Unions not all ready for Cameron and Clegg

Britian’s trade unions enter into the shining new era of Dave and Nick on an unequal footing. I’ve written many times before about the steady work of Richard Balfe, David Cameron’s (deep breath) personal envoy to the trade union and co-operative movement, who has done the rounds of almost every single union, Labour-affiliated or otherwise. Unite, ineviably, said no*, as did shopworkers’ union USDAW and construction union UCATT.

The last two will have a lot of dealings with new Business Secretary Vince Cable (of whom more very soon) and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith: IDS’ department is in charge of the Health and Safety Executive and BIS gets called on when companies like Woolworths start going to the wall.

However, this is about a lot more than whether ministers know abot the unions’ point of view and their shopping lists. In the public sector, a great many negotiating bodies exist to thrash out pay negotiations and much more. Unison, GMB and Unite, for example, head up the trade union side of the national joint council for local government. Every year they meet the employers’ wing of the Local Government Association and together they fail to agree a pay deal for that year. Other such negotiating boards and teams exist across central government and quangos, from HM Revenue and Customs to the Meat Hygiene Inspectorate.

Some unions have been busily ensuring that the Tories know of these union negotiators and who they are, in spite of their differences. Let’s just say that new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his ministers will probably know a lot of union officials by now.

Others less so; the Public and Commercial Services Union hasn’t introduced any of its negotiators to Tories, and general secretary Mark Serwotka has only had one or two meetings with them. Whether that’s down to suspicion or lack of effort I don’t know; but they are certainly suspicious of Tory plans for the public sector, fearing wholesale staff cuts and privatisation. (N.B. The Conservatives have already made hay out of taxpayer funding of PCS union officials and their work – Francis Maude, whose parliamentary questions got much of the information from the Labour government, tried to ressure the PCS that there was no malice in his activity, but apparently failed.)

So it looks like some unions will be on the front foot now, and others not. Whether that helps them get what they want is of course another matter entirely.

*or at least the former T&G section did – I was never sure whether or not there’d been meetings with people from the Amicus side. Not that Derek Simpson is remotely Tory-friendly, mind you; he isn’t. Maybe he wasn’t told.


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