What did the Unions ever do for us?

This is a question I’ve seen asked a few times over the past few weeks as rail, mail and NHS strikes have started to bite.  The response from those supporting/defending union action has been to argue that Unions and Strike action have played a significant role in labour reforms in the UK including better pay/conditions, equal rights in the workplace, paid holidays, pension provision etc. 

Admittedly, I lean to the sceptical side of things. It’s not that I disagree that Trade Unions have played a significant role in the past. Those reports are accurate, though I suspect too that they underplay other historical factors.  In the end, for example, I’m inclined to suggest that the market forces of the commercial holiday industry meant that paid holidays were inevitable.  We also cannot underestimate the impact of specific party-political philosophy, so that more was achieved by the Labour movement getting representation in parliament than through direct action.  Then,, whether you are pro EU or anti, we must recognise the part that membership made in bringing in significant reforms.

I also want to make it clear here, that my own concerns about current union action and strikes don’t involve blame for those individual workers involved. It is sad when workers feel that they have no other option but to strike.  I do think that a lot of workers are going to need better pay deals than are on the table right now.  It’s easy to see the headline figures of “average pay” in a sector and forget that “average” means that some are earning a lot more and many a lot less than the headline figure.  Pay in a number of sectors has not kept pace with inflation meaning that many have experienced real terms pay cuts.

I also should acknowledge that I do feel emotive, personally when it comes to strikes.  We’ve been concerned about older, frailer family members and we’ve experienced recent bereavement.  So, we’ve experienced first hand the disruption and added anxiety that the strikes have caused at a difficult time.  This of course shouldn’t shape my views on the issue but it can’t help but affect them and this is the point, when affected personally, I need a little bit more than reference to historical achievements.

That’s my point here.  Pointing to historical achievements does not justify actions today.  It’s a fallacious argument.  The sole question that matters is whether or not unions and strikes help or hinder now.  My view is that they hinder, others will disagree. But the basis of our debate has to be “what is happening now?” not “what happened then?”

And whilst I’m sure you’re interested in labour relation debates, you have probably guessed that my real interest on this this blog lies somewhere else.  We need to be very careful about drifting into the same kind of argument as Christians. I’ve often heard people argue for Evangelicalism and/or the influence of the church in public life based on historic achievements. Yes, leading evangelicals played a huge role in the abolition of slavery, reform of factory laws, ending child labour, schools, hospitals etc.  Yet none of those things are the basis for an argument as to why someone should be a Christian today or the church should have influence.

Now, obviously, I do believe that both of those things should be the case.  They are in fact rooted in a historical event that goes further back that 18th/19th Century reforms.  It’s because of the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection that the Gospel has relevance now.  This though isn’t a legacy matter.  The Gospel still has the power to change lives and remains the only basis of true hope.  Christianity isn’t dependent on the historical achievements of the Church. It is dependent on the historical achievement of our Lord.

%d bloggers like this: