I grew up in the 1970s in Worcester with a grandad who worked for British Leyland at Longbridge in Birmingham, the heart of the car industry in the Midlands. A staunch union man a socialist -he was married to my gran a property owning Tory! There were always good "debates" in their household. My memories however were of Grandad coming home early.. "On strike again" my gran would stand and accuse him. "Not enough sugar in their tea and they're off on strike again!" Obviously her own Tory exaggeration at the time but it had a ring of truth, as strikes were happening on a regular basis, on some issues that would appear trivial these days.
My Uncle worked for a small machine tool factory in Worcester. They were never on strike, but as Thatcherism hit home hard in the early 1980s my uncle was first on a 3 day working week, swiftly followed by the ludicrous 1 day week as more and more workers in the factory lost their jobs. Union bosses fought hard but in vain against its closure. The company shut for good in 1985, like thousands across the UK.
Two very different experiences, but part of my early memories of Trade Unionism. I spent a week with miners wives in the food kitchens as an 18 year old politics student at college which has been an abiding memory for me, and haunts me to this day.
Trade Unionism and belonging to a union became a dirty word under Thatcher and the myth peddled that under unions, workers were always out on strike took hold and flourished in working class communities. Just like today when Cameron peddles the lie of austerity that must be imposed on the working class, we have fallen for it, hook line and sinker and taken our eyes off the real culprits; the robber barons, the bankers, the Tory elite, Ukip and the millionaires.
Time to shake off the shackles of the 1970s! I believe firmly however that the dark cloud hanging over the Trade Union Movement is lifting. I want to see it being not only fashionable but imperative to belong to a union. This is all down to Len McCluskey opening up Unite the Union to members of the community, not working in the traditional unionised workplaces. Other unions will be certain to replicate the new way forward. As a Unite Community member myself you can literally hear new breath being breathed into the unions lungs, new energy and new working class people coming forth to take up the fight against Tory imposed austerity.
Community members shout loud and proud they are members of Unite. I walked round Labour Conference with my Unite lanyard holding my conference pass on proud display. I travelled the Manchester trams and proclaimed to all that would listen "I am a member of Unite the Union". The time to go unseen or casually not to mention union membership when talking to people is being banished. The sleeping giant of trade unionism that has taken an almighty kicking since the '70s is emerging into a new dawn in the 21st century.
Why? Because people in communities and workers in our factories, schools, hospitals and public sector are sick to death of taking a battering from the ConDems, the right wing media and the emergence of the extreme right wing Ukip. For us in community we are seeing social services slashed, libraries and swimming pools closed, carers and disabled voices going unheard. Workers are being battered into accepting zero hours contracts and agency work is the norm. Let's face it, the Tories have put the power directly with the bosses. They hold every card without a crumb on the table left for the workers. Cameron quite openly tells us of his plans to literally eradicate trade unionism should the Tories be elected in 2015. Never has the time been riper than to belong to a union or join a union. Education is the key too as we talk to the younger generation about workplace rights. And this education has to begin at age 14+ as young people, brainwashed by right wing TV, need to know there is a union there, a band of people willing to protect them from the onslaught of the worst excesses of capitalism.
But the future of a new modern era of Trade Unionism can only gain momentum by slaying the other
major opponent; apathy. In a Tory society of "I'm alright Jack" it is imperative we change the selfish
narrative and list the benefits of belonging to a union and the history of success we have had. I bang the gong on the following Trade Union successes: The Weekend, Maternity/Paternity Leave and Rights, Sick Pay, Workplace Pensions, Paid Holidays, a Minimum Wage, Health and Safety at work. These are the workplace successes. Imagine the community successes we will be able to list within the next five years! With constant attacks by the Tories and now Ukip creeping up on the working class disguised as sheep in wolves clothing by announcing they will ensure those on minimum wage pay no income tax, we must stand united against this right wing extremism. While Ukip make these soundbite policies they still back zero hours contracts, agency employed staff and a huge slashing of the workplace rights so hard fought for by unions. They are on the side of the bosses even more so than the Tories.
So If you're in a union already, have that talk with friends, relatives and workplace colleagues. Let them know you belong to a union. If it's possible, encourage others to join themselves. Unite Community for example only costs 50p p/w. Let's show the bosses, and Cameron and Farage that you "really don't get me; because I'm part of the union!"**** -
A 21st century modern trade union fighting to protect the rights of the working class against greedy capitalism.
***1973 song by The Strawbs for those who can't remember it!