25 January 2018

Debating Labour and the Unions with Kingston Momentum

Despite being very Political, especially on Twitter during BBC Radio 4's Any Questions (#bbcaq), I had not been to a Political meeting for a long time so when Kingston Momentum held a meeting to discuss Labour and the Unions on a night that I was free I took the opportunity to.

Trade Unionism was something that I had not thought that much about. I joined NALGO on my first day at work at Dorset County Council in 1978 and have been a union member for most of my working life, I am currently in Unite, but this has always been a default position rather than one I have had to give much attention too.

I am a union member now partially because of the insurance of having a knowledgeable organisation behind me should I fall foul of employment practises (it has happened) but also because I want other people to have that insurance too, especially those in more need of it than me, an in paying my union dues I hope that I am doing a little good elsewhere.

It was a good turnout on a miserable day and the room was full. If you look carefully I am in the middle of the picture at the back.

We heard three speakers on various aspects of the Unions and then a Q&A session to close the evening. That filled the best part of two hours quite comfortably.

As usually at thinking type events I did not take notes as such, more impressions of what was said and how I felt about that.

My tweets were quite positive and I finished with, "Brilliant to be in a meeting where the key words are working class, struggle, Marx, rights, exploitation, comrade, ...".

My main conclusion from the meeting was simple and unexpected, but probably should have been obvious. Trade Unions do a lot of good in individual cases either supporting individual workers who are being abused or negotiating improved terms for a group of workers. They also act on the political stage, often through the Labour Party, to promote the welfare and rights of workers in law. In this they are quite like charities, such as Shelter, that look after homeless people as well as trying to address the political causes of homelessness. It's a good model and I deliberately support charities that take a political stance in trying to solve the problem rather than just dealing with the symptoms.

Trade Unions are that natural home for the development of ideas to protect and improve workers rights; it is what they do. Therefore I would expect them to be to the left of the Labour Party on employment matters, just as I would expect Greenpeace to be to the left on environment matters. This is not a fault of the Labour Party, it would be odd if a political party was more extreme in its ideas that an organisation set up to address a single topic.

The only negative thoughts were around the Union's failure to get the messages of their individual successes and political campaigning across, though they are clearly hindered by a very hostile media. We are almost all workers, just as we are all humans, so organisations that fight for workers rights are our natural friends and it is a tragedy that more people do not understand that.


  1. Dear Matthew,

    Thank you for sharing your incredible insights about Ham and Petersham.
    I have come across your blog absolutely incidentally and must admit that I have really enjoy the photos and your eye to detail - quite a delight to see some of the familiar things in such enchanting light, as you present them.

    However, it is this particular post that has prompted me to drop you a line.

    I live in Teddington and was wondering if you ever wander off your usual route up to our corner, or perhaps, would like to visit? I would really appreciate if you would agree to meet for a nice cup of coffee and to have a chat?

    Kind regards,

    1. Marina, always happy to have a coffee in Teddington, I go to Organically most days! Contact me at reesmf@gmail.com to arrange something.


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