Insights from the UK and beyond
UK unions fear future with the “enemy”
After more than a decade of railing against a Labour government that they feel has betrayed their shared socialist roots, British trade unions are now starting to fear what a future with a Conservative government will be like.
“They’re going to come after us like rabid dogs,” said Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association said — dubbing the Conservatives “the enemy”.
Activists may be disenchanted by a Labour government that they believe has pursued a pro-business agenda and failed to roll back anti-union legislation, but that is suddenly starting to look a whole lot better than a Conservative administration.
“God help us,” said John Thompson, President of UCATT, the construction workers’ union. “We’ll have never seen anything like it if this mob do get in.”
And a fear of more restrictive regulation and big public spending cuts is not encouraging the movement to offer an olive branch to the centre-right Conservatives, who are well ahead of Labour in opinion polls with an election due by mid-2010.
At a fringe meeting at the Trades Union Congress conference, GMB union chief Paul Kenny called Conservative leader David Cameron, pictured, a “clown”.
Even the most powerful of the union bosses are not afraid to admit that a Conservative government looks likely.
“You’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see that Labour is in a great deal of trouble,” said Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Britain’s biggest union Unite.
But no matter how bleak the future looks for the unions, they are not yet resigned to a Conservative future and are rolling up their sleeves for the fight.
“We’ve always fought for everything we’ve got,” said Kenny. “A poor Labour government is a hell of a lot better than a poor Tory (Conservative) government”.