Unions are Political – Let’s Make the Most of It

ConferenceLabour Party Conference is a good time to reflect on the explicitly political nature of some of the CWU’s campaigning work.


I believe trade unions are inevitably political. The CWU is often explicitly so.  Any group of 205,000 workers and their families acting in a combined, collective way must have an impact on social and economic policy.  Especially when more than half of them work in a public sector body the government wants to sell off.


So even  though the  legislation  to  privatise has been  passed, we  continue to  work  hard on the regulatory structures,  to protect the  “Universal Service Obligation” which  we believe is very much under threat.  We also continue to press for the utilisation and development of the Post Office as a vehicle for   delivery of key services – hence our campaign with others for a Post Bank. Every  failure to  utilise this already  existing, publicly  funded  network (such as switching  the contract  for  benefit  payments (the so-called “Green Giros” ) to  a commercial company) demonstrates to us the ideological and hostile character of the government’s intentions.


A second leading campaign is our work to   have an effective framework for the regulation of dangerous dogs and their owners. “Biteback” has involved the creation of a wide-ranging coalition, embracing community groups, trade unions and the animal welfare lobby. The authority of the Union on this subject has near universal recognition.  Gradually, the pieces of a new framework are falling into place – most recently the revised Sentencing Guidelines.  But if the good intentions of politicians had translated into action, we would be even further along the road to ending the literally bloody and disfiguring consequence of lax, inappropriate and failed policies.



Next up has to be our “Close the Loophole” project.  The CWU’s Agency Workers Campaign lead to legislation that   was predicated on equality of treatment – but the statute   perhaps should have been titled “The Swiss Cheese Act” it had that many holes …sorry, “derogations”.  So we are saying   that it’s now time to finish the job and close these loopholes. And given that increasingly the only way into work is via an agency, it’s clearly   something that will affect   a very large number of people.


Although these are specific areas of concern, there is no doubt in my mind that our work is becoming more political. The lurch both backwards and rightwards in social and employment policy has all but dissolved the demarcation line between purely industrial and   purely political issues… TUPE, Collective Redundancies, No Fault dismissal, ET rules and procedures. The whole “red tape challenge”. And if the assault is ideologically driven then how can our response avoid being so (even  though there are enough  arguments  that  can  be mounted on grounds of common sense alone)?


So the last but not least in the list of the CWU’s current political campaigns is aimed at increasing levels of political education and knowledge   amongst our members and activists.  A well-attended fringe meeting at conference concentrated explicitly on the importance of trade unions participating in the Labour Party, and young activists have a bespoke “Future Candidates” programme in development.



The omens are good:  we have an increasing clutch of young councillors and a programme of regional youth political  events started off with activists from CWU and other unions  in Northern Ireland giving politicians from all parties in the devolved assembly a run for their money.



The momentum to make the party  ever more representative of those it seeks to embrace  is gathering!



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