16 Sep 2009

A rebellious mood in Liverpool

A harp has just been wheeled past me in the foyer of a hotel in Liverpool. I have never seen a fully encased harp before.

I really did not expect to see that form of aural delectation of our union bosses at their landmark dinner tonight with cabinet ministers.

I note a rebellious mood here, against the government, against Gordon Brown, and against their own leadership.

The Vestas protesters here, who occupied their wind turbine factory, are being lauded among the union rank-and-file as the modern day equivalent of the Tolpuddle martyrs.

Gordon Brown tried to shake some of their hands on the way out of his speech today. They refused, telling Mr Brown, “You don’t even know where the Isle of Wight is”.

And it’s not just the politicians failing to connect with workers who are losing their jobs. The Vestas protesters who I spoke to feel abandoned by the leadership of Britain’s biggest union, Unite.

Some confronted Unite’s co-leader Derek Simpson, who in turn told them to ask the other leader Tony Woodley why it was that the RMT had to step in to represent the Vestas workers.

Bob Crowe’s union, the unaffiliated hardline RMT is actually bucking the national trend of declining unionisation and adding members. So is the PCS.

The direction of travel, the incentive structure for any prospective union leader, is to go hardline in protecting member’s interests.

Mr Crowe headed straight down to the Isle of Wight to support the Vestas occupations, and that has not gone unnoticed in the union movement.

It augurs considerable strife in the years ahead, even if the mainstream unions bite their tongue ahead of an election.