to be compulsory.

    Liberalism is about the end of exploitation by big powerful bullies against small powerless oppressed, trade unions are for dealing with this or good for nothing.

    I joined Equity in 1997, only thanks to Thatchers laws, the closed shop would have made it harder earlier, as the performing arts had pre entry and post entry, closed shop, the former terrible, the latter not good.

    A free and fair society needs to encourage unions but discourage domination by them as much as by management.

  • paul barker 3rd Dec '18 - 3:45pm

    My feeling is that Unions & Political Parties are both good things but very different. In The UK unions are inextricably bound up with a single Party, Labour. That applies even to Unions that aren’t formally Affiliated.
    There are many reasons why Unions have been pushed to the fringes but the Tie-up with Labour is one that has increasing force & one that seems to have no obvious solution.

  • @David Raw

    I think the problem with the miners’ strike was that it was a fight on many different levels. At one level it was an industrial dispute. It was also a personal fight between Thatcher and Scargill with both seeing their personal continued survival in positions of power as dependent on winning. It was also a fight for their competing ideologies – a state-run, heavily unionised, traditional industrial near-Communist economy against a free-market, privatively run, lightly unionised new technology neo-Capitalist economy.

    I have a lot of time for the fight that organised labour waged and still wage for better working conditions. I became interested in politics and I consider positioned on the left of politics through reading about the horrendous conditions of women making matches poisoned by phosphorus, the dockers lining up to be picked or discarded for work and the danger and ill-health suffered by miners and how Trade Unions, organised Labour and strikes change that. So I am not anti-Trade Union – indeed the opposite. I think there is though an argument that by the ’70s to some degree they were holding Britain back by not allowing the needed modernisation of the economy.

    I also believe that no-one owes us a living. And the alternative to low wages may be even lower unemployment benefits. And investment by Capital needs a return and it needs to pay for all the times it fails. Capital has also brought me efficient supermarkets to shop at, Google to find information and medicine through billions spent on research to cure me when I fall ill and with it millions of better, better-paid jobs. So I don’t see Capital, Capitalism or Capitalists as “bad” either.

  • John Marriott 3rd Dec '18 - 5:27pm

    @David Raw
    Thanks for that walk down memory lane, David. “Lions led by donkeys” was the borrowed phrase used by Electricians’ Union boss, Eric Hammond, to describe Scargill’s NUM. if Scargill had held a ballot, the lack of which caused the Union of Democratic Mineworkers in Nottingham, led by Messrs Lynk and Greatrex, to break away, who knows what might have happened? Add to that the ability of Thatcher and her Coal Board boss, the Anglo Scot, Ian McGregor, to outwit the NUM leader and the events of the mid 1980s could be viewed as the last hurrah for politically driven Trades Unions in this country.

    The stories about police officers naming their new bungalows after Orgreave might be exaggerated; but they certainly did well financially out of the dispute. Rumour was that most of the officers came up north from the Met, a bit like the tactics of the old Austro-Hungarian Government of stationing troops from different ethnic regions to quell trouble in that polyglot empire.

    It’s fine to have a romantic view of the period; but would we really want to go back to that time? And besides, as far as coal is concerned, without carbon capture, it’s surely yesterday’s fuel. Are you listening Mr Trump? And finally… there was another rumour that the Observer was scheduled to have decided to come out in support for the Alliance on the final Sunday before the 1987 General Election; but was prevented from doing so by a threatened strike from the Print Unions. So much for no political influence.

  • William Francis 3rd Dec '18 - 5:37pm

    I don’t it is enough merely to supportive of trade unions. Private sector ones are in terminal decline with little sign of new trade unions forming in the sectors of the economy were mass low-wage employment is the norm ( such as retail). The Liberal Democrats should instead be creating its own labour movement affiliated with the party, much like Christain Democratic parties in central Europe. This would widen party support, help us develop policies that can better help wage earners, and increase diversity in the party membership in terms of social class ( as of September the party was found to be 85% ABC1, compared to 83% and 77% for the Tories and Labour respectively). We should also look to promote our trade union movement to demographics that have traditionally shunned unionising ( such as private sector professionals for instance), taking lessons from the Nordic countries (and Belgium-where we should also take notes from the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium).

