By David Warren
Many moons ago during my brief youthful flirtation with Trotskyism, the nature of what was then the Soviet Union was debated endlessly. The orthodox line was that the USSR was a degenerated workers state whose ruling elite closely resembled a trade union bureaucracy here in the West. With their privileged lifestyle the leadership of the CPSU were a kind of red bourgeoisie. Although they have of course been consigned to history but their mirror image still flourishes here in Britain.
The fact that some trade union leaders enjoy salaries and benefits that their members can only dream of in a time of real hardship is a national scandal. Public sector workers where union density is highest have suffered years of wage restraint, on top of what is often already very low pay. The same cannot be said for their General Secretaries whose annual salaries and other benefits usually add up to six figure sums.
As they gathered together at the annual Labour conference union leaders and their allies in the party talked loftily about the prohibitive cost of housing whilst enjoying preferential loans to purchase property paid for from their hard working members subscriptions.
In the case of Unite, outgoing joint General Secretary Derek Simpson did even better after being given a grace and favour house as a gift following his retirement as part of the terms of the merger which created the super union.
His co General Secretary Tony Woodley had to settle for re-employment as Head of the Organising Department; no doubt on a very attractive salary.
In the communications union CWU leaders agreed to close their members final salary pension scheme in Royal Mail, substantially worsening benefits. However, the unions then boss Billy Hayes retained his non contributory final salary pension, and claimed an extra £30,000 on top of his £90,000 a year salary for unused holiday!
I could go on but suffice it to say the fat cats are not just in the boardroom.
The government talks about taking action to tackle excesses in big business but action is also needed on the other side of the divide.
Supporters of individual freedom should always defend the right of unions to exist and workers to organise within them but the behaviour of the top union bosses should be challenged in exactly the same way as any employer.
If executive pay is to be put to a vote of shareholders as some in the government are suggesting why not do the same for union general secretaries by making their pay packages subject to endorsement in an individual vote of their membership.
Better still launch a full scale inquiry into the financial dealings of Britain’s unions.
David is a former trade union officer and a Libertarian
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty