Sunday, 8 July 2012
Small Is Beautiful
Labour leader - Ed Miliband - is in the news today declaring his party's firm support for the policy of smaller, more accountable high street banks.
But what I find remarkable is how the Labour party can see that 'small is beautiful' when it comes to banks - yet is perfectly happy to encourage ever bigger trade unions - which are not even properly regulated.
Who do you complain to if you are unhappy with the service provided by your trade union?
Well the answer is your trade union - of course - it's a bit like the bad old days when the police investigated the police - a practice which was ended years ago because it completely lacked transparency and could no longer command public confidence.
A dose of the same medicine would do the trade unions a power of good - or at least it would do ordinary trade union members the power of good.
Maybe the same can't be said for union bosses - but that's what 'small is beautiful' is all about - restoring the balance of power between the little guy and the big guy.
Here's what I said back in November 2012 - and there's an even older post on the blog site archive dated 16 September 2009.
Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions (6 November 2012)
Much has been said - and written - this week about cutting the big high street banks down to size.
Apparently everyone now believes that smaller banks are good for us. Because smaller banks means more banks - that have to compete with one another - and the resulting competition is good for customers.
The big guy always finds it much harder to beat up on the little guy - if the little guy can just take his or her business elsewhere.
So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough.
But isn't it interesting that while the big banks are being forced to become smaller - to get closer to their customers - that trade unions in the UK are becoming ever larger and more remote from their members.
The latest move towards another super union - see post dated 16 September 2009 - is the planned merger between GMB and Unison - which would create a union of around 2 million members.
But Unison itself is the product of an arranged marriage of what used to be three separate unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE - which tied the knot to become Unison in 1993.
And this latest giant union is all about keeping up with the Joneses, in the shape of Unite - currently the largest union in the land with 1.9 million members - and itself the product of a previous merger between Amicus and the old transport union, TGWU.
The fact is that these new super unions are run just like giant businesses - except that they are not as well regulated as businesses - arguably they are subject to less scrutiny than your average corner shop.
In terms of service standards - ordinary union members do not have an independent body to turn to for support, if they have a problem or complaint - there is no equivalent of the Financial Services Ombudsman, for example.
In future, union members will get even less choice from these mega unions - which all give huge sums of money to the Labour Party - despite the fact that the great majority of union members support other parties - or no party at all.
The present government has no interest in making the union more accountable to their members - because the Labour Party is so heavily dependent on the trade unions for financial support.
But it will be interesting to see what happens after the next general election - maybe the unions will be forced to move with the times. A healthy dose of external and independent scrutiny - would certainly help the unions become more accountable to their members.
Just look what it's done for MPs.