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Robert Halfon MP: Conservatives should embrace Trade Unionism

HALFON-robert Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow.

I know it’s hard.  But put Bob Crow and his ilk in a box for one moment.  Cast your mind away from strikes or union militancy and consider the real role of Trade Unions.

Unions are the very core of the Big Society, rooted in their communities.  Behind all the political rhetoric, they are grassroots organisations, providing much needed services to their members.  Legal aid, health insurance, discounts on goods and services, health and safety advice, are just a few of the services that Unions offer.  Collectively, Trade Unions represent the largest voluntary organisations in the UK.  TUC research shows that Union members “are eight times more likely to engage in voluntary work and give to their members”.

In other areas such as skills, for example, the TUC has been instrumental in pushing apprenticeship schemes - something noted by Apprentice Minister John Hayes, when he spoke to their Skills Reception in the Commons a few months ago.

When considering the role of Trade Unions, it is worth thinking outside that Bob Crow Box for a moment and worth remembering that according to BIS, the Trade Union Movement has 6.7 million members in 2009.  Many are Conservative voters.   A 2009 Populus Poll of Unite members noted that 34% were Labour and 31% Tory.  Moreover, not every Trade Union is affiliated to the Labour Party.

I am a Trade Union member (of Prospect - not Labour Party affiliated), and proud of being so.  Yes, I receive a magazine every few weeks that rails against Government ‘cuts’.  But behind all the verbiage are an enormous number of provided services that will be of benefit to me and thousands of others.

You can argue about militancy, and oppose the last Government’s subsidy to the Unions (indirectly providing funds to the Labour Party).  You can campaign for tougher strike laws - particularly when essential public services are involved.  All of which I agree with. 

But Conservatives should also recognise that good trade unionism, very much embodies the little platoons that we all love talking about.  We should face the facts that many Trade Unions are already providing the social capital, people power and social entrepreneurship that are three primary elements of the Big Society - and even work with those Unions prepared to further its aims.


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