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14 May 2007

Trade Unions

TUC chief Brendan Barber gives his view on the state of the trade union movement after 10 years of T

By Brendan Barber

Any union leader during the dark days of Thatcherism would have leapt at a chance to live the last ten years.

Mass unemployment is no longer deliberate. The minimum wage has gone from left field to commonsense. Union membership has stopped falling. There are new rights at work, many flowing from signing Europe’s Social Chapter.

New campaigns not even dreamed of during the Tory years have been launched and won, such as family friendly rights, employers’ compulsory pensions contributions and a role for unions in delivering skills.

And while relations between a Labour PM and the unions are never easy, at least there is a relationship – with regular access and real influence.

But even allowing that unions will always press for more, there is a real sense of missed opportunities and some wrong policy directions. Rather than working with staff, public service reform has too often become something done to public servants rather than with them. And despite real help for the working poor, there is an indifference to the gross inequalities now made worse by both boardroom greed and exploitation of vulnerable workers.

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So much better than what went before, but it could have been even better.

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