  • Peter Watson 3rd Dec '18 - 6:17pm

    I recall discussions about party member demographics on this site a while back, and a Lib Dem member is over 3x more likely to be a member of the National Trust (34%) than a trade union (11%), which is about as likely as being a member of English Heritage (12%) or the RSPB (9%) (https://esrcpartymembersprojectorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/grassroots-pmp_final.pdf).
    While this does not mean that “a substantial number of Liberal Democrats … think that Trades Unions are an anachronism”, it certainly suggests that the links between LibDemmery and Trade Unionism (and the interests that trade unions seek to represent) are not as strong as they could be.

  • David Warren 3rd Dec '18 - 6:50pm

    @William Francis

    An excellent contribution and proposal.

    As a former national trade union officer I would happily volunteer to play a leading role in an organisation of the type you suggest.

  • @David Raw

    I found this quote from Andrew Marr cited on the Wikipedia page about the Miners’ Strike which I think does help sum the whole thing up:

    “Scargill had been a Communist and retained strong Marxist views and a penchant for denouncing anyone who disagreed with him as a traitor…. Scargill had indeed been elected by a vast margin and he set about turning the NUM’s once moderate executive into reliably militant group….. By adopting a position that no pits should be closed on economic grounds, even if the coal was exhausted…he made sure confrontation would not be avoided. Exciting, witty Arthur Scargill brought coalmining to a close in Britain far faster than would have happened had the NUM been led by some prevaricating, dreary old-style union hack..”

    As to Scargill’s personal views being near-Communist – I cite the above and the introduction to the SOCIALIST Labour Party’s manifesto on their website written by their leader – one Arthur Scargill: “The Socialist Labour Party is not prepared to collaborate with any government which supports the capitalist system… the British people [i.e. the state] [should] own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange.”

    The late ’70s was a world where the British taxpayer was paying British Leyland vast amounts to turn out cars no-one wanted that were almost as bad as those made in East Germany, and it took months if not years to get a phone line installed etc. etc.

    I don’t think that a Foot-led Labour party would have been the solution in 1983 and I didn’t think it then – and nor presumably did you. Clearly Capitalism has its faults and there needs to be amelioration of it and redistribution. But modernisation and revitalisation of the British economy was needed in the ’80s. The situation is difficult with each round of mechanisation and loss of one type of job. But if we hadn’t mechanised agriculture we would still all be grubbing around as peasant farmers kowtowing to our feudal masters.

  • The problem most unions have is they see themselves as agents of social change, when actually their main aim should be to represent their membership.

  • Continued…

    And each round of investment in mechanisation, automation and progress by capitalists brings much worker improvement. Go and get a worker from the 19th Century or the 1930s or I suspect even the ’50s or ’60s and see if they would like to work and live then or now – even doing the worst and most badly paid jobs and I suspect they would plump for now.

    Of course it is very tough for communities like the former mining ones and those individuals that suffer directly and the Lib Dems in all its guises has always been for helping them. But Lib Dems I don’t think believe in standing in the way of progress towards a better future – yes powered in no small part by entrepreneurial capitalists.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Dec '18 - 9:46pm

    @ David Raw,

    I grew up in a mining family in South Yorkshire, and I agree with everything you say.

    I had long left the area by the time of the miners’ strike, but with friends and sympathisers we delivered food parcels to families who were suffering abominably. during the strike. Nevertheless, despite the suffering, the vote to return to work was very close.

    I also blame the vengeful victors who turned once functioning communities into wastelands for the surge in right wing sentiment in South Yorkshire, first the BNP and then UKIP. Barnsley earned the soubriquet, ‘ The fascist capital of the north’, Doncaster had an English Democrat Mayor.

