« What Blairites? | Main | Immigration: the right's problem »

September 27, 2016


Gary Taylor

Trade unions represent the Public Sector not a social class


This sort of reading seems to imply that it was inevitable that the Liberals were usurped by Labour which I don't think is necessarily true. If you look at the early history of the party you can't help but feel Labour got lucky quite a few times and if things went the other way it would be the Liberals introducing the Welfare State in 1945 instead of Labour.

Conal Tuohy

I think this is on the money. But the Greens do have a class base; it's just a smaller class.

Dave Hansell

"Trade unions represent the Public Sector not a social class"

Presumably that's why both historically and today there have been and are trades unions representing private sector workers.

There was comparatively little in the way of what we today regard as the public sector during the early decades of the trades union movement, with most trades unions representing workers in the private sector. Think of the 1926 miners and subsequent General Strike as one example amongst many.

Some trades unions have seen their area of representation move from the private sector, to the public sector and back to the private sector - consider the Post Office Unions representing workers in the telephone industries prior to the 1912 nationalisation of a vital national security industry which was then piratised in 1984 after decades of public money had built a national infrastructure.

It really is frightening the amount and level of deliberate and willfull ignorance which clearly exists on these matters that such a statement can be submitted into the public record of the internet, apparently in all seriousness.


"It really is frightening the amount and level of deliberate and willfull ignorance which clearly exists on these matters that such a statement can be submitted into the public record of the internet, apparently in all seriousness."

I think that it's called post-truth politics - making a political statement because you want it to be true rather than because it is true.


I don't believe the Westminster system of plurality voting should be called FPTP. The French system with 2 rounds of voting seems more suited to that moniker, since we know what the eventual winning post will be.

In 2015, the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell MP won South Belfast with a vote share of 24.5%!

Two rounds is superior to AV, since voters know what they are getting. For instance, when Le Pen made it to second place against Chirac, protest voters who had abandoned Jospin at least had the opportunity to hold their nose and vote for Chirac. Those voters who abandoned Labour for the Greens in 2015 might have appreciated the opportunity to have another go in a straight Labour Tory fight


In the present UK system it is necessary (in order to win) to put together in a party a coalition of views that represents just over 50% of voters. That covers a lot of ground and requires some kind of tacit agreement about what various interest groups will settle for. In the case of the Labour Party, this has broken down. While many groups on the Left would be willing to accept Brown or Miliband Minor as leader they do not want a return to Blair (or Miliband Major) because Blair went out of his way to offend them; yet people around Blair were unsupportive of Brown and Ed and always muttering that the wrong brother won, and in 2015 said that the party had moved too far to the Left.

Potentially the Labour Party does have a social base, but only potentially. The Blair years did a lot to create distrust. A great deal of mediation and negotiation will be required to rebuild the trust.

Dave Hansell

"A great deal of mediation and negotiation will be required to rebuild the trust."

The problem here is that there exists a distinct lack of evidence that the establishment group within the Party have or will ever have any interest in mediation and negotiation. Witness Tom Watsons speech today laying down a marker that any criticism of Blair and the unpopular policies, ideas, and approach which was part and parcel of that package is out of bounds and not legitimate. Or the stitch up on the NEC in which two extra, unelected, seats - one for an unpopular Scottish Party which has lost the entire region with a leader who flip flops from opposition to support for the Labour leader in the same interview; along with a Welsh seat for a Welsh leadership which recently sided with the Welsh Tories in favour of a hard Brexit policy for Wales which is actually outside of the policy detailed by Mcdonnell in yesterday's speech.

There is a group here who is clearly unwilling to accept that it ever makes mistakes and unwilling to accept any criticism as legitimate. That attitude of arrogance and disdain has lost Scotland, lost millions of voters, contributed significantly to the Brexit result, and will continue to alienate voters whilever they are allowed to continue with this behaviour which says we know best, get back in your tin and stay there.

Igor Belanov

"In the present UK system it is necessary (in order to win) to put together in a party a coalition of views that represents just over 50% of voters."

I'm puzzled. Surely it has been as low as 35%?


@Dave Hansell

Some facts:

- 83% of all new Trade Union members are from the Public Sector

- "The longterm trend for a much lower proportion of private sector employees who are trade union members, relative to the public sector, continues."

