Democracy Defined – Goose or Gander?

There is a great deal of controversy once again about the rights and wrongs of workers rights of withdrawal of their labour, particularly in essential services such as transport et al. This has been prompted by the bellicose mutterings of both Bob Crowe and various high profile politicians such as Boris Johnson the Mayor of London and even the Prime Minister David Cameron. Posturing in terms of re-election? Possibly, but most definitely the politics and rhetoric of confrontation which has plagued British society for decades and was heightened under the patronage of Thatcher with disastrous results, the likes of which we are still living with in many areas of the country. Both politicians and the Trade Union hierarchy are to blame.

If we go right back to the beginnings of Trade Unionism, the basic tenet has always been that the only action by trade union members which can result in a clear indication of dissatisfaction at working terms and conditions is the right of individuals to withdraw their labour. This right is inalienable.

How the right is exercised should be democratically open to scrutiny by all.

The old intimidatory  “show of hands” is not acceptable in a democratic organisation and it is quite right that the process should be both private and anonymised, so that individuals can exercise their right according to their individual conscience. This is a fundamental of any democratic society.

However, the “first past the post” principle is probably the current and most effective administrative means of ensuring the democratic right of all is heard. Our whole democratic system rests on this principle and it seems to be the best we have without making voting mandatory and pursuing the law for those who choose not to vote.

The average turnout at all general elections has fallen from a high of over 84% after the Second World War to less than 66% at the last election.

Only 2/3rds of people who have the vote use it.

This current government was elected on 36% of the national vote.

Politicians who are perfectly happy to form a government on that basis can therefore hardly decry a Trade Union membership who elects to go on strike using the same voting principle. All members are eligible to vote and if they choose not to then that is “Democracy” in action.

It is irrelevant what industry or Public Service or the effect on the “essential service”. What is important is the respect for the democratic process.

Politicians tinker with this at their peril and unless we can find a better way to decide on governments, or actions of organisations, leave well alone is my advice.

Of course that does not answer the extremely important question of what is the role of the Trade Unions and Government in the country’s economy and the smooth running of it?

Is it enough for the free market to dominate or should people who create the wealth for others have a say in their role in it?

I believe both can co-exist in a free and democratic society.

The role of a Trade Union is to secure the working terms and conditions of all it’s members and the role of government is to ensure that business has an environment in which to flourish and create prosperity for all whilst also safeguarding all citizens not just those who voted to put them into power. The business of government and the Trade Unions is therefore congruent as if either destroys one or the other, neither can flourish.


It is therefore the duty of both government and trade unions to tackle poverty

and injustice where it exists.


Zero hours contracts are one of the biggest blights on society at the moment and neither trades unions nor government seem to recognise the injustices for employed people created by this form of employment.

To list just a few: –

  • Employment hours only at the subjective choice of those employing others
  • No employer sick pay
  • No employer pension rights
  • Lack of access to company or state grievance procedures


The knock on effect is then: –

  • No access to mortgages or loans due to a lack of demonstrable income
  • No access to low rent accommodation as none is now provided by Local Authorities
  • Use of loansharking with exorbitant interest rates
  • A minimum wage not a living wage


In short the pay gap widens, the poor become poorer and we stand by whilst our society becomes more unequal as those in poverty both in and out of work are demonised as scroungers and lazy with little or no aspiration to change.

The job of government and trades unions is to tackle this not to pursue their own political agendas.

Leave a Reply