More Brexit fallout splatters our consciousness this week with Sir Ivan Rogers, an Oxofrd graduate career civil servant of more than 30 years, being replaced with Sir Tim Barrow, an Oxford graduate career civil servant of more than 30 years. But with an alleged pro-Brexit beard to boot.
So lets leave that at that. For me, what is far more revealing though about the cut and thrust of Brexitland appointees is the demonstration that unions are only there for those privileged enough to be in jobs where they can’t be sacked, in organisations that cannot go bust and industries where there is no competition.
Sir Ivan, lets be on first name terms here, earned between £170,000-£174,999. In the old Daily Mail comparisonometer, that is thirty grand more than then Prime Minister and around seven times average wage. Yet, despite this, that he had an uber privileged background, that he is in charge of lots of people and to boot has a knighthood, he has the chutzpah to be a member of a trade union affiliated to the TUC.
He is a member of a rather shadowy union called the FDA. The FDA, they don’t like to expand on their acronym, represents senior civil servants – including poor brow beaten hard done by Sir Ivan. A lot of very senior civil servants. 18,000 diplomats, economists, civil servants, managers, policy advisers and, rather bizarrely, lawyers, at the very heart of government are all represented by a union dedicated to protecting and improving these hard-up employees pay and pension whilst improving their worklife balance.
The name FDA, stands for First Division Association. The ‘first division’, according to the FDA’s own blurb, being the name coined during the empire for the top echelon employees of civil servanting. And it is this union, the champion of the oppressed, hard done by and disenfranchised worker, who went out of its way to kick back at Brexit loving politicians slagging off Sir Ivan because he is so downtrodden he can’t do it himself.
Poor Sir Ivan. Feel sorry for him because he is a symptom of the wider world of unions now representing people who it is easy to represent. For today unions only want to help people who are easy to help rather than go out of their way to help people who really need their help.
I had the undiluted repeated pleasure of witnessing it myself. I watched as incompetent people who were on the verge of being deservedly sacked for gross incompetence and sexual harassment quickly joining a union whose reps prevented these awful bullying, sexist employees from being dismissed from the public sector because they overloaded the hearings with intimidatory threats and counter claims that upset some staff so much they were forced to quit in disgust. I saw firefighters, already on massive salaries compared to other equivalent professions and who do a damn sight less work, striking through their union because their shift time was changing by an hour. I despaired at how people genuinely in need of some help from a union rep would be bypassed because they weren’t mates with them. Or how reps saw a genuine case as taking too much time and hassle because they were pigshit stupid and lazy and didn’t want the ballache. All of this was in the public sector – where wages are higher, perks are better, holidays longer, disciplinary procedures done by the book, retirement ages earlier, pensions more generous, the organisations will never go bust and there isn’t a bean of competition. This is where unions exist compared to the private or charity sectors where people all too often need this type of assistance from a professional union.
And it is not just what I witnessed first hand in my job. You only have to look at the way the RMT is behaving towards whether a door is closed by one bloke or another; the BMA towards how very highly paid consultants will have to sign a new very well paid contract or the Commercial Workers Union takes members on strike because some of them will be outsourced – not sacked or made redundant, but outsourced. Well remunerated people getting well resourced union representation, not because they are hard up, but because they paid their subs.
It is also no coincidence that these same strikes occur in industries with no competition. Monopoly industries cossetted in the public sector bubble with well paid staff do not have worry about profit margins since the taxpayer will pick up the difference.
That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It isn’t necessarily a good thing either when other sectors or professions or workers are being taken for a ride. Those in the RMT or FBU or Unite or Unison or SOLACE or the FDA may have some degree of grievance. But why aren’t there unions supporting JD Sports workers or fruit pickers or Amazon warehouse workers or Starbucks coffee pourers or care home workers or Tesco trolley collectors?
When unions were started back in the 1860’s that was the very type of equivalent industries that they would have been at the forefront of protecting. In 2017 unions have become as comfortable as the capitalist and corporate masters they say they dislike so much. They represent a narrow band of worker who needs the sort of help that no-win no-fee lawyer could assist with or they could pay for themselves. They fail to represent the genuinely hardpressed, the desperate and the truly screwed over in favour of collecting subs from affluent members whose grievances don’t tax them too much to resolve in industries which have an ingrained culture of not rocking the boat.
Jeremy Corbyn is a union supporter and idealist. He attended the anniversary of the Tolpuddle Maryrs and gave a speech at the Durham miners gala even though there are no Durham miners left. The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers that the martyrs represented and the miners unions fought for those who would work stupidly long hours in diabolical conditions and get injured of killed for a pittance. Now the latter day unions are seen by Mr Corbyn and by the union leaders themselves as political ballast for his leadership and a handy cash cow for the Labour Party.
The FDA may be the top of the tree of unions representing people who need little in the way of representation. Yet there are countless unions doing something similar albeit on a lesser scale. What I fail to understand is why these self-described champions of the workers and of the poor only champion the workers who do very nicely already and fail to represent the poorest workers in the worst conditions. Regardless of which Sir Oxford takes over the Brexit negotiations, the insight into who has a union to represent probably says more about Britain in 2017 than anything else. A world in which even those saying they give a damn about the worst off in society spend more time feathering their own nests, furthering their own agendas and supporting people who are already doing very wll in society already.