The TUC: Old horse eludes the knacker: Barrie Clement ponders the fate of a declining institution

THERE is more scope than ever this year for predicting that the ageing Trades Union Congress quadruped will be finally led away to the glue factory.

It seems barely credible that in the Sixties and Seventies the TUC had a critical influence on the policies of both Labour and Conservative governments. A speech by a union leader could move the markets. TUC general secretaries had the ear of prime ministers; union leaders regularly trooped into 10 Downing Street.

After Parliament, the tripartite National Economic Development Council was probably the most important political forum, where the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer listened with equal attentiveness to both TUC and CBI representatives.

More often than not it was the union leaders who carried the most weight.

A decade of Margaret Thatcher, who was responsible for what one union leader described as 'the drip-feed of hatred from Downing Street', put paid to all that. Membership of unions affiliated to the TUC has slumped from 12 million when Baroness Thatcher took office in 1979 to near 7.5 million now. Despite the removal of Lady Thatcher, the TUC has never faced a bleaker future.

Having emasculated the TUC as a political pressure group, a new round of legislation planned for this autumn will hit at a critical remaining function. A Bill will give workers the right to belong to the union of their choice. However, under the TUC's Bridlington procedures, Congress House officials can force unions to hand over members it has poached from another TUC affiliate.

At the very least, the law will severely undermine that function, which some regard as the TUC's raison d'etre.

Attacks on the TUC have also come from within. The Transport & General on the left, and the engineers and electricians on the right, will demand at the Blackpool conference this week that Congress House refocuses its energies.

The proposition recognises the 'lack of discrimination in the ever-growing list of campaigns with which the TUC is burdened'. It calls for a concentration on promoting the unions in general and providing services for affiliates in areas such as health and safety, education, the environment and international union relationships.

The sub-text is that the TUC should cease forthwith the ecologically unsound production of screeds of paper on issues such as the economy, where Congress House has no influence - even with the Labour Party.

There are other reasons for supposing the TUC has had its day. The era of the 'mega-union' has arrived. Such organisations will have their own agendas and the resources to further them. What need, then, for a central body such as the TUC, which in many cases might simply be duplicating their efforts? Some on the radical right of the movement remain unconvinced about the need for TUC affiliation.

The case for the prosecution then is formidable. However, the hapless Mr Willis and his lieutenants can marshal at least one point for the defence - if the TUC did not exist, it would have to be invented. Experience on the Continent shows the dangers of a divided union movement with more than one centre.

Even the leaders of the super-unions realise that a labour movement in which three or four large organisations compete with each other for the public ear is a recipe for chaos. So the answer is that the old TUC carthorse is not going to the knacker's yard just yet. It is, however, re-emerging as something of a Shetland pony.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin