Plans have been announced to create an ‘historic' merger between the TGWU, Amicus and the GMB unions. If it comes off, this will create Britain's biggest-ever trade union, with 2.5 million members, £200 million assets and 300 sponsored MPs. Apparently, this new super union will be much stronger and better able to defend its membership.
The argument goes that we must have a bigger union to have clout with the government and with multinational employers. How so? For all the blustering done by the big unions, very little happens. Why? Because there is no longer the workplace organisation to carry any threats through. The bosses and the government know that if they stall and prevaricate, then the unions will back down and accept a compromise. And what is the point of having hundreds of sponsored MPs if all they do is follow the party line to keep the Labour Party in power?
Tony Woodley told the T&G executive: “This is a message of hope for every worker who needs strong trade unionism, and a warning to employers that we intend to match the power of capital with the power of united labour.”
How will this happen exactly? This is not an industrial union in one sector, but a general union spread across several industries. As the unions no longer have strikes in support of other workers, this general format is practically meaningless.
It will not strengthen workers in their battles in the workplace. There will still be no grassroots control in the union. In fact, the membership will be even further isolated from the union bureaucracy than ever before.
None of the unions have seriously built up their membership and influence in the most important place; the workplace. In many places, branches are moribund and workplace meetings non-existent. Membership is declining, and the only way these unions can see to survive and maintain membership figures is to merge.
We have seen the same thing in the past, when UNISON emerged amidst similar rhetoric. Here is simply another false dawn. What we will end up with is mini-TUCs, each trying to attract members to them. This wouldn't be so bad if they at least had differing political perspectives and approaches, but they are all much the same. They are sold lock stock and barrel on the partnership between the unions, government and business. Yet, they are only in this ‘partnership' for appearances sake. The only way they can seem to attract new members is to offer insurance or some other fringe benefit.
What we need is active unions with a clear agenda for change, controlled by their membership, and opposed to the bosses. Only then will workers have a real chance to join a union that reflects their political views and interests, instead of the current one-size-fits-all wishy-washy right wing unions welded to the crumbling remains of the Labour Party. That may be a long way off, but at least it is a more honest approach than the phoney rhetoric and lies pushed out by the union bureaucrats and their cronies.