It’s all madness

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Photo: Ellen Shaw

Trade unions have really come to the fore over the last few weeks: first, we had the huge debacle at the Grangemouth oil refinery, where an attempted union strike ended abruptly when the boss locked his workers out and made them fear for their financial futures. A week later, the gloomy spectre of the trade union thrust itself onto our very own windy East Fife town. Before progressing, it is fairly important to point out to the Americans – and others who happen to live in a capitalist haven where the words ‘trade union’ draw a puzzled look, – what exactly a trade union is. In theory, a trade union is an unfortunate remnant of a bygone era of socialist rule, providing provide public sector workers with an open, egalitarian environment where they can convene to protect their rights and achieve higher pay and better working conditions. In reality, trade unions are a huge farce that prey upon vital sectors of the economy and have an entirely undue influence on the British political system.

If ever there was a perfect example of just how terrible trade unions are, it would be the shenanigans that Len McCluskey’s Unite, the UK’s largest union, entered into over the Grangemouth oil refinery. Essentially, Unite almost caused Scotland’s largest industrial site to completely shut down, which would have had beyond-dire effects on the price of oil and the country’s ability to function. For such an irrelevant proto-Communist organisation to wield that much power is genuinely terrifying. What terrible atrocity could have led to such a drastic situation, where Scotland’s industrial workers were willing to risk the country’s grinding to a halt? Surely staff must have been faced with 20% pay cuts for the next ten years, or discovered that their pension funds are being thrown into Highlands. Not so; instead, Unite chose to protest against a deal proposed by the refinery which included a 3 year pay freeze, an alternative replacement to the final salary pension scheme (which coincidentally is in a £200m deficit), and minor changes to union agreements. In a time of economic austerity, such measures are extremely understandable, especially when presented with the fact that Grangemouth is losing £10m a month in its current state. I’m not sure if McCluskey’s despicably idealist warriors know much about economics, but allow me to educate them: you can’t get more money if there’s no money being made. That’s just how it is.

Faced with the realization that if Unite did not accept the deal, the petrochemical plant really would close down – causing the loss of 800 jobs, which is a far more potent horror than having your pensions tinkered with – McCluskey decided to accept the deal ‘warts and all’. Such a statement is outrageous – despite being clearly in the wrong, McCluskey chooses to flippantly absolve himself of the blame and condescend to accept a reasonable deal that would keep Unite’s members employed. This attitude sums up trade unions: they are lacklustre, egoistic organisations founded on naïve idealism.

What makes the trade union fiasco even worse is that these unions thrust themselves onto St. Andrews’ three streets mere days after their compatriots’ failure at Grangemouth. Unsurprisingly, Unite was once again spearheading this charade, though this time it had the support of Unison and UCU, two other trade unions. What was the clamorous issue this time around? Just the fact that the university staff have been offered a pay rise that is exactly the same as the average private sector pay rise – how horribly unfair.

It’s time for these socialist warriors to face the glum reality of the nation’s fragile economic situations and re-evaluate the viability of their apparent endgoal of making union members millionaires.

Finally, it would be impossible to discuss trade unions without addressing the absurd level of influence they hold in British politics. If our political system were correct and proper, there would be genuine competition at the next general election. David Miliband would be at the helm of the Labour Party, offering ‘Third Way’ policies of actual economic recovery and solid stances on various other policy questions. Instead, because trade unions account for 50% of the vote for the Labour party leadership, we now have Ed Miliband meekly shuffling through a socialist wilderness. Curiously, a few months after he became Labour leader, Ed changed the rules of Labour leadership elections, giving marginally less power to the unions, a change that, had it been made prior to the leadership election, would have cost Ed the majority vote. Even Ed knows, deep down, that trade unions do not have the vaguest notion of politics – all they’re good for is shouting from the rooftops to empty streets down below.

Trade unions are a farce. They are out-dated, antiquated, archaic boils that have been left on the face of British politics. They offer no hope for progress or improvement. Instead they only show the public sector as a hugely over-bureaucratic employer that would struggle to tell its left hand from its right. They are bullies in every sense of the word. The word of Tim Fields conclude how trade unions are too perfectly: ‘Bullying consists of the least competent most aggressive employee projecting their incompetence on to the least aggressive most competent employee and winning.’

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