    In another article, Lord Wallace speaks of the ‘white working class’, I would hope that we can reach a point where the working class of all ethnicities see that they have an overriding mutual interest which is served by the trade unions. Some of the white working class in South Yorkshire will have no memory of a time when a family could not only survive, but thrive on a single income, afford to live in rented homes or even buy their own, etc.

    In my opinion, the alternative is a continuation of the divisive, racialised politics promoted by snake oil salesmen with an agenda, who divert the social misfortunes that the good people of South Yorkshire have suffered onto innocent mutual victims.

  • William Francis 3rd Dec '18 - 11:44pm

    @David Warren

    Thank you very much.

    I’m not sure how I would go about making such an organisation within the though.

  • Jayne and David

    The reality is that’s it’s not just what the Thatcher government did. It’s what every government we’ve had since failed to do and compounded.

  • I once belonged to the TGWU. I was not impressed.

  • What is being called neoliberalism is really the tendency to view the world as being governed by market forces. The basic principle being that what is good for the market place is good for people. The arguments are most often framed in terms of growth, competition and profit (usually GDP). People are consumers, the market will fix the problems by providing them with things and things that get in the way of this are illogical.
    The problem is that people are not just consumers. They bring all kinds of beliefs, grievances, tribal identities and cultural quirks with them as well as in some cases a tendency to put oneself self first by trying to underpay or disempower others. Trade unions are not there to aid the market place. There job is to redress the power imbalance between capital and worker so that things like pensions aren’t removed, that they earn enough to live comfortably on and working practices are not just arbitrarily altered.

  • I also question the statement – “There has been for some time a substantial number of Liberal Democrats who think that Trades Unions are an anachronism”. Is there any evidence at all to support this?

    I see unions as an essential counterweight to big business interests, particularly as we move to a world of increasingly insecure and temporary employment, and I hope unions evolve to support “gig economy” workers.

    I suppose some opinions may be colored by the political extremism of unions in the seventies and eighties, but my experience of unions over the last 20 years or so as a company director have generally been positive. Of course it is their job to represent the interests of their members, but I have always found particularly with the full time area reps that they are entirely reasonable and want employers to succeed – understanding that pricing their members out of jobs or disrupting business operations is not in the interests of employees.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Dec '18 - 10:10am

    @Steve Comer
    “I remember once asking a ‘leading Lib Dem’ “what do you do if you’re unhappy with your conditions at work?” His reply “I find new clients, and ditch the old ones!””

    That suggests to me that the person in question was self-employed and was in the happy positon to pick and choose for whom to work. Not someone who needed the services of a trade union. Fair enough – sometimes employers deserve to be so.

    “And too many simply see Trade Unions as the industrial arm of the Labour Party. This is simplistic and inaccurate.”

    In respect of any trade union which is affiliated to Labour it seems appropriate.

  • Laurence Cox 4th Dec '18 - 10:13am

    @David Raw
    You probably are not old enough to remember the three-day week in 1974 when the big Unions took on the Heath government over ‘who governs Britain’. At that time the NUM was led by another Communist, Mick McGahey, and brought this country to the brink of collapse. Considering that the Heath government was far more moderate than the Thatcher government and faced with far more difficult economic conditions, it is arguable that the Unions’ behaviour then and with the subsequent Labour government under Wilson and Callaghan was a direct cause of the rise of Thatcher.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Dec '18 - 10:14am

    There already is an Association of Liberal Democrat Trades Unionists (ALDTU) but it struggles to get support. Proof if ever proof were needed of the indifference with which too many in our party view Trades Unions. Perhaps those readers who are Trades Unionists would join?

  • Steve Comer 4th Dec '18 - 10:21am

    I think one of the problems with ALDTU is that those who might play a part are already over-committed (a partial mea culpa here!). I was a Councillor first and then became a Union Rep, and the roles are actually very similar. Casework is casework, and producing a branch newsletter is just like doing Focus. Somehow ALDTU needs to do what ALC/ALDC did, and train and enthuse Lib Dems who are already active in Unions, or members who might become active.

