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."Reuse content