2014 09 – the TUC and Industrial Democracy

INTERVIEW WITH FRANCES OGRADY, TUC GENERAL SECRETARY

CONDUCTED BY MARK LANGHAMMER AND CHRIS WINCH, 26TH AUGUST 2014.

The conversation starts with ML inviting FO’G to talk about the publications that the TUC has recently produced about industrial democracy.

FO’G

Very often when you have a conversation about workers’ voice, somehow you always end up going back to Bullock or In Place of Strife. Today, we are actually in a very different environment, not just in terms of union membership, union density, industrial relations and so on, but we are also trying to crack a different problem. Now we know the shareholder supremacy model is completely bust. The counter-argument to Bullock – that shareholders own the company and they are therefore the best stewards of its long-term interests – has been left completely exposed by the massive shift in the profile of share ownership, the length of tenure of any one share, and most vividly of all by the 2008 crash.

So I think that part of our job is to pose a different question to that which Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and others posed previously. First and foremost, if the old model is bust and if we agree that it’s bust, then what should take its place? Of course, one of the reasons that it’s bust in the first place is the complete denial and waste of worker talent, intelligence and contribution to a firm. But there is also a bigger challenge about the kind of economy that we live in; not just whether it’s just and fair, but whether we are going to repeat the mistakes that led up to the 2008 crash. The root cause of the crash was the growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few free-floating, promiscuous, global masters of the universe. That’s important because I, and an increasing number of economists, buy the thesis that the worse inequality gets, the greater the chance that we’ll get another crash, only next time it will be bigger and quicker.

ML

The whole thing as you say, with In Place of Strife and even Heath and Bullock and attempts further back in 1946-47 with Bevin asking the TUC to take a role in running national insurance, is what ‘traction’ is there in the movement, and in society today, and are we as a movement incorrigibly adversarial or is there some sense of fight about let’s help run this thing or shape this thing… ?

FO’G

Yes, I think that there are clearly key constituencies that we have to influence and bring on board. First and foremost, the trade union movement. This is ultimately about tackling inequality and the flaws of the old economic model. We are still not clear whether it’s going to be more of the same or whether we are going to build a very different model. My discussions with union leaders have sparked an interest, which if it was merely positioned as being about social partnership European style, it would not. So it’s a very new dimension to the debate. Some people on the left see these sorts of proposals as being a threat to trade unionism and collective bargaining and others on the right see it as fanciful and assume that we ought to stick to bread and butter stuff and do what we do best. Then there were people like Jack Jones, who was a genuinely intelligent and far-sighted thinker and created a different sort of tradition for the left, one which James Larkin junior would have described as ‘intelligent trade unionism’. Looking ahead, the task is to think bigger and come up with some quite ambitious thinking, not just about how our day to day work as trade unionists could be transformed, but what contribution we could make to transforming the country.

CW

That makes a great deal of sense to us in terms of our own understanding of Jack Jones’ importance.

FO’G

I’m a big admirer of Jack and he was a very creative thinker. Telling the story in terms of his vision can appeal to people, some of whom otherwise would have been instinctively suspicious. The left has had to reflect on its own history and realise that there is more to this (proposals for corporate governance reform), it’s not a threat to traditional collective bargaining. Or more to the point, some feared a euro-style social partnership would lead to co option, that muzzled trade unionism. We realised that there was another strand of our history to draw on. Unions 21, the union think tank, is also interested and doing important work on these sorts of issues.

We’ve issued a series of pamphlets. We are also writing blogs and using social media to generate interest and I’ve seen that others like Labour Research are starting to critique our work so that’s generating a broader debate amongst activists. A lot of the public debate has focused on our proposals for workers on boards, something the person in the street can understand and the polls show has strong public support. There is a link between this and the High Pay Commission’s proposals for workers representation on the committees that set top pay. Of course the TUC doesn’t believe that having workers on these remuneration committees would in itself transform the world, but because it opens up decision making to a degree of accountability and democracy.

Why shouldn’t a boss have to look their own workforce in the eye and explain why they’re getting a big pay rise and why that’s more than most workers are getting? As we know, the pay gap is growing massively. So arguing for worker representation on top pay committees is a way in to generate some excitement, a sense of justifiable outrage, about who takes decisions in whose interests, and why it is that workers are currently locked out of those decisions. There is a lot of discussion about the need for more diversity in boardrooms – and I’m a supporter, for sure, of more women in the boardroom. But if we are talking about women, why on earth aren’t we also talking about better representation of the people whose lives depend on decisions taken in the boardroom, workers? If we are talking about diversity let’s talk about it in its fullest sense. In Britain I think that there is an almost inherited kind of nervousness about this agenda. I think the public is way ahead of the political class on this.

