The point of unions is to show that defenceless people are stronger by sticking together

If only Union bosses weren't constantly apologising, more people would take notice of them. I hope you're listening, Brendan Barber and the TUC Congress

Share

The first motion at this year's TUC Conference should be to watch more sport. Because they need to learn how to make more impact than the amount made by Brendan Barber, the retiring General Secretary, which is none at all. This takes some effort, as he's been the leader of millions of trade unionists, on radio and TV every week, but still hardly anyone knows who he is. If there was a question in a pub quiz that went "Here's a clip of Brendan Barber saying 'I'm Brendan Barber, and I've just retired as General Secretary of the TUC'. Who's just retired as General Secretary of the TUC?", most people would say: "It's completely slipped my mind."

Part of the problem is that union leaders are always apologising. In a typical interview on Radio 4 this week, when asked, "Aren't you threatening to disrupt the country with strikes?", Barber said no one liked strikes and he didn't like strikes and then came a muffled bit that sounded like someone talking in their sleep, that went "Hibber gab strikes brctdsf Mister Osborne logredetv need growth WHERE'S MY ARTICHOKE I don't like strikes".

It's as if they're terrified of anyone noticing them. If the TUC had organised the Olympic opening ceremony, it would have been four civil servants at a table playing whist. And so, in a year in which vast cuts are imposed on people who have the least, by people who have the most, and the Chancellor imposing them is so unpopular he's booed by the crowd at the Paralympics, the TUC called hardly any noticeable protest at all.

If they did, you'd expect them to say: "We have decided to show our opposition to the Government's economic policy, but so as not to disrupt everyday life we are holding the protest at 4am, when we hope millions will join us in a 15-minute 'Dream of action', during which our members will dream that Mr Osborne reverses some of his damaging policies."

But they should be proud of themselves. Because the point of unions is that when seemingly powerless people stick together they have an impact, and can defend themselves against the powerful. You can't resist the powerful by trying to win them over and being nice to them. And they'd see that if they watched the tennis. For years, Andy Murray played like a union leader, almost apologising for his immense ability, going into his shell if anything went wrong. This year, he's overcome all that to believe in himself with magnificent effect.

So the union leaders should copy a player each. Tony Woodley, of UNITE, can be Djokovic, announcing a strike ballot result by ripping off his shirt and yelling "COME OOOOONNNN". And Frances O'Grady, the new General Secretary, can be Murray, swearing at herself over and over again for calling a demonstration on the wrong date, but finally stopping the Government's cuts before announcing: "I'm quite pleased, I suppose. Thank you all for coming."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'