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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Problem of leadership


Caswell Franklyn

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As long as there are workers whose rights are being infringed, or who work under substandard conditions, there will be a need for the trade union movement, or something very much like it.
This question only arises because people look on and judge the movement by the [current] crop of leaders. The unfavourable opinion of trade unions should really be an unfavourable opinion of its leadership.
Most of them wear too many hats, sometimes openly but often times clandestinely which results in the cause of the workers taking a back seat to the other agenda.
Another problem which can sometimes be regarded as a positive is that unions, for the most part, are democratic institutions. That being the case, as in parliamentary elections, the most popular candidate, not necessarily the best equipped candidate, is elected to lead.
A good case in point to demonstrate the need to have a body to represent the interest of the worker is the Employment Rights Bill that is making its way through Parliament.
The workers needed a strong voice but also an enlightened voice to secure and hold those rights that already exists.  
Instead, we saw the trade union movement being out-gunned by the employer lobby. This is not to say that the bill is not a step in the right direction, but the workers’ cause was not sufficiently represented in the final bill.
Even though the workers’ representatives fell down with regard to the Employment Rights Bill that does not mean that there would not be future opportunities for a robust trade union movement to assert itself.  
But workers need to come together to ensure that the right people emerge to represent their interests.
Just recently, a union with a membership in excess of 10 000 members could not muster a quorum of 50 persons to conduct their annual general meeting. During their last elections, less than ten per cent of the membership participated.
That same apathy has manifested itself in parliamentary elections, which itself has resulted in the recent past, of extremely ill-equipped candidates being elected.
People don’t get the government they deserve; they also don’t get the trade union leaders that they deserve. However, we do not have people asking if governments are relevant.
The trade union movement is very relevant and needs to be protected for future generations from people who aspire to leadership whose main agenda is not the cause of the workers.
If the movement ceases to exist, workers would be at the mercy of employers who want to make money without regard to the living and working conditions of the workforce.
• Caswell Franklyn is General Secretary of the Unity Trade Union.

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