ML

Does it help that quite a lot of our industry is foreign owned, for example Nissan…?

FO’G

I wonder whether that’s going to come through and, if so, it will be interesting to see how that debate develops. There’s so much obsession with free movement of people and hardly any attention given to free movement of capital. But I wonder whether that will begin to come through more sharply as people wonder why the majority of shares in British based firms are now owned overseas.

ML

But even in terms of the practice, there are, for example, British workers on the boards of German companies in the UK…

F O’G

Exactly! There is a myth that British culture is not compatible with the approach to worker representation taken in the most of the rest of Europe, as if French and German unions somehow have a less confrontational approach. Well, since coming into this job I’ve developed close links with French and German trade unionists, and I can tell you that they are just as independent and just as determined to get a fair deal, as British trade unionists. But they can combine this with rights to works councils and Board representation.

ML

The TUC publication, ‘German Lessons’ set out a useful direction of travel?

FO’G

European unions are no pushovers, you know the idea that codetermination has somehow softened the German trade union movement– come on. The majority of European countries now have some form of worker representation at board level, and what’s good enough for French or German workers is good enough here. We are not victims of our past. We can consciously choose to construct a culture that creates more fairness and gives people a voice. If you look at the number of days lost through strike action in Britain nowadays, they’re way down. In some cases, that’s good news because disputes have been resolved fairly. But in other cases, people are not even in a position to assert their rights.

CW

I was surprised to see what an outlier we were in that respect.

F O’G

That old idea that there is a link between not having workers on boards and having high levels of strike activity was broken long ago.

ML

In your contact with the Labour Party, does any or much of this resonate?

FO’G

The Attlee lecture I delivered last year got a very positive response from senior people in the Labour Party. We have a very clear set of campaign priorities. Beneath that we have a very worked up set of policies about how to support progress under each of those priorities, which are set out in TUC documents, responses to consultations, and so on. The TUC’s policy on governance reform, and I would stress this, is about a lot more than just having workers on boards. Our call for workers on boards is high profile policy, an ambitious policy. But it’s also only one element of what we want to see. We also want better information and consultation rights, stronger rights at work and better coverage of collective bargaining.

But I would say that there are members of the shadow front bench who are engaged. Of course, when the High Pay Commission report came out, Labour made a public commitment that when they got into office, they would put workers on remuneration committees. Now they have to answer the question, ‘How?’ We’ve made some detailed policy proposals on how that commitment could be delivered. And that immediately takes you to the core, fundamental changes needed to introduce democracy and democratic structures in the workplace.

ML

Company Law? A company is a legal and political construct. You can change it.

FO’G

Exactly. I’m not sure that everybody thought through, having made that commitment, how it would be delivered, because I pointed out that unless you do have some form of independent election with workers participating, the only worker representation that you’ll get on a Remuneration Committee is actually a management rep., because they’ll be hand-picked. You have to have some degree of democracy at work to deliver it. The policy answers are closely aligned with improving information and consultation rights, the development of works councils, and representation of workers, eventually up to and including board level. So it makes sense to address that wider package as a whole. So that’s the dialogue that’s happening now.

ML

And how are you getting on with that?

FO’G

The cause of more democracy at work is one that unions have been pressing for a very long time. Some might say we have high hopes, but realistic expectations, and it’s worth putting out there. I think that we’ve made some progress putting it on the agenda.

CW

Whereas it wasn’t on the agenda at all, and now it is.

FO’G

Exactly. We need to inoculate politicians against the idea that we need to get the CBI signed up to everything before we can make progress. As with the campaign for a national minimum wage, another key progressive demand, of course there will be outright opposition to change from some quarters of business. So get used to it, plan for it and have the courage of your convictions, because it’s the right thing to do. Of course, part of my job is to encourage more sympathetic employers to speak in favour of corporate governance reform, and separate them from the anti-democrats, as I would see it. Informally, I’ve spoken to lots of employers, including those leading multinational companies who are required to provide for workers’ voice in the other countries they operate in and do so without a problem. And through the crash, unions came to very sensible agreements with employers to protect jobs and keep plants open – exactly the sorts of agreements that the Germans and others made.

There are firms such as First Group who do have workers on boards, but they are pretty rare. In fact our current TUC President, Mohammad Taj, a bus worker, was a regional worker director for First Group. Some companies are willing to explore how we might boost workers’ strategic voice on a voluntary basis and if that can ‘normalise’ the conversation, that’s all to the good. Traditionally, if we can create voluntary agreements, even if we don’t get the whole shebang, that’s a positive start. If we can begin to break down that kind of oligarchy at work, and introduce the idea that worker’s voice at a strategic level is the sensible thing to do, that’s welcome. We issued another report on information and consultation recently, and some of the senior HR managers agree with us that the weakness of the current legal framework is bizarre. They genuinely believe that the workforce is their most important asset – in which case you’d be mad not to involve them at a strategic level and hear what the workers’ concerns are and how you best address them. So the more mainstream the debate becomes the better, I think.

CW

So that’s really the phase 2 isn’t it, how does one mainstream these discussions within the trade union movement, the Labour Party and also beyond.

FO’G

Coming in when I did 18 months ago I had a very short amount of time until the next election to deliver on something in this area. I knew it was a long shot but I think that we’ve made some progress. So we have our traditional routes to stimulate debate through union magazines, trade union think tanks, and our education programme – we train over 50,000 stewards every year. We do online training too which enables us to reach people cheaply and on a mass basis.

ML

This sort of thing is quite fundamental not just for workers’ voice. It’s actually to do with the legal construction of a company, patient finance, long term thinking, all of that. Just to come back to what you are doing, because I was one of the graduates of the ‘Leading Change’ programme, it was a good programme because you had quite a long term engagement with colleagues from different places and with different experiences. Is there scope for that kind of thing to “beef up” activists’ capacity around worker voice, company construction, finance and economics, patient capital and worker economics?

FO’G

Yes …

ML

Just an aside here, one of the lectures John Monks gave, he was talking about Belgian trade unionism and how visible it was. He put this down to Belgian trade unions being involved in their national insurance and the pension scheme.

FO’G

Arguably, we made a big mistake in not taking up such opportunities when they were offered to us.

ML

He mentioned that post-war, Ernest Bevin had suggested something like the Belgian insurance scheme.

FO’G

John’s written about it. I’ve gone back to source and it’s interesting looking at the debates that people had back then….I thought we should have gone that extra mile, you should have grabbed it.

ML

But we are at a juncture – post crisis – and there’s all to play for now ….

FO’G

Yes it is and sometimes I think we’re not ambitious enough. It’s certainly worth a go and there are times when you think you haven’t got much to lose.

When you look back at the post-war period they had the comfort then of 4 or 5 trade union leaders in the Cabinet. It must have felt a much more intimate relationship and a common cause, a sense of co-determination at that level politically. Clearly again we are in a very different world now. Perhaps we are a bit hard because it is easy with the benefit of hindsight to look back and say, ‘Why didn’t you do more?’

And I think we mustn’t go too far the other way in the sense of dismissing the reasons why people fear co-option of trade unions, because those are genuine fears. We have real experience of employers using very sophisticated union avoidance and dilution techniques. We’ve seen cases, albeit a very small number of cases of corruption, for example famously at VW in Germany. Now those are the exceptions not the rule, but that doesn’t mean that we should let down our guard on some of those threats. We have to go in with our eyes open and when we’re presented with those sorts of historic opportunities, my judgement is that we should take them. But we also have to make sure that we’re fit to take full advantage of them without compromising what is our core responsibility to democracy and accountability. I do believe that very strongly. We are ultimately a democratic movement.

You’ll know the CBI objections to workers on boards. On the one hand they say that board discussions are all too complicated for workers to understand, that we’d be lost in the boardroom. And on the other hand, they argue that worker directors would threaten the entire corporate governance system. So which is it? Are we too incapable and shy to make a contribution in the boardroom or are we going to tear down capitalism if we get there? But there are very practical issues about how do we train people so that they can play an effective role. I‘ve never been keen on the idea of any of us on public bodies going in on our own. It’s hard to be in on your own, which is why we want workers’ representation, not just one. We also have to put support mechanisms in place, so worker directors are trained not just about knowledge but in the skills to operate in those environments, how you network outside of the room, how you make effective interventions. That’s exactly what we’re looking at now in very practical terms.

CW

To go back to that point you just made about one not being enough, do you have any sense of what the minimum would look like in a decent industrial democracy…?

