Six million people, 1 in 10 of the population, and a considerably bigger proportion of the electorate for the forthcoming general election, are members of a trade union, a fact seemingly easily forgotten by the Tory front-bench. The latter, not only Cameron at PMQs but also his acolytes in the Conservative party, churn out the same mantra so often and regularly, about Miliband and the Labour party being at the behest and in the pay of the unions, especially Unite and Len McCluskey, that it is approaching self-defeating levels. For a party behind in the polls, with its most recent track record being to impose austerity and poverty on the least fortunate whilst giving tax reductions to its rich followers and largely ignoring the tax avoidance "industry" that is especially prevalent amongst its friends in the City, this has to be a mistaken policy, and Labour should be planning to capitalise on its rival`s misjudgement.
Whilst Labour will accept that the influence of trade unions in the workforce is nowhere near what it was, it should accept its links with them, and emphasise their shared objectives. "One Nation", a term coined originally by the Tory PM Disraeli because of his disgust with the existence of a society of "haves" and "have-nots", and now adopted by Labour, indicates acceptance of the idea that we all work together for the benefit of our economy and society. Even Disraeli passed laws to strengthen the industrial action unions might have to take, and his Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act legalised peaceful picketing. Labour`s leaders must not be ashamed to admit that they share many of the same aims as the trade unions of today.
How many voters agree with the huge rise in inequality which has taken place under this Tory-dominated coalition? Being placed 28th out of 34 in an equality league table of developed countries cannot be a source of pride for anyone. Not only do countries with less inequality tend to have more economic growth, they also have a stronger, more influential trade union presence. When the newly-formed West Germany was given its economic "freedom" in the early 1950s, the so-called Powers insisted that it adopt a policy of co-determination, thereby ensuring union representation on the boards of major companies. As a result, bosses` pay was kept under control, the gap between rich and poor was limited, and today, co-determination is viewed by historians as a major factor in creating West Germany`s "economic miracle"!
Are there any decent people in this country who support the idea of so many employed people being paid so little, they have to rely on taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay their rent? Working people willingly pay taxes to fund the NHS, schools, transport and security, but not to enable businesses to increase their profits by paying low wages! Labour shares the union aim of raising the minimum wage and ensuring all get paid a living wage; it`s part of the cost-of-living issue that needs serious and immediate attention. If the Tory response is that Labour is merely obeying the wishes of the "union barons", which they certainly will, the reply has to be that its policies have the support of every fair-minded person in the country.
Another shared aim has to be for a fairer and more progressive taxation system, so the Ukip policy of having a top rate of income tax for high earners of 40% has to be rebuked. Even the IMF has publicly stated that the rich in this country could and should be paying more! When Labour announces its policy pledging a 50% top rate, an explanation that all of the earnings below £150,000, six times the national average, are taxed at lower rates, is needed; the Tory "lie-machine" gives a very misleading picture of the effect of higher tax, always failing to mention that even Thatcher saw the need for a 60% tax rate! A few advertisements in favour of Labour`s tax policies in the "red tops", complete with explanatory diagrams,similar to the ones which appear in the papers the day after budgets, would be beneficial.
Do trade unions want their members forking out up to 70% of their earnings on extortionate rents to profiteering private landlords? No, and neither does the Labour party. Are unions pleased that, when the "tax gap" is at least £35bn a year, yet more job losses are planned at HMRC? No, and neither is the Labour party. So many of the party`s policies match the aims of our 21st century trade unions, it is ridiculous to think that a quiet denial of the union link`s existence is needed. On the contrary, with so many votes at stake, and with a leader keen to show "empathy" with the working people, the opposite is required. Trade unions always have been a force for good, as even Disraeli recognised, and they still are.
Labour has announced its pre-election policies, which, like those of the trade unions, have the creation of a fairer society as their main objective. Don`t be ashamed of that, Labour! Shout it from the rooftops! If the party leadership cannot counter the inevitable Tory nonsense about "policies written by Unite" and such like with the obvious replies about the influence of the City, big business and even the pro-Israeli lobbies on Tory policies, then some reshuffling may be required!