Saturday, February 19, 2005

The conservative case for joining a trade union

Well, in the mail this week there came through my UNISON membership card and entry pack. I don't know what percentage of UNISON members are right-wing, I don't even know if such figures are compiled, but I am fairly willing to bet I'm in a small minority. Or put another way, I don't know how many right-wingers are union members, but I'm fairly sure its another minority. So why did I join UNISON, an organisation whose political policies are often somewhat at odds with my own, affiliated to a party whose domestic agenda I care for very little? Well, here is my reasoning.

Although right-wing and a capitalist I do not hold capitalism in any particular awe. I view capitalism - 'the market' - as basically a fact of existence, like the seasons. All human transactions are ultimately based on this, including labour. Plumbers I suppose are the stereotypical example today of a form of labour gaining value due to scarcity, and university degrees as a form of qualification depreciating in value due to over-abundance. Viewing the market as just a fact though I do not load it with the moral connotation of 'good' (or 'bad' obviously). Like a might river it can provide fertile plains for humanity, but also holds within the potential of destruction either through flood or drought. Humans have striven to try manage such rivers the minimise the disasters inherent with their bounty, and I think it should be no different with the market.

Without any balance or competition a company will inhumanely exploit its workers. If there is competition companies offering better conditions might drive up the working standard. But competition between companies is only part of it. Throughout human history people have co-operated to achieve mutual objectives, and the sphere of labour is no exception. Left to themselves labour unions and companies should be able to achieve a balance most of the time - like no system it is not perfect.

And bluntly, rather unions than the government, for government is the only other option, and I have a strong dislike of all government. That dislike has significantly strengthened since I first considered the question of union membership - especially since government is my employer.

I don't really like some of the things UNISON campaigns for, but when it comes to considering my own job welfare the simple question is whom do I trust: the government or a semi-private union? There is no real contest for the answer. Of course, I don't really approve of the Labour party affiliation - I think such affiliations are open doors for political corruption and I think both unions and the Labour Party would be healthier without them. That was really the reason I decided against joining a union nine months or so ago. I don't think there has been any single event that has made my dislike of government overcome this, rather just a general hardening of my attitudes. But that is another post.

So anyway, small government is the right-wing argument for trade unions. Or something like that. Besides, in all honesty I must admit there is a part of me that is currently greatly delighted by this.

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