Unite and fight: Trade union bosses are doing their members a disservice

Alistair Darling, Jack Straw et al are right: the public deserves answers about Falkirk

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The Independent Online

Ed Miliband is desperate to end the damaging Falkirk by-election affair. Despite a growing list of senior Labour figures calling for another investigation into claims that the Unite union signed people up to the party without them knowing – with a view to ensuring a left-wing candidate won the selection – Mr Miliband is emphatic. Even the doubts now being cast over general secretary Len McCluskey’s own election are yet to change his mind.

Alistair Darling, Jack Straw et al are right: the public deserves answers about Falkirk. But there is a broader issue here, too. Put together with the Grangemouth oil refinery debacle, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Britain’s largest trade union – or its leaders, at least – are over-reaching themselves.

This is no attack on organised labour. The case for workers to be represented, and their rights protected, is self-evident. There is also plenty of recent evidence of wholly constructive industrial relations; the aftermath of the financial crisis saw many trade unions working closely with management to minimise job losses in the best interests of companies and staff. But too many union bosses want war, not dialogue. Grangemouth is a case in point. The decision to close the plant – subsequently reversed – was the result of trade union intransigence born of a mind-set focused too much on contest and not enough on the economic forces against which Ineos was battling. Some 800 workers nearly lost their jobs as a result.

The alleged links between Grangemouth’s Unite convener and the carry-on at nearby Falkirk only add to the murk. Nor were the tactics employed earlier in the dispute any more edifying, with one director facing a demonstration outside his house. Yet Mr McCluskey has not only refused to apologise for the upset caused to the executive’s wife and children, he is promising to employ the strategy again. “Fighting trade unionism is back,” he says.

The whole business, from Falkirk to Grangemouth, is an unholy mess. Mr McCluskey claims that his union is being attacked as a “proxy for smearing the Labour Party”. Not so. It is Unite that is the problem.