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Trade unions are capitalist, community-minded, and Conservative

20 October 2012

1:30 PM

20 October 2012

1:30 PM

Last week there were reports that Unite were going to be offering unemployed people a chance to join their trade union for as little as 50p a week. In doing so, they would be offered services such as  legal support and education facilities.

Instead of welcoming this as a brilliant Big Society idea to help the jobless, some Conservatives indulged in their traditional union-bashing – making no distinction between the politics of Len McCluskey and the services that were being offered to vulnerable people. The principle behind this idea is something that every Conservative should support. The more help that can be offered to those without work, the better. I wish the Conservative Party offered these services as well.

I am a proud trade unionist and a member of Prospect. I am also a proud Conservative. Unlike some on the right, I don’t believe these two statements are mutually exclusive. In fact, quite the opposite. My argument in Stop the Union Bashing, was that Conservatives and trade unionists can happily co-exist, and actually have much in common.

First, behind the Bob Crows of this world, trade unions are largely voluntary organisations. Research has shown that trade union officers are now eight times more likely to engage in voluntary work than the average person. Most unions are community organisations, predominantly funded by their members. What is this, if not the Big Society in action? Of course, I accept that there has been some serious abuses of facility time in the public sector, and that this must be stopped. However, of the 58 unions in the TUC, only 15 are Labour-affiliated, leaving 43 non-affiliated unions in Britain. My experience as a constituency MP has also led me to believe that most facility time and trade union volunteerism is genuine. For example, in my constituency the bus company Arriva employs a union official – on facility time. They find this is good value for money, in terms of supporting staff and resolving grievances, which might otherwise end in a tribunal.


Second, trade unions are now as capitalist as any FTSE 100 company. Look at some of the services that unions offer. Unite and Unison advertise tax-minimising services, through a company called TaxRefundCo, as well as home, car and private medical services. There is even a fundraising lottery, which is hugely in advance of anything the Conservative Party offers its members. There are far more unionists who have signed up to private health care – upto 3.5 million, according to the Telegraph – than who go on strike.

Third, the union bosses may be socialist, but an increasing proportion of their members are not. Millions of trade union members are actually Conservative voters. A 2009 Populus poll showed that around a third of Unite members intended to vote Conservative in 2010. Unite is the UK’s largest union, with 1.5 million members. Another Ipsos MORI poll in 2009, commissioned by Unison, showed that the Conservative party was actually leading at the time among public sector workers – many of whom are Unison members.

Everyone remembers Margaret Thatcher for her arguments with Arthur Scargill and co. But what they’ve forgotten is that she was a trade union member herself. She beefed up the Conservative Trade Unionist movement, helped by union officials such as Norman Tebbit, Peter Bottomley and others after 1975. Together they founded more than 250 branches across the country and hiring more support staff at Central Office. By 1979, during the general election, unions even held a mass rally at Wembley Stadium, under the banner: Trade Unions for a Conservative Victory! Mrs Thatcher understood the difference between union militants and union members.

I am not naive about the political activities of some trade unions – and think that the unions’ political levy should be “opt in”, rather than “opt out”. But we should remember that some facility time is invaluable, and good value for money – as some private firms and Whitehall Departments have shown. Consider the First Division Association, for example. I have also met with Conservative Trade Unionists, who say that to make facility time completely union-funded would take away the control that Departments currently exercise over how that time is spent.

So it is no good Conservatives carping about union militancy, when we refuse to get involved, and do stand in union elections. Instead, we need to think about giving free party membership to union members, and the Conservative Party offering the same kinds of services that Unite are now giving the unemployed.

Ed Miliband’s Labour party may have become a ‘class’ act, bashing bankers and business – which plays into the hands of those who believe that the Labour party hates aspiration and wealth-creation. But why should Conservatives be merely a mirror image of this, and play into Tory stereotypes of trade union bashing?

Robert Halfon is Member of Parliament for Harlow, and author of ‘Stop the Union Bashing’, published by DEMOS.

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Show comments
  • Marian Lukasik

    Trade Unions cheat members and get rich on the proceeds
    My name is Marian Lukasik, I would like to inform The General Public about a Court Case which is taking place on March 2015 at The County Court, Edmonton, 59 Fore Street, London N18 2TN.
    The subject of this case is a law suit against British workers union GMB for not fulfilling their duty according the membership contract (mainly related to organisational support and providing legal support in form of representation before Court).
    I am informing international and local public opinion as well as representatives of the Media about the importance of this case. I would like to invite the interested public to attend the Court hearing.
    When someone could help me in this matter I could be I would be very grateful. .For me is very important make public my case. My target is banned the Trade Union.This is all Pro Publico Bono
    More information you can find at under:
    Marian Lukasik GMB
    Email:antitradeunionist Tel:+447985284791
    Trade Unions cheat members and get rich on the proceeds

  • MarionUnion

    The so called “abuses” of facility time negotiated with emloyers is nothing compared to the amount of free time trade union reps give up, counselling, supporting,and protecting the welfare of their members against money motivated organisations who put profits before all else. In the public services, union reps save the organisation a fortune, informally resolving problems in the workplace and in a great majority of cases reducing the instances of cases going to EmpoymentTribunals by using their skills and knowledge to prevent the expense of using the, little, power of the law in employment matters. Everyone should belong to and be proud of the tradition of trade unions in this country.

  • Eddie

    I would always join a union if I were in an institutional role – JUST for my own protection (and legal fees) and for legal and other advice.
    I used to be a member of a teaching and lecturer union – just in case some loonie (either a student or one of my ‘colleagues’) tried to falsely accuse me of something and set me up.
    Ssadly, it seems that British unions exist mainly to give a career structure to ambitious leftwing persons who are keen to climb through the ranks to those 6 figure salaries; manh suffer from a sort of romantic nostalgia for the working classes, and really do enjoy a good bit of poverty porn, all whilst earning several times the average salary, enjoying many a beanie and freebie, and crying into their bulging bank accounts whilst shagging their secretaries at their plush second homes…
    And really, if you ever read a union magazine, expect to find the following:lots and lots of black ad brown faces plus women doing men’s jobs in smiley photos (engineering, car maintenance) and men in tradition women’s roles (nursing, caring); lots of features about solidarity with unions around the globe, especially for some reason Nicaragua, though Venezuala seems to have knocked the N word off the top spot these days!; and lots and lots and LOTS of Tory bashing and incitement to hatred against ‘posh boys’ (and white males generally) even from posh boys (and girls) who run unions. They target certain people because of a characteristic – JUST like racists targeting darked skinned persons for a characteristic, or gay haters targeting gay persons because of a characteristic.
    Leftwingers believe in Tolerance? My arse! (as erzatz working class union officials might say once they’ve affected a suitably salt of the earth accent instead of their usual grammar school one). These people are bigots. They just think they aren’t because of the categories of people they are bigoted against!
    But I would still join a union – for the legal protection. These days, as a self-employed man, I don’t need one – and truly despise the disparaging and demeaning attitude those in unions (and those in academia, the education and health systems, councils) display towards all those who have the guts to start small businesses, sans the big salaries institutionised plodders enjoy, sans the big houes, sans the pensions, sans the freebies, sans all perks. Put small business people in charge of the economy (and unions, education system etc) and they’d soon be run properly and the dead wood cut out, the flab sliced off, and the overpaid hit with much-deserved pay cuts.
    Rant over…

  • Daniel Maris

    My only observation – there isn’t a free country on the planet that doesn’t have a strong and healthy trade union movement.

    At their best trade unions are a bulwark of personal freedom, along with a free press, a free judiciary and so on.

    Of course like any institution they can abuse their power. Trade unions got above themselves in the 1970s when they tried to censor newspapers, enforce closed shops and support commercial fraud (workers drawing wages when they weren’t working – sleeping on the night shift, that sort of thing).

    But as things stand they abuse their power far less than do the judiciary in contemporary life.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, the Unions are a failure. Thanks for pointing this out!

  • LordBlagger

    First, behind the Bob Crows of this world, trade unions are largely voluntary organisations


    So what about those that aren’t

    Don’t join the union, no job.

    End that now.

    • Newsbot9

      It was ended a long time ago, in reality. Of course, to get YOUR job you need to be of the right families. End that!

  • Andy

    Friend of mine use to be a Trade Unionist; he sat on its National Executive. He was a Conservative too. At one meeting, during some discussion, a national official who will be nameless but you would all know, said to my friend: ‘Why are you here for with your politics ?’ The Trade Unions want a Conservative free zone, no Tory members and no Tory allowed on their executives. Well then, as they are discriminating against 40% of the population, they can do without any taxpayer funding, direct or indirect, or any legal protections.

    • Newsbot9

      Politics are not, and never have been, a “protected characteristic”.

      You are trying to limit free speech and to stop workers talking to each other, at the same time as tens of billions flow into corporate welfare.

  • Russell

    I am a member of the Taxpayers Union and out of my low income of £15,000 per year the government takes about £1400 in membership fees (Income tax), plus 20% vat on a large percentage of my purchases, £135 per year road tax, plus the taxes on petrol, then I have to pay £1200 per year for my council tax.
    A large part of my income is paid in one way and another in ‘membership fees (Tax).
    I do unpaid voluntary work, do not have children receiving education etc.
    What exactly do I get as a single person for my membership?
    Seeing Union leaders on 6 figure salaries plus large pensions and often subsidised housing is as repulsive to me as seeing MP’s on £60K+ per year with large pensions and subsidised housing, and Unions have the cheek to ask the unemployed to contribute!
    A pity there are all these pigs feeding at their subsidised (by us) trough.

    • telemachus

      Well said.
      Halfon is no trade unionist.
      He is simply a lackey of something that represents professionals and managers
      Do we think of doctors as trade unionists because they are in the BMA
      True trade unionists are on the march today striving for the rights of ordinary folk
      Turn on your televisions and listed to the Hyde Park speeches

      • Archimedes

        Or better yet, if you’re interested in spending your spare time watching pure shite from the comfort of your living room, you can go to YouTube where there is a much larger selection available.

      • LordBlagger

        True trade unionists are on the march today striving for the rights of ordinary folk


        No they aren’t. They are marching for the right to have other people’s money.

        Where is the right to strike against tax?

        Where is the option to say, no I don’t want to fund wars?

        • telemachus

          I thought they were mainly marching against cuts in welfare pensions etc.
          It is also legitimate to express pacifist views

        • Newsbot9

          It’s called emigrating and surrendering your citizenship. Goodbye, leech. The country will do better off without you and your constant use of other people’s money.

  • lgrundy

    Of course. We should never forget that it was a trade union, Solidarity, that started the Polish revolution that brought down communism.

  • Heartless etc.,

    I feel sure that there were Conservative TU’s way back. But that’s by the way.

    I seem to remember that the Red Ed offered membership of the LieBore Partee for 1p. Is it still worth that much?