Having grown up in the eighties the impact of unions and their significance has only reduced as I have grown older and today that has been reinforced as we see situations like the Grangemouth petrochemical plant closing due to a dispute with their staff’s union, Unite.
Had the plant been in government hands then the outcome of the dispute would have been very different, as politicians would have been involved and concerned about any public outcry, so I am sure would have capitulated to their terms. However with a multinational such as Ineos an outcome other than closure was far from realistic. With shareholders stomaching £10m of losses per day something had to be done and while the requirements they put forward to staff were tough, it is surely better to have some jobs than none at all.
And this got me thinking as to where these unions sit in the global picture and just how relevant they are today. They certainly haven’t helped Labour and Ed Miliband is certainly trying, unsuccessfully, to distance his party from their main contributors to party coffers.
Interesting that the will of Royal Mail staff to strike was somewhat upset by a large amount of shares as part of the public offering. While I don’t doubt there will be a last hurrah by their union I think they realise in the world of public companies, their influence and control is dramatically reduced. And as Royal Mail modernises and competition widens the opportunities for staff to move roles becomes more common place, again reducing the need for a union in the first place.
We live, even though we might not always like it, in a global economy where multinationals can own vast swathes of UK enterprise. I believe in this reality unions are going to struggle to continue to exist. If they can be replaced by good market regulation and competition then hopefully staff shouldn’t suffer. It is ironic that thanks to their union, the staff of Grangemouth are now without jobs, and Scotland’s chance of independence that much further away.