In previous years the TUC conference agenda would be full of
resolutions demanding the return of a Labour government. Now they've got
one, the agenda is full of resolutions demanding they stop implementing
Tory policies. Whatever, they won't do anything to damage the chances of
Labour being elected for a third term.
One thing the Brothers and Sisters have not been discussing in Brighton
is the Tory leadership election. The union leaders have written off the
chances of the Tories returning to power in the foreseeable future
because they know from their own bitter experience that a divided party
that abandons the centre ground will not win.
They have also learned the value of good PR. There are now more union
press officers than there are industrial reporters. It was not that long
ago that the unions, like 'Old' Labour, saw all the newspapers other
than The Morning Star as the 'capitalist media' and refused to speak to
The unions' own newspapers and magazines were unreadable and even the
NUJ was incapable of producing a decent rag. All that has changed. Not
only do the unions produce readable material, they have also learned
that their magazines can be used for communicating directly with
members, so they send them to their homes.
The unions have also been quick to recognise the value of the internet
and they nearly all have their own websites.
What has changed most among the unions, however, is their attitude
towards providing services to their members. In the 1960s and 1970s it
seemed that the most important union asset was the size of the strike
fund. Today it is the size of their pension department. The unions can
provide anything from cheap holidays to insurance against loss of
In the past year alone, unions have introduced 48 new or revamped
benefits, and one of the biggest growth areas has been the introduction
of helplines. This is ironic because one of the places the unions have
been recruiting is call centres. In fact, if everyone working in a call
centre joined a union for call centre workers it would be one of the
biggest in the TUC.
The TUC itself has seen a remarkable change since John Monks became
general secretary eight years ago. The affiliated unions would often
spend more time arguing among themselves about a few 'poached' members
than they would about arguing with the employers. One of the biggest
unions was even expelled for organising workers in a company deemed to
be the province of another union. Monks has not only managed to welcome
the electricians back into the fold. He has persuaded the Professional
Footballers Association to rejoin, so when Michael Owen scored his
hat-trick against the Germans, Monks was able to boast that he was one
of his members. As a Manchester United fan, Monks is delighted that
David Beckham belongs to the TUC, too.