Wednesday, 13 July 2016

TUs Need New Gene Pool (10/06/16)

David Aaronovitch wrote an interesting article for The Times the other day (behind the paywall) in which he argued that its fine for people in leadership positions within membership organisations to hold views which are at variance (to the left or right) of the people whom you are paid to represent.

So long as you don't push your views too far, or pretend that you are speaking for all of the members, especially when it comes to controversial issues.

Now that makes perfect sense to me and it was my own personal experience as well for many years, throughout my trade union career, from my days as a NUPE shop steward in the NHS to my role as Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland.

But in Scotland the unrepresentative nature of trade unions is becoming a bad joke, stuffed to the rafters as it is with Labour Party hacks at every level, many of whom have been in the same or similar positions for years.

The Labour Party is now supported by around 1 in 5 Scottish voters and was pushed into third place at the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections; a real shocker of a result, but a fair assessment of public opinion these days.

Yet in terms of leadership positions in local branches and all the way up to Scottish or UK level, trade unions are represented by dreary old hacks whose politics have Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone as heroes and role models.   

If, as the historian Tom Nairn once said, 'Scotland will be free when the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post' then the same is true of trade unions.

Trade union members will get the service they deserve when union leaders are drawn from all walks of life - not just from the increasingly dried-up gene pool of the Labour Party.

My commie days were mild compared to this

By David Aaronovitch - The Times

Malia Bouattia, the new leader of the NUS, has failed to grasp that you can’t impose your views on all your members

Have I ever told you the one about meeting the 45-year-old leaders of the Romanian youth delegation? It was back in the Iron Curtain days and I was representing the National Union of Students at an international event and these balding men in shiny suits wanted a “bilateral” to discuss getting one over on their equally elderly comrades in the Soviet youth delegation.

It struck me then, as it does now, that while there are lots of youth organisations run ostensibly for young people, there are very few run by them. The NUS is one of those organisations. It has existed for nearly 100 years and over that time has done a rather adult job of representing the UK’s scholars — even when I was its president. Of course it is flawed: young people tend to make young people’s mistakes. But it’s to the credit of this country that it maintains one of the biggest democratic youth organisations in the world.

Sadly, it was always possible that someone would come along one day and mess it all up. And this spring, a new president who was, even by NUS standards, a left-field candidate was voted in. Malia Bouattia is the first black, Muslim female president (the first woman and first black presidents were my immediate predecessors three decades earlier), but she is also the first president whose election in itself has sparked moves from college unions to leave the NUS. In the past few weeks several unions have held votes on disaffiliation and three have decided to depart. A decision by Cambridge University students is due to be announced tomorrow.