Sunday, 16 March 2014

The bankers and the unions

Bob Crow died this week - the union leader described by Paxman as a 'dinosaur'. 

As did old Labour grandee Tony Benn:

Crow the hardline socialist out of time, Benn the real deal from the sixties and seventies. It struck me that the unions fell out of favour, leaving Crow an outlier, because they were allowed to be too good at their job - that is, protecting the interests of their members at all costs. In 70s Britain, the interests of the unions and their members came to dominate the wider interests of Britain.

This is all simplistic stuff, I realize. But it illustrates an interesting point: that to acknowledge the social value of certain groups - special interest groups, for instance - is to acknowledge also that these groups must be kept in check if they are to be of value to society. Unions exist only to protect their members' interests, hell for leather - this is necessary and worthwhile, but as society consists of more than just union members, their power must be held in balance with society's other competing group interests.

If I'd read Hobbes, I'd probably say this is a Hobbesian view. Anyway, maybe we could say that one way the UK came unstuck in the 70s was by losing this balance - which was itself due to an overly close relationship between the interests of unions on the one hand and, on the other, the Labour governments who should have kept them in check.

Interestingly, in this way the unions are exactly like the group Bob Crow detested - bankers. 

They too have a single-minded self-interest - make as much money as possible - which our society can only live with if is curtailed and kept in check (in much the same way, you can only keep a rottweiler in your house if you cut its nuts off first). We came unstuck when - from Thatcher through to Brown - this balance was lost.