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A four point plan for defeating the resurgent public sector union movement

UNIONPOWER There were a number of years when the media seemed to forget that the TUC had an annual conference. Those were the good economic years. They were the years when Tory union reforms had tamed the big barons who had once presided over terrible industrial strife. But the unions are back. Today's newspapers feature TUC calls for even more spending (which The Daily Mail dubs "fantasy economics") and TUC warnings of 1981-style riots if the Tories do not allow the deficit to grow even larger.

During the quiet years the unions operated under the radar and rebuilt their power within the public sector.  The unions' achievements are enormous:

  1. The gap between private and public sector pay has been eliminated but the public sector labour force has lost none of its privileges.  On the local government blog today Mike Schofield reveals the TRUE cost of local government employees.
  2. The overall size of the state has grown markedly.  Public sector expenditure has risen by 17.5% of GDP since 2000 but productivity has fallen (City AM).
  3. The Times' Sam Coates has the story of the day in exposing how a cadre of trade union officials are maintained at taxpayer expense throughout Whitehall:

"Ten [Whitehall] departments have revealed that they employ 46 full-time and 87 part-time officials to work exclusively for the unions at taxpayers’ expense. Their salaries cost between £150,000 and £4.5 million per department. They are also given access to office space, computers and photocopiers worth an estimated £1.2 million each year."

The unions have won this influence by 'buying' Labour.  Labour gets more than half its money from the trade union movement and it has won a massive dividend from its expenditure.  The extent of this influence is under-reported.  James Forsyth at Coffee House noted yesterday's threat from Derek Simpson of Unite to "fatally damage" Labour's chances of winning the next election.  Can you imagine the reaction if a business leader had talked of their influence on the Tories in such terms?

Over the weekend it emerged that David Cameron had met TUC leader Brendan Barber to seek "maximum consensus".  It is absolutely right that the Tory leader seeks to build upon the TUC-Tory dialogue begun by Richard Balfe, former Labour MEP and now a respected Conservative Party member.  The Tory leadership should be under no illusions, however, as to the threat posed by the public sector unions to two flagship Tory priorities; (1) the restoration of the public finances and (2) the reform of education.

The Times reports that the TUC is gearing up to fight Tory education plans and Mr Barber is quoted as saying that "it would be very, very damaging if the Conservative Party tampers with [national bargaining structures]."

The Tories need a plan to tackle the unions.

  1. They should maintain dialogue - always appearing and being reasonable to mainstream union members and to the general public.
  2. They need a clear mandate from the electorate so that the unions are seen as acting undemocratically if they attempt to thwart the Conservative manifesto.  The manifesto must therefore be transparent about intentions.
  3. The Conservative movement needs to mobilise taxpayer and public service users who are the victims of union practice.  Examples of union privileges and the extent to which they are damaging the public interest need to be catalogued.
  4. The public sector unions cannot be tackled on every front at the same time.  Introducing pay flexibility for new schools and a general improvement in the public finances must be the priorities.
Tim Montgomerie 


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