Nick Cohen’s Attack On Unions and Unite in The Observer

Nick Cohen’s astonishing and unprecedented attack in The Observer today on trade unions and in particular Unite cannot go unanswered. His assertion that Unite is at the root of the ‘intrigue’ which is creating the trade union movement’s troubles and membership loss is laughable.

Unite is a union that covers every sector of the economy. Of course there are areas where union membership has shrunk – largely due job losses in the economy or loss of jobs in the sector.

Add to that in off shoring such has happened in the IT sector and massive technological change such as in the graphical industries have taken their toll.

There are also areas where Unite and trade unions have grown – including the health sector and prior to the current downturn caused by the uncertainty of Brexit – in the automotive industry.

There is not a union in the UK that has not suffered membership loss, for many if not most of these reasons  – with the exception of a number of specialist unions.

In Unite we have a sophisticated organizing strategy which involves organizing in ‘greenfield’ sites, supply chains and growing membership in companies where we already have union members – aimed at securing 100% membership. If these plans had not been in place, union member loss would have been far worse.

Mr. Cohen must have also been asleep when Unison won the fight against Employment Tribunal Fees giving all workers thr ight to go to a tribunal without have to pay an upfront frre; or when Unite won the long fight on the blacklisting of construction workers; or last year when Unite won average or pay for holidays again for all UK workers – union member or not; or when we fought unwanted take overs of successful companies such as Astra Zeneca by US giant Pfizer – and we are doing the same with the unwanted take over of engineering company GKN by ‘get rich quick’ company Melrose; or when we have fought back on cuts to pensions, and ensured that apprenticeships are now ‘gold standard’ and provide top quality skills, rather than 3 to 6 month schemes which lead nowhere.

Instead of knocking Unite Mr. Cohen should recognise our union leads the way on the key issues facing our workers and our country today:

  • On Brexit Unite has lead the campaign against the devastating hard Brexit the Brextremist’s really want, reducing the UK to an offshore low pay, low skills, de-regulated economy. We are working with our members and with employers in engineering, auto’s, chemcials, aerospace and defence, steel, ceramics and many others. We are working with those who care about our country and our future day in day out.
  • On automation and the digital economy – Unite has a thought through strategy and plan that is preparing our members for the digital future we face. Its not just about organising gig economy, self-employed and Deliveroo workers. It is about making sure all workers get protection and support and an opportunity to gain from the technological revolution.
  • On industry and manufacturing Unite’s strategy launched last year has been heralded as one of the most forward thinking plans ever produced by a trade union – not just by people in the movement but by the media, employers and politicians.
  • How many other trade unions have formal day-to-day links with other unions outside of the UK as Unite has with the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada (don’t be fooled by the name – they too are in many sectors of their economies) working together on the current steel crisis.
  • Next week Unite will launch our plan to handle the revolution that we are facing in the auto sector and transport industry with e-cars, autonomous vehicles and future mobility. It is generating plenty of interest.

These policies and plans were handed down ‘from the top’ or by ‘ordering people about’ – they were worked on by our union officials and lay union members, experts in their own field, who stand up and argue for our plans day in day out.

I could go on (as Mr. Cohen said!)

Unfortunately Nick Cohen is peddling the myths we saw last year when attempts were made to denigrate and rubbish our union.

I read with interest then the vague waffle (I couldn’t call them policies) that would actually see potential members, young people, and women asking why bother joining?

Attempts to turn a union that is on its members side into the equivalent of being a member of the AA without actually owning a car is not a popular idea with the people I represent.

I am certainly not going to be critical of the unions Mr. Cohen mentions. I have many good friends in Bectu (who are now part of a larger union Prospect with who we have good relations) and yes, they do a great job in organising media freelancers – or USDAW who represent workers in some of the toughest areas to organize such as retail.

Finally the idea that Len McCluskey spends his time on Labour Party in-fighting and ‘factionalism’ is a joke. In recent times he has dealt hands on and directly with issues in the car industry, in engineering, oil, IT, aerospace, shipbuilding, defence, airlines  and others too many to mention.

The comments about Jennie Formby are beneath contempt, despicable and not befitting a newspaper such as The Observer, more like the News of The World circa 1965.

As for Andrew Murray, Mr. Cohen might alo have added that among his ‘sins’ is that he is an ardent Manchester United fan and one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the history and recordings of the Grateful Dead.

As I said – I could go on, I won’t. I’ll go back to reading stuff by journalists who know what they are on about.

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