Monday, 10 September 2007

I liked the Will Hutton article

Will Hutton (or his ghost writer?) contributed this rather interesting piece to The Observer this week. I find Hutton's writings a bit hit and miss but I find myself agreeing with him more times than not. The bit on the RMT's recent tube strike seems to be pretty fair to me though. I haven't come across anyone outside the movement who had any sympathy for the recent strike, and quite a few people on the inside feel the same way too from what I can tell. It looked like a particularly odd decision given that the TSSA and Unite both called off strike action.

But it's not so much the specifics of the tube strike I agree with, more the argument about how unions should relate to working people today. My broad view on this is that you need to use different tactics in different areas. There will always be a place for a militant approach to industrial relations, because that is the stance that some employers will take.

However I don't believe that most working people's experience of work is like that these days. Therefore if we are going to organise those people currently not in unions we need to talk and act in a way that appeals to them, and I don't think banging on about class struggle and bosses v workers is ever going to work. You only have to think about your own family and circle of friends who aren't in a union. How many of them say it's because unions aren't militant enough, or because the union doesn't back a boycott of Isreal?

The TUC did some research into "what workers want" a few years back. It found that few employees have a negative view of their employer, most have a positive view about their job, and an overwhelming majority regard a productive employer-union relationship as a necessary condition for the union to be seen as effective. Not exactly a demand to intensify the class struggle is it?

Unfortunately union politics shifted a few years back to extent that even mentioning the idea of partnership is a bit of a joke these days. But personally I can't see unions regaining their lost strength unless some sort of modernisation is undertaken. On this point, this Fabian pamphlet is woth a look.

PS. Will Hutton's other recent article on the financial system here is also worth a look.