Since the decriminalization of trade unions in 1867, unions have operated with varying degrees of legal protection running right through to the present day (they even enjoy protection under article 11 of the ECHR). It is estimated that there are currently 6,449,000 union members in the UK (roughly 10% of the whole population) and most are eligible to vote in the general election on May 7th.
Unions have traditionally been Labour strongholds. In September 2013, voting intentions of union members (according to Yougov) placed Labour with between 45 and 54% support. UKIP had between 10 and 12%.
Why are the majority of union members Labour supporters? Does belonging to a union and voting Labour actually make sense? I think it doesn’t.
Due to our association with the EU, there are two main factors that actually hurt the power and efficacy of the unions.
The first is uncontrolled, open-door immigration.
If you can replace staff at the minimum wage, there is no need to keep raising wages. Masses of workers from low wage nations are more than happy to receive the UK’s minimum wage; compared with many of the EU member countries, it is quite a sum. The minimum wage becomes the de facto maximum wage. Trade Unions have less power to ask for sensible raises from employers when the entire workforce could be easily replaced. They also have less leverage to request better contract conditions. It is no coincidence that zero hour contracts have increased in recent years.
The second is EU regulation.
From the Chartist movement to the Trade Union Freedom Bill, workers (often organised in unions) have influenced government policy and UK law. It is suggested that at present 75% of UK laws either come directly from the EU or are effected by EU regulation; with ever closer political union this figure is likely to increase. The less influence MPs have on laws of the land, the less unions will be able to wield influence themselves. There is no point petitioning the House of Commons if they are unable to put into place legislation; thus making unions redundant.
Labour are not offering a referendum on our EU membership. The Conservatives are offering nothing but a façade. If you associate the Labour party with workers rights and strength for the unions, I’m sorry to say that they have long since abandoned you. Their continued support for the European Union betrays the very unions that helped create them. If you believe trade unions are necessary for a fairly treated and fairly paid workforce, the answer is for Britain to once again be a sovereign nation, control immigration and make our own laws.