- "In the public sector, union membership levels increased by 29,000 year-on-year to 3.80 million in 2015. Trade union density in the public sector rose from 54.3% to 54.8% in 2015."

- "The proportion of trade union members amongst private sector employees fell slightly from 14.2% to 13.9%, reflecting employment growth outpacing the growth in union membership."

- The industry Sectors with higher levels of unionisation are mostly ex-Public Sector sectors (Energy, post, water, telecom) and, within that, it is the older employees who are members (i.e. they signed up when Public Sector employees and never left).

In short, Trade Union membership is dominated by the Public Sector, and older employees who were once Public Sector. And the trend towards Public Sector is increasing.



Dave Hansell


Content is meaningless without context. You can take a snapshot of anything at any particular moment in time and it does not represent the statement you made.

The fact remains that in a non static system like work the relative numbers and proportions are changing all the time with employment sectors moving between one sector and another and back again (as previously demonstrated); employment being offshored and exported (as has occurred with many traditional manufacturing jobs in the UK); some activities declining and others expanding; changes and swings in trade union legislation; the constant changes of relative strengths between organised worker representatives and employers and so on.

It would be just as inaccurate to state that the CBI or the EEF as institutions did not represent a class interest.



The report puts all this very much into context, complete with confidence intervals on its time series data.

The trend is only going one way, and your ten dollar words about context and dynamic do not change the facts or the trends - the Trade Unions overwhelmingly represent the interests of the Public Sector.

You are welcome to post alternative credible independent data sources to the contrary. Indeed - until you do, I will conclude that it is you who makes ignorant, unsupported assertions, not me.


"The problem here is that there exists a distinct lack of evidence that the establishment group within the Party have or will ever have any interest in mediation and negotiation."

Yes, I agree. The attitude is "Blair won three elections so discussing the impact of his policies is irrelevant". The Left is supposed to leave the winning of elections to right-wing professional politicians and then they will get what the want: hard experience has shown that this doesn't happen. Professional politicians now use opinion polls and focus groups, with swing voters in marginal constituencies, rather than negotiating to form a coalition.

So I think that the original post's point about social base is weak.


The FPTP system militates against new parties, but for Labour it also means they are one of the only two possible options.

This is their key advantage. When the choice is essentially either you or the other guy, you always have a chance. What do they say about showing up being half the battle?

This by itself makes the Labour obits seem premature.

But Labour's establishment are doing their damnedest to make it so Labour can't be a possible option. People can hate a lot of stuff about a party. But they seem to be able to accept a things they hate as long the party seems to be on the same page and importantly at least appear to believe in their leader and programme.

Labour needs to outrun the conservatives instead of the proverbial bear. But I fear Corbyn has already been mortally wounded by the 172 and it won't ever be forgotten by the public even if he changed his policy proposals to ones that were tested to be perfectly in sync with a majority of the voters.

Billy H


Interesting piece here about the decline in Union membership and how it may continue to fall.

Not much solace here for Labour as their once bedrock support base ebbs away.

Dave Hansell


You cannot see the wood for the trees because you are working on a premise based on a model of simplistic linear progression when what we are dealing with here is a cyclical dynamic.

Just because a current trend exists does not mean that it is going to carry on neatly towards that trajectory. It is not as though we have not been close to here before. Life and reality is about swings and roundabouts not one way slides. Even Fukayama has more or less recanted this end of history approach and recognised the cyclical and wave based nature of how things happen.

In any case as things currently stand it makes no sense whatsoever to keep plugging this meme that there are, at present, still two separate sectors - the private and the public. Notwithstanding the formal privatisation of nationalised industries much of what is considered still to be public sector employment is now done by the private sector and what little remains of what in a previous cycle was a distinct public sector, running and operating on a public sector ethos is, and has been for some time, run on private sector lines with a private sector ethos.

Thats why why, for example, you, along with the majority of those of us PAYE and small business taxpayers are paying more than your fair share of taxes because the so called public service known as HMCR is, and has for some time been run on private sector lines and has cut staff along with local and regional offices in order to meet simplistic tick in a box quantative targets to the extent that it no longer has the capacity to collect tax from large corporate entities and wealthy connected individuals avoiding and evading their patriotic responsibilities.

The public service ethos no longer exists in what is now no longer a public service but just another corporate entity. Particularly when its now well paid from taxpayers/public money CEO has publicly made it clear in so many words that he does not believe that taxation is legitimate.

