Why Negotiate with a Union?


The idea of a trade union can prove a noble one. Unions can provide worker protections, promote higher wages and ameliorate benefits for workers who might otherwise be impoverished. Unions have tended to initiate trends that benefit all workers – the minimum wage and overtime rules are (arguable) examples.

On the flipside, Unions tend to drive up costs (especially unwelcome at a time of high inflation), they charge fees to their membership which they often cannot afford, and Unions have tended to suppress the freedoms of individuality (as the word ‘union’ suggests), smearing those who disagree as ‘scabs’ or ‘traitors’.

As the Unions have decided to get rebellious before Christmas, we should really ask the questions:

Should government ministers bother to sit down with the Unions today? Should Rishi Sunak invite Union leaders to Downing Street for beer and sandwiches?

Let’s do the due diligence …

Now imagine you are the owner of 10% of an asset and you go to a bank to have the asset monetised. What would the banker say when you told him that you were the empowered shareholder with the rights to negotiate on the other asset holder’s behalf, even though the other asset holder had a 90% share in the asset?

The banker would ask to see your asset management agreement with the majority shareholder, a power of attorney perhaps, the provenance documents of the asset, a KYC and, should an offer be made, he’d make absolutely sure that the other owner was there to sign off on the monetisation agreement.

This is what Government Ministers should be asking Unions.

Yet Union leaders claim they have a mandate?

They must have more than 10% backing of their Unions, right? Ideally more than 10% of the backing of the workers they claim they represent?

Like Mick Lynch, the feisty RMT leader, who is quite the talker. The media have never reported that he’s unrepresentative of rail, maritime and transport workers? The reliable BBC reported only on Monday:

As the RMT’s top official, Mr Lynch is the chief spokesman and negotiator for the union, which represents about 80,000 members from the transport industry. Some of those members elected Mr Lynch to that position in May 2021, giving him a mandate to protect and further their interests.

“Some of those members” … those are the key words here.

So, what kind of a mandate does Lynch have?

We know Lynch boasts a £84,174 salary – with his total remuneration reportedly rising over £120,000 once other benefits, including pension contributions, are considered.

We know that his predecessor in the role – who left due to an alleged campaign of harassment – was Mick Cash elected by 8,938 of 17,433 of the RMT’s 72,336 members at the time. Cash had a 12.35% mandate.

When he was elected RMT leader in May 2021, Lynch won 7,605 votes in an election that saw 19.4% of RMT’s members vote. Of the RMT’s 85,000 members Lynch got a mere 8.9% of the vote.


7,605 people?

That’s less than the turnout for a Southend United match!

The mandates of other union leaders are far worse – that’s of their Unions, not to speak of the workers they claim to represent. This screenshot of an Excel document is a useful record for any number crunchers who want to see just how unrepresentative union leaders over recent years have been:

When you count the actual number of nurses, train drivers, teachers, firemen and other workers across Britain, you realise just how weak the mandates of these Union leaders are.

These fat-salaried loudmouths pass neither the provenance nor the smell test.

A message to Ministers: these days you’re better off appealing to workers by conducting direct polls at their places of work or messaging them via social media than dealing with Union bosses. Sure, the preponderance of votes of Union members for particular strikes are important, but why should a minister, let alone a Prime Minister, give these overpaid irrelevances an invitation to negotiate?

Instead, they should be asking Unions to publish in detail their accounts, explain the basis for their authority, justify their huge salaries and defend themselves from the seemingly valid accusation that they are mere toothless dinosaurs. 

Dominic Wightman is Editor of Country Squire Magazine.