Union leaders are their own worst enemy

Christian May
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Southern Train Drivers Strike For A Third Day
Commuters using Southern routes could be delayed by a fresh wave of strikes today (Source: Getty)

As the country prepares to power down for Christmas, a number of trades unions are flexing their muscles and powering up their strike activity.

As PWC’s Tom Kerr Williams notes, for unionised labour “a good time to react is at Christmas when most employers will be under pressure to keep customers happy”. One can't deny the logic, though it will likely fall on unsympathetic ears among those whose journeys and plans have been thrown into chaos this week.

Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Sean Hoyle (the president of the RMT, whose strikes have compounded Southern Rail’s woes) sees it as his duty to “bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory government”. Hoyle has called on all unions to adopt the same attitude – saying “if we all spit together we can drown the bastards”.

Read more: Surge in days lost to strike action

It is unlikely that all RMT union members share their president’s view that the number one rule should be “to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order”. Political firebrands at the top are intent on prolonging the dispute for reasons that ultimately have nothing to do with concerns over who should be responsible for closing train doors.

Time and again, union leaders are their own worst enemy and, by extension, the enemy of their members’ long term interests.

Fortunately, there are some in the union movement who recognise that the gulf between legitimate union campaigns and the political dogma of its leadership is damaging to the cause.

Step forward, Gerard Coyne, who is challenging Len McCluskey for the leadership of the powerful Unite union. Coyne has slammed McCluskey for spending too much time playing politics in Westminster in a bid to “pull strings” and not enough time serving the day-to-day interests of members. The challenger identifies major difficulties facing unions, including the threat from automation, and wants to focus on up-skilling members to compete in a modern workforce.

If unions are to take the public with them on their campaigns then militant and overtly politicised industrial action must become a thing of the past. There are few simple solutions to union concerns, but moving away from the archaic approach of the hard-left barons would be a step in the right direction.

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