Labor in Government
Is Better, But ...
By Jeff Apter
Special to the UE News
Britain’s trade union movement has urged this nation’s
Labour Party government not to copy the American model of deregulated Labour
Speaking just before the annual convention of the Trades Union
Congress, Britain’s union federation, General Secretary John Monks argued
that "the new battle for Britain is about which route we will follow —
the European social dialogue route or the U.S. hire-and-fire route."
Monks hailed the American unions’ organizing campaigns but
said, "Although our colleagues in the United States are waging a terrific
fight for survival and growth, they and we know that they suffer from the
absence of any real significant public policy support as might be provided by
a social democratic government."
Meeting in Brighton in the south of England at the same time
that UE held its 64th
annual convention in Burlington, the nearly 1,000 TUC delegates were happy
that they were able to gather in a more optimistic atmosphere than in the
past. It was the third time that the convention was held since the Labour
Party won a landslide parliamentary victory over the Conservative Party in May
Most trade unionists acknowledge that a pro-labor
administration is better than an anti-union one. The Conservative Party, lead
by free-market Mrs. Thatcher and her successor John Major, ruled the roost for
18 years. The balance sheet of those years was mass privatization, damaged
health and social services, mass unemployment and anti-union legislation. So
things could only get better when the Labour Party, which, unlike the U.S.
Labor Party, next year celebrates its centenary, was returned to power for the
first time since 1979.
TREND TOWARD INDEPENDENCE
Unemployment is down and a lift has been given to health care
and social services. But many trade unionists are disappointed that many of
the pro-employer labor laws have not been — and are unlikely to be —
repealed. There is agreement in the union movement that the fight should
continue to make sure the anti-union Conservative Party can never govern
again. But there is also a growing trend which says "Labour yes, any day!
But we must keep an eye on what they do when they are in power. The unions
should back the Labour Party but keep their independence of
As well as debating the whole range of questions affecting
working people, including higher benefits and defending the welfare state, low
pay, the minimum wage, working hours and jobs, the convention also discussed
recommendations from the TUC proposing a new structure for the trade union
movement in the 21st century.
One reflection of the new union mood since the defeat of the
Conservatives was the heartening news that TUC membership last year increased
by 108,000 to reach 6.74 million — the first increase since 1979 when TUC
membership reached 12 million. Although much of the increase was due to new
affiliations, especially from a major teachers’ union, in general,
membership of the 77 TUC-affiliated unions stabilized.
Thirty-four unions increased their memberships while 32 had
losses. Among the smaller unions, the biggest percentage gain was notched by
the professional soccer players’, which saw an increase of 36 percent.
Unison, the public services and health union remains by far the biggest union
with 1.27 million members, followed by the Transport and General Workers with
881,000, the electrical and engineering union (AEEU) with 717,000 and the
general and electrical union (GMB) with 712,000.
UE News - 10/99