  • Lawrence Cox
    The cause of the three day week was the Heath government’s refusal to comply with independent finding about miners wages not keeping up with the hyper inflation his policies contributed to. He might have been a “moderate”, but he was not a very good PM. . His premiership was marked by poor industrial relation, inflationary domestic policies, and the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland. To an extent the claim that Heath was a moderate is like the claim that the post-Thatcher governments were moderate. It only works if you ignore all the bad bits. Interestingly, nearly all the factors retrospectively cited as reason Britain needed to be in “Europe”, the three day week, high inflation, the winter of discontent, deindustrialization, and high levels of unemployment, actually occur after joining the common market.

  • Dean Crofts 4th Dec '18 - 7:54pm

    Interesting that the examples quoted in the article regarding help from a trade union come down to individual experiences and an individual receiving a service for which he or she would have had to pay expensive legal fees from a solicitor. The help in both cases coming from the trade union instead.

    Trade unions are good when this individual helping another individual comes into play.

    As Liberal Democrats we need to talk with trade unions but beware of collectivism and collective action. This sometimes denies the rights of individuals who do not agree with the majority and therefore are harmed as an individual.

    As a liberal it is my belief that every person is free to go about and be the best that they can be and not to have to conform with a collective they do do not want too.

  • Laurence Cox 5th Dec '18 - 4:52pm

    @David Raw
    In that case you have a remarkable case of selective amnesia about the 1970s. My father, who was an AEU shop steward and works convenor used to tell me about what went on in union meetings and it wasn’t all sweetness and light. This was around the same time and in the same industry as Red Robbo.

    My maternal grandfather went down the mines at the age of 12, and subsequently qualified as a mining engineer through night school. He also knew Keir Hardie. Unfortunately he died years before I was born, so I never knew him.

    @Glenn
    You seem to forget that Ted Heath was faced by difficult economic conditions when he won in 1970, or that his Chancellor, Iain Macleod, died suddenly a month later, forcing Heath to take Anthony Barber away from his role of negotiating our entry into the EEC to replace him. The fixed rate for the £ against the US dollar ended in June 1972; the Bretton Woods agreement finally collapsed in 1973 having been under pressure from 1968 onwards. By 1973 OPEC had pushed up the price of oil by nearly 50% in one year, with it almost doubling again in 1974. It was difficult for any government of left or right to deal with this, even without militants in the unions.

  • Innocent Bystander 5th Dec '18 - 8:11pm

    There are many attempts to dismiss the damage that the unions did in the 70’s as “reds under the beds” but the truth is that they were relentlessly destroying those beds. I am a still living eye witness of those years and won’t be silenced. I took my brand-new degree in mechanical engineering to an engineering factory on Scotswood Road, Newcastle. The pm was NOT Thatcher but “Sunny Jim”. The company bought an expensive CNC machine. (They were just coming out then). The brothers promptly ” blacked” it. Do you remember the word “blacked”, David? It has been quietly forgotten by the left, but I remember. Anyway, it stood idle costing a fortune and gathering dust for months and months and months. Eventually a ‘negotiation’ got it working but only with manning levels HIGHER than the cam autos it was supposed to replace. The management never again tried to modernise and needless to say it has long gone. Drive down Scotswood Road today and look for an Audi dealership. It’s underneath. Ironic really as the company’s biggest competitor was German.
    I voted for Thatcher and so did many working people who finally realised that their nihilist, kamikaze union leaders were destroying their livelihoods. Too late. 1960’s and 70’s trade engineering trade unionism was an incurable cancer and killed the patient.

  • Peter Martin 6th Dec '18 - 10:43am

    @ Andrew T

    “I don’t like the use of the term “neoliberal”, does anyone describe themselves as neoliberal? It sounds a bit too much like liberal.”

    I believe Hayek and Friedman were happy to described this way. It’s nothing to do with the UK’s Lib Dems or the USA’s ‘left’. It has probably been derived from the European meaning of the word. Our friend Arnold Kiel is a good example of this strand of thought which would be quite different from the compassionate Liberalism as understood by someone like Katharine PIndar.