Similarly, its why on occasions when you are driving to work you get stuck behind a now privately operated bin wagon parked in the middle of the street blocking your progress. Because some private sector management numpty has decided on the basis of private sector notions of efficiency, which seek to externalise costs elsewhere to you and me, that just because so many bins an hour can be emptied into the truck in an empty depot yard with no other vehicles parked or passing, the same number can be achieved on the streets in the real world. Consequently, there is no room or time in the productivity schedule and private sector defined targets for public service ethos notions of parking the wagon two hundred yards up the road in the nearest space so as not to inconvenience other members of the public, like you and me.

Whilst there exist numerous other examples which could be Janet and John'ed for you the point is that if you think real life is represented by a few collected statistics, which tomorrow will be yesterdays discarded chip wrappings, you are going about things the wrong way. You need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty down here in the real world if you wish to be serious about knowing the what and how of things.


@ Dave
It sounds like you have a beef with privatisation. Fair enough. It sounds like you have a beef with Public Sector driven by KPIs. Fair enough.
These are all reasonable points. But they are not my points. My point was that Trade Unions represent the Public Sector, not a Social Class - a point which is provably true and becoming more so. You were unable to refute yet called me ignorant. Hand waving about 'the real world' is not getting you very far. You might find a more appreciative audience for that line of argument at Tax Research.

Igor Belanov

If trade unions 'represent' the public sector, then why do doctors, teachers, binmen etc. go on strike?

Considering that unions have only over represented more than 50% of workers for a brief period, your argument would suggest that they have never 'represented' a 'social class', and only 100% union membership would achieve this.

Dave Hansell


Even operating within the limited reductionist approach you have adopted it is not logically possible for your statement to be an accurate reflection of the reality.

Regardless of the relative and comparative numbers involved at any one time between two artificially and theoretically designated employment sectors that, in terms of their operating ethos, can at present no longer be seriously viewed as separate, there are many working class people represented by trades unions in what are by any definition private sector operations run on private sector lines, under a private sector ethos.

This is not just the case now it has been the case for generations. To argue by implication that trades unions only represent one sector of the workforce is historically and factually ignorant. The historical record, from the onset of trades unions to the present day, does not support such a thesis. The fact that industrial automation and exporting of manufacturing under the current iteration of Globalisation has drastically reduced the numbers of working class individuals employed and represented by trades unions in the private sector along with the fact that in all practical effect what was the public sector is run on private sector lines demonstrates this.

In terms of the issue the term "public sector" is not just a designation. It is a distinct way of doing things, with its own ethos and approach which is different from the approach taken by the private sector, which I have sought to demonstrate with a few examples.

Now it might well be more useful to say that trades unions represent that ethos regardless of what sector they are operating within. That ethos is a class based ethos built on the notion of a wider set of social responsibilities and ideas such as a collective public good; compared with a narrow individualistic and atomised ethos which drives the private sector.

Relying on subjective official classifications of sectors and quantitative models built on numbers alone tells one nothing qualitative about what trades unions are about, how they operate and what they represent and makes you come across as a dhlang [copyright Terry Pratchett: Courtesy "Thief of Time ISBN 0-552-14840-7].

I stand by my original observation about the specific comment made.


@Igor. I concede. Trade Union membership is indeed below 100%, therefore the TUs maybe do not represent their interests.


@Dave I think you are being a bit simplistic in your approach and thinking to this subject. The nature of boundaries, and specifically quasi-Public Sector work goes beyond mere ethos. You fail to acknowledge that, and I ask myself why you choose to ignore that.


Given McCluskey's disproportionate influence on this mess having backed Ed Miliband ( rejected for being Leftish) and Corbyn ( lowest negative leader ratings in history) we should be shot of these 'unrepresentative' hard left Union leaders. YouGov found recently circa 2/3rds or more of union members including McCluskey's Unite members would not vote Corbyn Labour party in any general election.

Times change , we are all less tribal, and with Brexit 16 million people have no Centre, Progressive, Pro-European Party of any note. Janan Ganesh referring to Corbyn Labour is correct when its broke lets replace it. Moderates have been too sentimental for too long and its now finished them off as the opposition party will be rn by this Corbyn Cult for many more years.


".... Ed Miliband (rejected for being Leftish) ... "

Evidence please.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad