People are jumping to distressing conclusions about trade unions. Many claim
we are heading back to the 1970s, with the railway unions on the march.
The ‘we told you so’ brigade are feeling righteous – elect a Labour
government and its paymasters will make life impossible. Even columnists in
Personnel Today have claimed Bob Crow’s union is the new reality, and
partnership platitudes mean nothing.
Unfortunately, it shows how long myths take to disappear. HR managers must
distinguish between the memory of Arthur Scargill and the rest of us. The
overwhelming trade union attitude today is to seek a decent standard of living
for members through co-operation with employers.
We seek to influence through arguments that demand respect, not by strikes
that show little more than organisational aplomb. We also need public support
to grow and prosper. You do not win that respect by depriving fellow workers of
the ability to get to work or use other public services.
It is true that elections in trade unions influence the rhetoric of
negotiations. No-one wants to be seen to be in the employer’s pocket when they
are running for union office. But people forget there are many millions of
trade unionists who do not want a walk-on part in the class war. They are just
interested in respect at work.
Union members are just as sceptical about overbearing managers, but are
interested in being rewarded – in the widest sense of the word – for using
their skill in the service of the organisation.
In the debate about the private sector’s role in public services, most
workers in public services just want to be valued for the contribution they
They are more likely to be treated well working for private companies which
are building or maintaining public services than for a government department
with one eye on the public sector borrowing requirement.
Having said that, there are issues involved for people who face the
uncertainty of transfer to the private sector. Aeeu/Amicus recently surveyed
our members in 10 NHS trusts and five direct works departments in local
authorities. The key finding was that communication in advance of any transfer
There was concern that most transfers took place without considering the
post-transfer relationships between the private company workers and those still
directly employed by the public service concerned.
So that’s the real trade union agenda. We represent real people trying to
make a living – and their knowledge, skill and commitment needs to be
articulated. Most unions hope to do that without wrecking their fellow workers’
opportunity to earn a living, and HR managers need to look at trade unions in
By John Lloyd, National officer, Amicus