    Neoliberalism is often said to be a laissez-faire system of capitalism with an emphasis on the importance of the free market. If it were just that it wouldn’t be so bad. We all understand that markets are important. If, say, there is a shortage of wheat after a poor harvest then the price will rise. There’s no argument about that. It’s the dishonesty that accompanies it which is the bigger problem.

    Neoliberal economists know as well as anyone else where money comes from. It is just the creation of a currency issuing government. Money is spent into existence by governments and money is destroyed when it is received back in taxation. The difference between what is spent and what is received back, ie the deficit, simply the amount of money that we put aside and which stays out in the economy. What’s hard to understand about that?

    So, in other words, deficits are quite natural. But, that’s not what we are told by the neoliberals. We are told we have to ‘live within our means’ and ‘we have to balance the books etc’. We are told we are burdening our grandchildren with too much debt etc etc.

    They know it’s not true so why do they lie to us?

  • Lawrence Cox
    I haven’t forgotten anything. I just interpret the evidence differently. Heath was ,IMO, a bad PM. Not least because of Europe. As I said entering the Common market appears to have worsened the situation in Britain rather alleviated it. So I will repeat it again. Deindustrialization increased on entering the EU, inflation shot up, unemployment increased. Plus a lot the specific examples cited as reasons Britain needed to be “in European” occur or accelerate after joining the Common Market.
    The claim of pro-Europe advocates was that joining the common market would boost manufacturing and herald in new business opportunities. It didn’t. All you have to do to verify this is look at the dates. Now you could argue that correlation is not causation, but you can’t ague is that being “in Europe” stopped any of these things from happening because they plainly happened whilst being “in Europe”.

  • Laurence Cox 6th Dec '18 - 2:24pm

    @Glenn
    I notice you persist in misspelling my name.

    As you correctly say correlation is not causation and you cannot be sure that the UK would not have been even worse off had we remained outside the Common Market as it was then. As you are clearly a Brexiteer, you may be more at home in the Liberal Party, which shares your eurosceptic views, rather than the Liberal Democrats.

  • Peter Martin 6th Dec '18 - 2:28pm

    @ Glenn,

    “The claim of pro-Europe advocates was that joining the common market would boost manufacturing and herald in new business opportunities. It didn’t.”

    That’s true. The same thing was said about the revenues from North Sea Oil and gas being used to fund an industrial regeneration in the UK. That didn’t happen either.

    The only way to do that is to copy the German model. Keep your currency below market value. Keep wages suppressed and taxes high to suppress domestic demand and so run a large export surplus.

    The snag is that the Germans are so much better at doing it that anyone else. There can only really be one Germany in the EU. Someone has to run the deficits so they can run a surplus.

  • nvelope2003 6th Dec '18 - 2:51pm

    David Raw: The problem with the coal mines after WWI was that they could not compete and could not sell enough coal. We are told that burning coal will destroy the planet so maybe we should be thankful ? Unfortunately other nations do not care.

  • Peter Martin 6th Dec '18 - 3:02pm

    @nvelope 2003

    “The problem with the coal mines after WWI was that they could not compete and could not sell enough coal.”

    You are right about this. The problem was entirely the creation of Govt. They tried to push the pound back to pre-war levels and depressed the economy in the process. Unemployment was high. There was no “roaring 20s” in the UK.

    We don’t like it when the pound falls but a floating currency is an essential buffer to any economy when world conditions change. It’s Economics 101 but the European elite must have skipped those lectures! If they’d been more diligent they would never have expected 19 countries, with more to follow, to be able to share a single currency.

  • Laurence Cox.
    Sorry about misspelling your name.
    Well, are the Lib Dems intent on aping the old Marxist left to the point where the pursuit of ideological purity drives even more people away? Around 30% of Lib Dems voted leave, take them out of the party’s electoral standing and you end up with a 4-5% core vote. Pretty soon it could end up as a” whatever happened to the Lib Dems? He’s over there” situation.

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