Should the rise in British trade union militancy mean that British industry should be shorted? Or should the pound? As ever, who knows? But let us not count on it too much, at least not on the industrial unrest. A lot has changed since the seventies, and not just the haircuts.
Unite is now a union only in name, unfortunately for Unite they have through an accident of history a real trade union among their BA staff. The Labour Party is not the political wing of Unite; Unite is a mass fundraising operation for the Labour Party. While Labour could do without Unite (although they’d lose more than poster sites), Unite and Unison would have as much sense without the Labour Party as, well, the Primrose League or the Young Conservatives would have had outside the 1950s Conservative Party.
The thing about large trade unions is that like large companies they change. As a large company isn’t just the same small company with twenty times more staff and customers, so it is with unions. They both become almost self- perpetuating bureaucracies.
And this matters. For a growing company that stops worrying about its products and long term profitability and starts worrying about accounting profits and market share so a trade union worries about its place in the political firmament. You see the big union barons like nothing more than thinking they’re players. That’s the reason why so many of them became MPs, not as a way of stitching up the Labour party with radicals.
Unfortunately for Unite there was a real union in their flank, the British Airways Stewards and Stewardesses Association. They became part of the Transport and General Workers Union who in turn became part of Unite. However they had their own culture and leadership, and Unite hates them for it. They are an old fashioned trade union who will spite the public if it advances their members’ interests. The super unions no longer have that killer, or more accurately hostage taker, instinct.
So this is where the big unions are. Strikes are bad for business when they are in the business of making their top management into big players on the national scene. If the members did not pay subs and do the groundwork for the election campaigns, who would want them?