Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Unison exposes its inner lion

Unison, the public sector union that represents 1.3m members, has a new advertising campaign that perfectly sums up its attitude and that of all unions.

On one, there are two pictures. The lower one portrays a lioness resting its head on a small cub, with the phrase “Speaking one-to-one” because (says Unison) “When we’re helping or advising individual members, we prefer the more friendly… approach”.

By comparison, Unision feels that “when we talk we need people to listen”, so the top picture, with the caption “Speaking for 1.3 million members”, shows a vicious, snarling lioness.

The two images which Unison has of itself – the vicious carnivore and the controlling parent – seem accurately to sum up Unison and its union colleagues. On the one hand, it is willing to use the threat of extreme violence to achieve its aims. On the other it treats its own members like hapless children.

This is not merely Unison’s self-image, however. Union membership has plummeted over the past 20 years as more and more workers have realised that they are better off looking after their own interests than blindly following the line set by politicised shop-stewards and a secretariat that pushes for short-term benefits for its members at the expense of the wider economy, labour mobility and those currently out of work.

Meanwhile, all those who have seen their taxes rise to pay for public sector pay increases that have not been accompanied by rises in productivity may feel that they have been gouged by the savage claws of a dangerous predator.
Personally, this leonine avatar for the public sector union puts me in mind of pith helmets, head on plaques and skins stretched out in front of the fire place.

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