Thursday, January 06, 2011

Why join a Trade Union?


I have written a review of the excellent 'Why join a Trade union?' by Jo Phillips and David Seymour for Tribune (due for publication this week). An edited version of the review is below.
British workers are relatively well off when compared to the majority of people who now produce the things we buy (and used to produce), but why is this? According to the hugely enjoyable Why Join A Trade Union? it is not because of Britain's enlightened capitalist philanthropists but because of the men and women who marched, campaigned and suffered in order to get better working conditions for all. In other words the employment rights and conditions of service we have today we have because people joined trades unions.
Jo Phillips and David Seymour's Why Join A Trade Union? is a book that, in its own way, advocates the strengths and the many virtues of collective endeavour - admittedly in a witty and at times highly irreverent manner. Margaret Thatcher is given a special mention in the section dealing with hate figures - where she is joined interestingly enough by the PFA's Gordon Taylor (one of the few union leaders whose members earn more than he does) and ITV's Adam Crozier who is no doubt greatly missed by CWU members across the land. The title however is, in my view, a bit misleading as the book is primarily a beginner's guide to the history of the trade union movement, or as the authors point out, This Great Movement of Ours, which for some reason is often shortened to Tigmoo and the book encourages you to check out the excellent Tigmoo website for union blogs and bloggers at www.tigmoo.co.uk.
The book is the sequel to the authors' previous publication, the excellent Why Vote? It is very funny in parts and there are some excellent one liners, for example early on in the book there is an account of how, having battled to extend the franchise, the unions created a political party that working people could vote for. At the end of the paragraph the authors add (in brackets) a brief note stating that this party was the Labour party "in case that description of Labour passes you by." My one reservation about the book is that the jokes tend to detract from the more serious and in the present climate very real reasons for people wanting to join a trade union. The notion that trade unions are the 'enemy within' and that they constitute an impediment to economic growth, free enterprise, and the ability of the government and industry to operate freely, is one we should expect to be pushed more and more as the impact of the recession deepens and workers are forced to fight back against mounting attacks on their livelihoods.
Why Join A Trade Union? is a readable, engaging and thought provoking book that reminds us that things can't and don't always get better but they sometimes get a good deal worse.

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