This is a follow-up on the post “The Rise and Fall of Unionism” at Legal Fiction. The last part goes on about the hubristic attitude of unions as of late; I admit that I did have some input on the creation of the post, including a rant about how some of the planned marches, such as the planned March 26th protests, were run by “wannabe socialists wanting to play Libyan revolutionaries”. I want to cover a few things missed out in the LF post regarding RMT.
- As far as strike action goes, I think RMT are really damaging the labour movement. There is a call for the representation of workers by unions, such as in Wisconsin at the moment, but it must be nuanced lest the Tories get union-busting in their minds again. So it’s not really helpful when RMT leader Bob Crow encourages transport workers to go on strike as much as possible.A couple of months ago, RMT-affiliated conductors for Northern Rail went on strike because – and I kid you not – Christmas fell on a Saturday. You’d think this would get into their contracts, seeing as Christmas falls on a weekend approximately 28% of the time. Even though the disruption was minimal, it’s not helpful, as it reinforces the “unions are scum” viewpoint a lot of people hold.
- Bob Crow’s claims about being a “marxist” are also incredibly laughable. This was covered on LF, so I’ll keep it brief: how can someone claim to be working class when their income is in the 98th percentile? He almost earns as much as a Cabinet minister! But this isn’t just Crow; nearly every other union General Secretary are on a salary pushing six figures.* What is especially telling is how, in the Guardian interview as linked, he moves the goalposts to include himself as “working class” and accidentally includes city bankers.
*Except for Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who voluntary reduced his pay to be just above that of a trained firefighter in london.
- And finally, the text message tax. This was something floated in the Guardian interview, but reiterated on last week’s 10 O’Clock Live (a regrettably self-indulgent waste of a show, especially as it betrays Brooker’s and Mitchell’s actually erudite political acumen for cheap left-wing populism at teenagers): Crow wants to add a penny’s tax on every email/text sent in the UK, claiming it would close the deficit:
- It wouldn’t. Not even close. A penny’s tax on every text sent would barely raise £1 billion. Even taxing emails at 1p/email, at a conservative estimate, would barely raise £90 billion, assuming 280,000 legitimate emails per second. This is half the deficit of 2009-10 (which I appreciate is an extraordinary year, given the financial situation). But this wouldn’t even start to close the deficit for a long time, even with the coalition’s deficit reduction plan.
- People wouldn’t like it. I’m a student, so I easily send 200-300 text messages a month even in a “quiet” month. I also used to send about seventy to eighty emails a month to friends (but have slowed down considerably). I really wouldn’t want my mobile and internet bills to go up in the event of such a tax (as they would do; it’s how the market adapts to tax increases). I doubt the majority of people wouldn’t want it either.
- It’s just fucking stupid.
And finally, on the subjects of unions in general: they really need to stop the brazenly open stitching-at-the-hip of the Labour Party. Political advocacy is fine for the movement in general, but when you give the unions the power to elect political leaders and reroute profits through the party, you get a situation where unions won’t do anything that doesn’t benefit the party, as opposed to doing stuff that benefits workers. We saw this with the NUS during the Labour years – opposing tuition fees with more vigour would’ve benefited students. Instead, it benefited the Labour Party (screwing over students, and blaming it on political rivals? Ker-ching!). But even a lot of “proper” unions are doing it; the GMB are opposing the AV referendum even though they used it to elect Ed Miliband last September. Really, it’s only openly helping out Labour get in power without a mandate, even though they do not represent the labour movement anymore. I have to say: Crow might be an arsehole, but at least he helped create the Awkward Squad. It just goes to show that he has a modicum of self-respect left.