Appeasement or confrontation – how to deal with the UnionsPosted on September 9, 2010
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has produced a crucial report on the Trade Unions today – exposing the true scale to which unions are subsidised with taxpayers’ money.
As well as the Union Modernisation Fund, which lives on despite its growing notoriety, the TPA have uncovered 2,493 full time Union employees who are paid for by public sector bodies at a cost of £67.5 million a year.
This is crucial for two reasons. First, it means that key union overheads like recruitment and organising of branches are funded by the general public without their knowledge or approval. Even more importantly, it means that the levies raised from union members are freed up for campaigning war chests.
This raises financial, democratic and political questions.
Financially, can we afford to be funding the unions out of the public coffers? Given union rhetoric on things like NHS Direct, presumably they would be happy to have their own non-essential subsidies cut to avoid other, deeper cuts in real public services?
Democratically, is it right that these payments go on behind closed doors without the approval of the people who pay the bills? Several unions went out of their way to try to prevent the TPA’s lawful use of the Freedom of Information Act, and their desire for secrecy suggests a fear of the public finding out what has been going on.
Poilitically, and most importantly, what should be done about the Unions’ taxpayer-funding, and their political activities as a whole? It is telling that the payments to the union movement rose by 14% in Labour’s last year in office – they chose to buy union support (and donations) using taxpayers’ cash.
Some Conservatives may believe that by continuing these payments they will be able to keep the unions sweet. Far from it. The union movement as a whole is bitterly, eternally opposed to the essential spending cuts that must be carried out. They’ll merrily pocket cash from a Tory Government – but they certainly won’t change their tune just because the enemies they love to hate are foolish enough to appease them.
Continuing to make these payments would mean that the Coalition is actively subsidising groups who intend to apply political pressure against Coalition policies. Worse, when the inevitable strikes begin, those 2,493 paid officials will be manning the pickets, rallying the troops and helping to organise the disruption of public services. This is worse than appeasement – it’s helping to pay the wages of the opposing army.
Some Conservatives may be wary of provoking the unions, and the theme that “we have got to work with them” is recurring more and more often on ConservativeHome and elsewhere.
However, I used the phrase “inevitable strikes” advisedly. The Coalition must accept that no matter what they do to butter up or bribe the unions, they will strike against spending cuts.
Faced by an enemy who intends to attack you regardless of what you do appeasement would be an absurdity. Instead, you should make the most of it – if they will strike against small to medium cuts anyway, then implement larger cuts. The first cut should be these hefty subsidies.