FO’G

I think that the bottom line is at least two worker directors on a board – the TUC has produced detailed papers that set out the nuts and bolts of what we are asking for and how it would work. At a pragmatic level, we suggest starting with very large companies. You can bet your bottom dollar that the majority of these companies are multinationals that already have workers on boards in the other EU countries.

CW

And there are different thresholds in different European companies for the size.

FO’G

Yes.

CW

In terms of union leaderships and executives, national officers, how does it play with them in the medium term?

FO’G

I think that people support it. They’ve been very supportive of the work that we’ve done, not just in our exec, but it runs all the way through the regions, so they see it as commonsense. A lot of them have mixed experiences of European Works Councils, and other kinds of mechanisms so they know that it’s not the be all and end all. That’s why it’s important that we talk about it in terms of that broader package of improving workers’ voice and rights.

The landscape has been changed dramatically by the fact that 80% of workers in the private sector aren’t members of a union, so the balance of risk has changed. I’ve had these very straight conversations with people saying, ‘look at the figures’. The real threat is that membership and collective bargaining coverage goes off the cliff American-style. What you saw in the States is that it goes down, down, down because you’ve got no power to help anyone anymore. We end up with little union fortresses that can help members inside a particular enterprise but can’t help anybody else beyond it. They get good pay and conditions for themselves but it stops at the company door, and increasingly they become emasculated anyway, because workers know they can always be replaced by a non-union workforce. Let’s ask about our performance as a movement over the last ten years

real wages down because membership is down. As an organiser I’m interested in the corporate governance reform agenda because I think it’s our best shot at creating embryonic democratic structures within non-union Britain. All of us have a legitimate interest in having a democratic country and a healthy and thriving trade union movement is a key pillar of that.

What we can be really proud of is, despite all the battering that unions have taken, both in terms of industrial restructuring and in terms of the law, we have maintained membership around the six million mark. Although the latest figures show that because of the cull of jobs in the public sector we’re down, private sector membership is up. Which is pretty amazing really. I think that a lot of our organisers and stewards should take credit for that. But what’s happened to trade unions and collective values is much bigger than what’s happened in any one country. This is about a set of ideas and a model of capitalism that has systematically reduced the power and dignity of working people. And, if we’re going to push back on that, it will take more than what we’re doing now. I could have a thousand more organisers and I still wouldn’t be able to rebuild union membership sufficiently to reverse growing inequality. In my view we need an alliance between a sympathetic government, trade unions and civic society if we’re going to push back on these extreme levels of inequality, wealth and power. The corporate governance reform agenda is just one part of that strategy, it is an important element in reforming the way in which our companies actually work, giving us the opportunity for every worker to have the right to a voice, but for us to have the opportunity to galvanise that voice into independent, democratic, trade unions. So again, it’s a big challenge to be ready to take advantage of that.

CW

So would it be a breakthrough if one of the big unions really owned this issue?

FO’G

Yes. I think that there are senior individuals within UNITE for example who get it, who see that bigger picture. And it’s very important, because this is the largest private sector trade union.

ML

When I recently read a UNITE document from Northern Ireland ( I find that Irish trade unionism has a different orientation) but they were getting into the mechanics of company law and all the rest of what a good employer should look like, and how we should encourage that through carrot and stick. I was going to ask about two big associated issues. One of them is the rebalancing of the economy. The other is the relationship between wages and profits. Less of GDP goes on wages than ever before for the last 30 years, more goes on profits. How do we get Britain a pay rise? But on the other one, rebalancing the economy, how do we do that? Different company law, different interventions, industrial strategy, how are you tackling those issues at the moment?

FO’G

It’s part of our shared analysis of tackling the root causes of that inequality. How do you do that? We know that trade unions and collective bargaining is one part of the answer, with one international report suggesting that the decline of trade unions accounts for about one fifth of the growing inequality gap. Another is an industrial strategy to create better paid, better skilled jobs and the industries that will sustain them. Banking and finance reform is absolutely critical to encourage patient capital. Corporate governance is another vital strand because as long as top directors are allowed to behave like certain Premier League footballers, then they just take the money and run. And as long as shareholders remain the sole stewards of a company, then companies will remain hooked on pursuit of the quick buck. This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s how our system works. So we have to change the rules.

Unions have been engaging in solidarity bargaining for the last 30 years. And although we still have 5 million earning less than the living wage, it is the middle who have been hit hardest proportionately. Unions have been using our bargaining power in general to try and protect the worst paid. But it’s middle incomes that have collapsed. And if the middle collapses then we won’t be strong enough to help the working poor.

