When the TUC gets training it makes a bundle - and the bureaucrats it teaches probably aren't doing us many favours.
While surfing around the week's upcoming events listings I came across one which is fairly typical of trade union umbrella the TUC, to train negotiators ahead of pay rounds which are likely to be marked by austerity cuts.
The idea of training days like The Pay Challenge in 2011 is, ostensibly, to give people a solid overview of the state of play nationwide and an idea of the tactics that could be used when talking to management in negotiations to push up claims.
So far, so average. But what caught my eye was the prices. To get such information is £125 plus VAT if you're a registered TUC affiliate or an eye-watering £215 plus VAT for anyone else. Exclusive much?
I'm pretty skeptical of the actual value of these things in any case - in the end all negotiation comes down to leverage and either you've got it or you ain't, the best training under these circumstances boils down to giving newbie shop stewards the confidence to tell their manager where to get off when they have the backing of their colleagues. Being able to mouth off convincingly about the economic implications of cuts and their relation to prices, inflation etc etc is really rather extraneous when managers can simply say "good point, but I'm just the monkey and the organ grinders, they're saying no."
Nevertheless I'd have thought that given training is supposed to be one of the TUC's few specific, ongoing responsibilities the price of something like this would be incorporated in the millions upon millions of pounds we already pay through our collective union membership dues.
But I suspect this is not what these little soirees are actually meant for. This is the sort of high-up circus which paves the way for union bureaucrats to waltz into offices up and down the country sounding like they're the only ones competent to do business with our bosses.
Having been on the end of that myself as a newbie shop steward, It does sound pretty impressive when the boss's arguments get shot down by a confident professional from the union (less so when it becomes clear that such arguments have made very little impact and in the end amount to a complicated form of begging).
But such professionalising of negotiation - and at those prices it's got to be if you're ever going to recoup your outlay unless you can directly pick up £200-odd extra in wages for the year off the back of it - in the end amounts to another means of deadening grassroots initiative. It helps give bureaucrats the assumed authority to tell lay reps to pipe down when they complain about sell-outs on the grounds that "I've been at this for years, I'm a trained negotiator who's dedicated my life to the movement, who the fuck are you?"