Monday, 14 April 2008

Trade unions - initials & names

My trade union (Unite) has spoken out about bullying in the workplace – of clergymen by their parishioners. I’m a bit taken aback by this. As an ex-Catholic I can’t really think of clergymen as a part of the labour movement. And I was amazed to find that I am now in the same union as them.

I joined the print industry in the days of the closed shop and of jealousy and rivalry between the unions. In my naïve enthusiasm I initially joined the wrong union - SOGAT (Society Of Graphic Allied Trades). Trying to move to the correct one for my actual area of work, the NGA (National Graphical Association) was ludicrously difficult and achieved with only slightly less hassle than re-partition after a civil war.

But even when this was done I found that we didn’t really consider ourselves part of the NGA at all. We had merged only a few years before and still thought of ourselves as SLADE (the gloriously named Society of Lithographic Artists, Engravers & Process Workers). Not to be confused with the ex-ASLP (Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printers) and definitely not with ex-NATSOPA (National Society of Operative Printers & Assistants).

All of which convinced me that craft unions were basically bollocks. Whilst everyone was arguing about differentials and giving archaic craft designations to new technologies, employers like Murdoch were busting the unions. And a new generation of people were coming in to the industry from design and IT backgrounds who the craft unions wouldn’t let in and who didn’t see the point of joining anyway.

For a too short time we had what had always made sense; a single (more or less) union for the printing / graphics industry - the GPMU (Graphic Paper & Media Union). But it was too late and financial pressures meant that we got swallowed up in a series of mergers with super-unions. Accordingly we traded initials and acronyms for vague and silly names – firstly Amicus and now Unite. Meanwhile fewer and fewer people see the relevance of being in a union – in fact the main benefits of memberships are cited as legal support, insurance and financial services.

I’m pretty sure I’d be hard pressed to find a fellow member of Unite any more who had a clue what my job was or what companies like mine do. That’s a pretty good acid test.
Industry based unions made sense but I’m not sure that super-unions do – there seem to inevitably become lobbying groups rather than workplace-based.

And I wish the clergymen would just bugger off and form their own
ARSE (Association of Religious & Spiritual Employees).

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