Training and the union bureaucrats

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?"

Posted By

Rob Ray
Feb 10 2011 13:12


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Feb 10 2011 19:11

While I'm no fan of the TUC, I don't really think this criticism is fair. The costs of these trainings are always met by reps local union branches, reps don't have to pay themselves to attend.

Joseph Kay
Feb 10 2011 19:18

i don't think the crux of it is the price, but the "professionalising of negotiation", i.e. this being an example of taking grievances up the chain through the proper channels rather than taking things into your own hands. at least that's what i get from the last paragraph.

Rob Ray
Feb 10 2011 20:03

I was rushing it a bit so didn't get enough time to clean it up but yeah that was what I was driving at. The price thing is exclusive of anyone who isn't part of a very specific training track and backed by a fairly wealthy branch - and as I say, we collectively already paid once!

Joseph Kay
Feb 10 2011 21:36
Tom Brown, 1943 wrote:
Centralization takes control too far away from the place of struggle to be effective on the workers’ side in that fight. Most disputes arise in the factory, bus garage or mine. According to trade union procedure the dispute must be reported to the district office of the union, (and in some cases to an area office) then to head office, then back again, then the complicated “machinery for avoiding disputes” devised by trade union ‘leaders’ and the employers’ lawyers is set in its ball passing motion, until everyone forgets the original cause of all this passing up and down. The worker is not allowed any direct approach to, or control of the problem. We are reminded of the memoirs of a certain court photographer who was making a picture of the old Emperor of Austria to turn his head a little to the left. Of course he could not speak to an emperor, so he put his request to a captain of the court guard, who spoke to his colonel, who spoke to a count, the count passed the request to a duke and he had a word with an archduke who begged his Imperial Majesty to turn his head a little to the left. The old chap turned his head and said “Is that sufficient?” and the message trickled back to the photographer via archduke, duke, count, colonel and captain. The humble thanks traveled back by the same road. The steps of trade union communication are just so fixed.