Unions 'should be broken up'

Unions would find it harder to instigate strikes under Policy Exchange's recommendations
Unions would find it harder to instigate strikes under Policy Exchange's recommendations

by Peter Wozniak

British trade unions are too big, unrepresentative and politically influential and need to be trimmed down to size, according to a stinging report by Policy Exchange.

The report argued that trade union practices are in need of radical modernisation, and went as far as to call for the break-up of some unions.

Andrew Lilico, Policy Exchange's chief economist and co-author of the report, said: "The existing framework for industrial relations is out of kilter with the realities of the make-up of the modern work force.


"Some of the large multi-sector unions may be simply too big and need to be broken up into smaller competing units."

The centre-right thinktank argued that the balance between workers and unions had become lopsided in favour of the latter, with many unions operating a "monopoly" leaving employees little choice in deciding which union to join.

The report suggested additional measures to curb union powers including a requirement for a minimum of 40% of a unionised workforce to vote in favour of strike action for it to go ahead.

It also proposed repealing legislation that prevents employers from hiring agency staff to replace workers who go on strike.

The report was especially critical of the level of taxpayer-funding present in trade unions.

"Taxpayer funding of unions is extensive - and often hidden. There is a clear need for greater transparency," said Ed Holmes, co-author of the report.

Union funding of political parties also came under scrutiny, with Policy Exchange railing against the default position for union membership being a commitment to donation rather than allowing workers to 'opt-in' if they so choose.

The Labour party is the main recipient of such donations and will be wary of endorsing any proposal that might see that source of funding dry up.

The report has, perhaps unsurprisingly, triggered a furious reaction from union officials.

Sarah Veale, head of equalities and employment rights at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), viscerally condemned the report and the thinktank itself.

"It may be dressed up in academic think-tank language, but this is no more than a crude attack on basic workplace rights and a charter for bad bosses everywhere," she said, dredging up the spectre of Margaret Thatcher's premiership and telling the authors to "get out more".

"What these right-wing policy wonks in their nostalgia for the divisive years of Mrs Thatcher don't understand is that unions do not just benefit their members, but employers and wider society too.

"If they got out a bit more they would find that unions give employees a voice, deal with problems before they turn into disputes or end up in tribunals and allow change to be negotiated."

The report comes weeks before the government's comprehensive spending review, which will lay out in detail the vast scale of cuts designed to bring Britain's budget deficit under control.

Union bosses have already scheduled mass protests and a campaign of active resistance to follow the publication of the spending review on October 20th.

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