Unions Get The Job Done!

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Overnight came the welcome news that courts in the US had blocked the desire of the Trump administration to impose hefty, put-you-out-of-business taxes on Bombardier as a protection for Boeing.

By way of (brief) explanation the two firms are rivals in the aircraft construction market. The former is UK based, the latter US. The Americans claimed unfair state subsidies gave Bombardier an unfair advantage. “Rubbish” responded the Northern Ireland based firm and now the courts have agreed.

Huge sighs of relief that the best part of 1000 jobs and a whole supply chain have been saved. It’s been good to see trade unions and our 6 million-plus members getting news coverage and recognition for the vital role we play in giving workers a voice and protecting their pay, conditions and employment.

Of course, you have to wonder why such a move was ever contemplated to start with. Is this what the President meant by “making America great’ –  attempts at unlawful economic protectionism? That’s for another debate. The point here is that saving Bombardier was a truly collaborative effort. Company spokespersons fulsomely acknowledged the role played by trade unions in that.

Turn now to the collapse of Carillion, which everyone seems to think was a bad thing, foresee-able, avoidable and an example of how corporations should not conduct themselves. In the hubris, handwringing and damage limitation days that followed the Guardian gave space to Theresa May for a front page opinion-piece in which she outlined her thoughts on corporate governance and the lessons learned from this latest stink.

She said, “The minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, has co-ordinated the government’s response, acting swiftly to safeguard the continuity of public services. Greg Clark, the business secretary, has already convened a task force involving business and unions to support firms and workers affected by the collapse of Carillion.”

Well that is all well and good. Unions are acknowledged ass having a key role and a rightly to be at the table as part of the solution, part of the plan going forward. Better late than never, you might say, especially in a company that historically has been guilty of dreadful employment practices (the Blacklisting scandal, comes most readily to mind).

But I’ll take the positives out of this. The more unions are recognised for the skills and knowledge they bring, the more they are acknowledged as key participants in terms of representing workers and finding solutions, the more we get away from the self-serving, dishonest and default denigration that unions and collectivism generally receives in much of our media – the better for all of us.

So two points to end on. The first is that the state has a key role to play in this. The Prime Minister has often been vulnerable to charges of urging the goals of better employment practices without any credible plan to provide the means. As David Coats argued last week, in a very worthwhile collection of Fabian essays, only government can establish the framework within which solution-orientated collaboration (or meaningful and consistent dialogue) can take place. And yet the administration still has not responded to the limited proposals of the Taylor review that the PM herself commissioned, six months after its publication, and arguably could have done much more in the cases of Carillion and Bombardier

And the second is that there is a real and significant gap in the knowledge and understanding of modern trade unionism. There is at large a view that unions will compromise business efficiency, productivity and profitability. That clearly was not the case at Bombardier and Carillion were more than capable of messing things up on their own.

Yet when Ryanair got into serious, near-exisitential trouble last Autumn, owner and union-phobe Michael O’Leary u-turned, recognising that he needed to sit down with representatives of his staff to work together to fix the problem. And the response of the stock market to that welcome news: Ryanair shares fell by 8%. That’s a problem we have to fix.

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