The vilification of trade unions by the right-wing mainstream media shouldn’t stop us from realising their real value, and students should really be supporting them
With the decision of The University and College Union (UCU) to boycott the marking of university work, the groans of students began again. Questions of why we should do the work if it’s going to take an age to come back or why we should revise for exams that they can’t be bothered to mark are edgy, but totally miss the point.
The importance of unions is irreplaceable in terms of providing employees of any institution their right to a voice. Nobody, especially not university professors and academics, gets into their profession with the intention of grinding that industry to a halt once or twice a year.
It is true that university staff are probably more politicised than most industries. It is true that they use their rights more often than some other industries. However it is also true that, as the next generation to join the workplace, we should show solidarity with those who make use of their employment rights.
One the major issues undermining the effectiveness of trade union activity and membership is the various myths that surround them. Cultivated through media fabrication and hearsay, the general perception of trade unionism is so far removed from genuine activity that it defies belief.
Ill-informed major publications (The Sun, The Daily Mail, we’re all looking at you… again!) are perpetuating factually inaccurate ideology about trade union activity that is stifling their genuine activity.
While the activity of unions always hits the front pages, the perception that they can strike at will is simply a complete fallacy. So too is the ridiculous suggestion by The Daily Mail that unions pay their members to strike.
The United Kingdom has one of the most strictly regulated union mechanisms in the world with regulations far more stringently enforced than those of other EU nations. The vilification of unions through highly publicised action has begun to swing public opinion towards a right-wing, anti-union attitude.
This shift in public opinion also stems from the misappropriated conception that unions serve to destroy the economy and undermine any opportunity for recovery.
Bob Crowe, former British trade union leader and General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, was depicted as a having a lack of responsibility to society. Before his death in 2014, he was described as demented by Boris Johnson.
Despite this, research has demonstrated that strong union activity promotes greater productivity, whilst their struggle for fair pay results in greater workplace community and values that value workers.
The notion that unions redirect government funding away from more pressing issues and into their budget is also a fallacy. The Daily Mail, the country’s one-stop-shop for accurate statistics, reported that £133 million per year is paid out by the government to unions as an issue of national importance.
In reality, it is provided to subsidise facility time, in which union representatives can perform their union duties without having pay docked; this saves between £476 million and £1.1 billion on average per year. Facility time has resulted in fewer workplace tribunals, accidents, wrongful dismissals and higher productivity. David Cameron’s assertion to put a stop to it then seems a little rash at best.
The mentality that trade unions exist solely to strike also serves to negate the importance of their other activity. The Trade Unions Congress runs Union Learn. 52000 representatives across the United Kingdom are responsible for providing education to those already in work. Likewise they provide domestic workers with English and IT education in order to aid their social mobility. Social injustice support also occupies much of the Trade Unions Congress’s time, providing support to those oppressed in both the UK and across the globe.
The importance of trade unions is unfathomable. The suggestion that they do nothing for the nation’s workforce is simply untrue. Paid holiday, eight hour days, paid sick leave, ending child labour, improved health and safety, the fight against workplace discrimination and the continued push for equal pay, all fall under the remit of the unions.
With the 2011 Truth and Veracity test showing that union leaders are more trusted by the general population than bankers, business leaders, politicians, and journalists, the societal importance of unions is clearly substantiated.
While the cold winds of the workplace may seem a thousand miles away to second or first year students, the blanket of university is going to be whipped away at some point. And when it is, you’ll be cast into the same cruel world of work as your lecturers who, as we speak, are fighting to protect their pensions from meddling hands.
So don’t roll your eyes at their activity, show some solidarity and support: fight the good fight. With trade union membership at a ninety year low, if we, the next generation, can’t support them, then no one is going to.
The corporatist and capitalist world is one of productivity and profit regardless of consequence. Trade unions provide a necessary role in supporting the rights of the people who otherwise would get trapped in the confines of this morally corrupt mechanism.