I think we’re all clear about what needs to be done, but a lot of it requires political solutions. We can’t do it all on our own. So I am encouraged by Ed Miliband. He does think seriously about these issues and though the language wouldn’t be mine – predistribution, for example – he’s absolutely right, that the state, on an ever reducing portion of the tax base, can’t go on mopping up after the sins of the system. Labour now understands that you have to intervene in the market and that was an important break with New Labour thinking. This is not to say that everything New Labour did was bad but it fundamentally accommodated free market liberalism in a way that hadn’t happened before. And it failed to understand that you need a whole range of strategies to provide some kind of protection against the worst failures of the market. For example, a degree of public ownership, a more democratic regime for companies, and a stronger tax base. Instead we got sold individual rights as an alternative to market intervention but individuals are never going to be strong enough to exercise them on their own.

ML

I’m from Belfast, so I don’t have a “dog in the race” in terms of British politics – but looking outside in, it looks like Labour is desperately tentative. He’s saying some of the right things about predatory capitalism but you get the impression that opinion polls, triangulation, matter far too much to them. We’ve had an awful crash, we need to be bold. Polls tell you that bringing the railways back into public ownership would be popular. How should that go? How do the unions influence the Labour Party? Isn’t it about time that performance related pay applied to the Labour Party? Pick a couple of big ticket issues and say ‘come on guys we’re not giving our money for nothing’?

FO’G

Obviously for the affiliated unions, the policy forum, that route…

ML

Or do you co-ordinate influence, that’s what I’m trying to get at…

FO’G

Obviously the TUC seeks to engage with all political parties, and a series of policy conversations have taken place with Labour. We’re making progress in some key areas. We’ve made real progress with our proposal that the Low Pay Commission should have powers to bring unions and employers together in industries where we have the evidence that we ought to pay more, to set a higher statutory remuneration package. We’ve looked to build cross-party support and win support from some employers on that. And it’s hard to believe but you couldn’t even mention the term ‘industrial policy’ even five, ten years ago, it was a dirty word. So I’m happy that we’ve helped put industrial policy back on the map. Tax policy is a little trickier, spending policy is a little trickier.

CW

The Tories have managed to hegemonise this issue of the social security budget, but a lot of it you could argue is socialism for the rich, for companies that don’t want to pay their workers properly, greedy landlords and so on.

FO’G

Exactly, subsidising tight fisted employers with tax credits and housing benefit.

CW

Can we get the Labour Party to be a bit bolder on that issue?

FO’G

Well, to be fair to Ed, he personally got this, he understood that point, that actually the problem here is not just low but unfair pay. Unions did a lot to make living standards a key issue that every politician now has to address, but we also had to come up with practical policies to solve the problem. So on the doorstep voters probably don’t give a fig about what we’re saying about giving the Low Pay Commission being given new powers, but in terms of delivering real improvements in people’s living standards and reducing the welfare bill, that practical policy is key. I think we’ve seen a generation of politicians across the board, who have felt powerless in the face of a globalised economy and feel afraid of companies who can threaten to ship out and punish governments who try to rein them in. That does not mean that you have to give up. On the contrary, you have to be even more determined.

CW

You’ve always been interested in Vocational Education and Training (VET) issues, and the TUC has done some great work. But the Labour Party does seem very timid on these issues and I know that the TUC has come up with some practical ideas to improve the situation. Do you think there’s any scope for getting greater interest in VET, in both the unions and Labour? My sense is, it’s a bit patchy and in the Labour Party there’s a great deal of timidity.

FO’G

Labour sometimes isn’t alone in putting the cart before the horse here. Everybody gets so excited about structures, and sectors versus localism and everything in between, that they forget to work out what the purpose of any structures should be. One of the mistakes in the past was seeing skills policies over here and industrial policies over there (indicates that they were in separate places). Our argument is that skills policies needs to be positioned at the centre of an intelligent industrial strategy. I’m not keen on people wasting huge amounts of time and money moving the deck chairs around. We worked quite hard with Vince Cable to establish structures that have union representation built into them: the National Industrial Councils and the UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills), as well as industrial skills partnerships. Of course, we’d like 50:50 representation for unions and employers and unions still have to fight on some structures even to get our foot in the door, but the principle is that they should be social partnership bodies.

And all roads end up returning to the need for corporate governance reform.

