Unions and Labour; Sometimes an awkward partnership….
It is entirely predictable that public sector unions would start to become restive and probably not surprising that the PCS; headed by Mark Serwotka, is the first to ballot its members on strike action. I can’t help but feel sympathy for Serwotka and his members who are wrongly being asked to bear the brunt of the financial pain caused by the bail-out.
It is wrong for any government (Labour or otherwise) to target low-paid workers and what is worse in the current climate it’s also economically counterproductive. Some people will feel its wrong for unions to ‘rock the boat’ in the lead-up to an election, however their ultimate duty has to be to their members. If they have legitimate grievance then they are entitled to pursue a strategy that has the greatest chance of winning the day for them; regardless of the interests of the Labour Party.
However, in recognising this somewhat independent existence there is a quid pro quo that Labour can expect. The unions have to do the same and realise that as a political party; Labour has to try and establish a wider base and fight for policies that reach beyond the immediate interests of the unions. Of course, the unions also have to recognise the difference between a Labour and Conservative government; a difference that their members will doubtless feel.
No doubt the Conservative press will try and use this action against Labour while in the next breath complaining about the union’s being Labour’s ‘paymasters’ with no clear sense of irony. I think this will backfire because people no longer perceive unions as a ‘menace’ in the same way they would rightly regard say bankers as being so and as I have previously said I think the current climate offers opportunities for the unions to grow.
In this case I also think the unions are right to try and change the governments course as it is patently wrong. Ultimately, however the unions may have to remember that changing the course a Labour government is taking is as much dependent on how they operate within than without the Labour Party itself.