On our way from Devon to Portsmouth (in order to catch a Ferry to France) is the Martyrs’ Museum at Tolpuddle. For those taking British History at A-Level this year, the agricultural labourers of Tolpuddle dared to form a pretty benign sort of early Trade Union in 1834, and for their sins were allowed to go to Australia forever – there to help form the genes on which a great nation is based. It was an extraordinarily vicious punishment, and after being sentenced, leading victim George Loveless wrote on a scrap of paper the following lines:
“God is our guide! from field, from wave, From plough, from anvil, and from loom;
We come, our country’s rights to save, And speak a tyrant faction’s doom:
We raise the watch-word liberty;
We will, we will, we will be free!”
As one can see from this, politics in those days was about big issues: there was no place for prose poetry, and even less for ists, phobes, taxis and expenses.
If word had filtered back about the infinite variety of lethal snakes and insects inhabiting Australia, the Trades Union Movement would’ve been strangled at birth. As it was, the Unions were among the first of Britain’s many valued institutions to lose the plot about their reason for existence. They thought first they were there to run the economy, then the Cabinet, and then the Country.
Now they seem to see themselves as a branch of Health & Safety, because every strike they call has nothing to do with material gain, and everything to do with Customer Care. Thus, when Unite talks of full-strength cabin crews for ‘maximal safeness’ (?) and RMT pontificates on rail repair as a factor in accident reduction, this has nothing to do with job preservation.
Any old irony aside, what the Unions have discovered since 1997 is spin. But like Brown, they practise something called Visible Spin. This is based on the idea that everyone else is as gullible as Jack Dromey and Harriet Harman, and made even less effective by emerging from the same gobby blokes we remember all those years ago. And we do recall their ignorant militancy, do we not? Those fine men who had been mandated by their memberships and were acting in good faith and totally unwilling to take hindustrial haction but were being forced into this unhappy sitwation by the intransigence of a victimising management. Yes, those fine men who gave us all…. Margaret Thatcher.
The tragedy is that in the intervening years, they’ve stopped talking about the Fatcherite Police State – which is a great pity, because the controlling fascist State is considerably more real now than it was then. In fact, if the Unions had stayed true to their roots, they would all be Libertarians today, fighting for the little man against a corrupt, secret judiciary. There’d be a Union of Vulnerable Mums to take on Staffordshire Social Services, for example.
But as I noted a few paragraphs earlier, the TUC was quick to spot its complete irrelevance, and thus switch to being something else. Rebranded Unite, it acts as another distraction for the media from Manderdarling incompetence…and gives the Prime Minister the chance to ‘solve’ a problem that didn’t exist before the United Tolpuddle Men started it.
British politics has turned into Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real, and there’s nothing to get hung about. Let’s pray this doesn’t last forever.