I went to see Cowley (the BMW-owned car plant). It was a fascinating example of a very sophisticated company with very mature industrial relations. The union have just negotiated not only a very decent pay rise, but to convert the agency workers onto permanent contracts. They’re also bringing back in house apprenticeship and training programmes, recognising that they need to invest long term and develop plans jointly as a company. Why has that taken so long? What do you need to incentivise companies to see training as a key part of investment policy? How do you get companies to the stage where they are upping their investment and taking a long termist, rather than a short termist view? Skills are a natural part of that but it’s not the whole story. If you’ve got a company like BMW investing heavily in robotics, they have to train people to use that technology – which is just what they are doing now with massive investment.

There is now genuine respect across the board for Unionlearn (the TUC led body involved in VET activities). It’s taken a 20% cut but that’s the same as every other government funded body, and the amazing thing is that they didn’t get rid of us. We’re still there and one of the reasons is that it’s bloody good. Unionlearn has been independently assessed as delivering high-quality training opportunities, it works and it’s got strong employer and union support – and that’s why it’s difficult to get rid of us. I think Labour is committed to giving us an even bigger job to do.

CW

I would hope so, if you think about levies in some areas or specification in government contracts, including within the supply chain, do you think that there’s any chance of getting movement there?

FO’G

Oh yes, on procurement, they’ve already publicly made commitments on apprenticeships. But what about everybody else? Apprentices are important but there is also the great bulk of the workforce who need more skills and training too.

CW

Yes, that’s interesting, I remember Peter Mandelson said, apropos of levies, something like that the employers would just fiddle it, those were his words almost, and I guess you need corporate governance to make sure that doesn’t happen.

FO’G

Exactly, and you know, we’ve had levies in construction and broadcasting. In broadcasting actually, I think it’s worked pretty well. In construction?

CW

It’s mainly managers who benefit

ML

A couple of final questions. If the Conservatives remain in power, what would be your concerns about further restrictions on trade union activity?

FO’G

Well, they’ve been very upfront about that, haven’t they? And we’ve been upfront in our responses. I genuinely worry that this is about a deeper attack on democracy and dissent and civil liberties. Although, to set a threshold on ballots that no other democratic election would have to meet, means we’re being singled out. But also it’s the picket line stuff that interests me, potentially criminalising trade unionists on picket lines where local government workers, firefighters and so on have gathered. Quite often people are gathering together in numbers higher than the 6 that would be legally allowed and it’s not a problem, the police know it’s not a problem. The people gathering on the town hall steps, outside a fire station, that’s what you would expect people to do. But of course as the seventh person visiting the picket line, I could find myself outside the law. I think what’s more worrying is there is a read across to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill and I suspect deliberately so. Criminalising certain behaviours in respect of industrial disputes, including being the seventh person on the picket line, would then allow snooping on mobile phones, and other forms of surveillance.

I think that has very profound implications for civil liberties in this country as it suggests we’re going down a very authoritarian route. I’m absolutely certain that the public don’t see trade unions as the problem. On the contrary, they see over mighty corporations as the problem. The public is worried about inequality and the very, very wealthy individuals who are distorting our democratic process, not trade unions which are made up of ordinary working men and women. So I’d be very interested in what you think their motivation is as I’m just writing my Congress speech (laughs). Some of this will be covered. It doesn’t make any sense and there are elements within the Conservative Party, like Bright Blue, who also think it’s an absolute mistake to demonise trade unions, and yet they seem intent on doing so.

CW

I think there’s still a very strong current within the Tory Party that thinks that trade unions are an obstacle to the working of the market and I don’t think that’s gone away.

FO’G

Yes, that’s what I’ve written more or less. I think there’s also class prejudice and it’s getting worse out in society, so I suppose when you look at who holds the reins in the Conservative Party, it’s not surprising.

ML

Just to finish off, when you get to the end of your term, hopefully your first term, where would you like to see the trade union movement?

FO’G

I’d like it to be bigger, stronger. Although I’ve always known about Jim Larkin senior, Jim Larkin junior is someone I’ve only really begun learning about and I like that notion of intelligent trade unionism. I don’t think that it’s all just about ideas, sadly. If it was only about the strength of our argument, we would be in a hell of a lot stronger place than we are now as a movement. Ideas alone aren’t sufficient, but I’d like us to be respected as a thinking, intelligent movement. I want Britain to become a more equal and democratic country and it’s as simple as that really. I do feel very proud of the trade union movement. There have been times when I don’t think that anyone else was fighting for ordinary working people as hard. We’re never going to go away, but we can’t take our future for granted. There’s a lot we can do for ourselves.