Many despise Guido as a muckraker and a "bad" blogger: these allegations may be true, but your humble Devil has always found him rather entertaining (and thoroughly fond of a good drinking session).
And, let's face it, by certain measures—namely making money from blogging, and setting the government agenda—Guido is rather more successful than most of the rest of us.
One campaigns that I am fully behind is Guido's crusade against "Pilgrims"—union activists funded by the taxpayer and not by the unions themselves.
Eighteen months ago Guido was chewing the cud with a source who works in education in some Westminster watering-hole. Even after four Guinnesses, he still did not believe the story he was being told. Apparently there were teachers that were paid full-time salaries, yet worked full-time on trade union activity. Another teacher had to be employed to cover for this activist, this pushed a particular school over budget. Guido didn’t really think much more on the subject until a piece of research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance [PDF] came across his desk a few months later. Their formidable FoI team had scatter-gunned almost every area of the state, trying to work out exactly how much of our money was was being wasted on unions bods who are paid for by us rather than out of the union members’ subscriptions. That leaves plenty of union money around to prop up Ed Miliband and bus people around the country for astro-turfed protests. It was on…
Heavy unionisation is largely a public sector phenomenon (although ex-public sector businesses—such as BA or BT—tend to carry this legacy too) and a great many professions are de facto closed shops (the education and medical sectors spring most readily to mind).
As long-time readers will recall, your humble Devil is not a fan of The Unions. In fact, I have written numerous posts—most pertinently, this one—laying out why. In summary, unions were formed to counter a problem that, largely, no longer exists (unbridled employer power over an unskilled workforce with few options), they increase unemployment, and because they are damaging to their employees and to their customers (largely the British taxpayer).
The unions now largely exist to extort more money from you and me, on behalf of their members, through our taxes—subs that you and I must pay involuntarily. These subs are then used to enforce collective bargaining so that you and I, despite suffering from a massive recession, must pay out ever more to a public sector that delivers less and less.
Furthermore, of course, such collective bargaining diminishes the quality of the workers in that industry—it doesn't matter whether you are good or bad at your job, you will still get the same pay. It is a system that rewards mediocrity at the expense of skill and dedication—thus calling into question whether the unions actually serve the best interests of their members. After all, if a bad teacher must get the same pay rise as a good one, then the good teacher's pay rise is less than it might have been.
In a near-monopoly such as the education system—especially since education is compulsory—all of this means that the general public have no option but to pay the higher (and often undeserved) wages, and reward failure; not only this, but their children's education is then screwed up and these young people's lives irreparably harmed.
For the purposes of this post, the really valid line in that quote is the first one:
The unions now largely exist to extort more money from you and me, on behalf of their members, through our taxes—subs that you and I must pay involuntarily.
And since most of their members are in publicly funded industries, that means that the best way for the unions to get more money for their members is to play politics. And they do this very effectively, mainly by providing the vast majority of the funding for one of the two main political parties—the Labour Party.
The Labour Party is famous for basically bankrupting the country every time that they are elected‚ and this dubious skill is—in large part—due to the fact that a Labour government must pander to its union paymasters.
There are several ways that the last Labour government did this:
- large salary increases for public sector workers (especially if you belong to a union. Interestingly, I was in a hospital in the North, recently, and in the main entrance lobby, they had a large banner setting out why members of staff should join a particular union. The first point was "you will get paid more".);
- provided millions of pounds of funding through entities such as the Union Modernisation Fund (what this modernisation consisted of or who it was supposed to benefit, I've never been sure. But if it doesn't benefit the taxpayer, then why are we paying for it?);
- providing taxpayer-funded staff, venues and facilities.
The first is pretty obvious really—and has, in fact, brought this country to its knees financially.
The second was (and is), as far as I am concerned, a straight piece of money-laundering by the Labour Party, as Shane Greer pointed out in2007.
Without dropping a beat Gordon has today given a further £2.8m of taxpayers’ money to the unions to top up the Union Modernisation Fund; a fund that has already received £10m of taxpayers’ money. Oh, I almost forgot to mention Labour received almost £17m from unions last year.
But if the unions can afford to give £17m in donations to Labour doesn’t that mean they have more than enough money to pay for ‘modernisation’ without the taxpayers’ help? In fact it looks a lot like they’d even have enough left over to make a hefty donation to the Labour Party (and pay for some placards).
If anyone can explain how the Union Modernisation Fund is anything more than a money laundering operation to turn tax revenue into political donations I will be eternally grateful.
It was in 2006 that Guido posted this helpful little diagram illustrating this concept.
Why are taxpayers funding the "modernisation" of the unions anyway? Isn't that what union subs are for? Taxpayers' money is being handed over to a bunch of thugs whose main aim is to increase the amount of taxpayers' money they get: this is akin to me giving some of my money to a man so that he can extort more money from me.
Actually, it's more like me extorting your money from you, and then using that money to pay a massive, psychotic, baseball bat-wielding Glaswegian to come over and extort more from you "in order to pay for ma' fucking weans Christmas presents".
It's even more ridiculous—and really fucking annoying—that Cameron has decided to continue with this Union Modernisation Fund farce.
This does not bode well for Cameron's tactical nouse, fiscal responsibility or his supposed belief in individual liberty. In the massive fucking financial hole that this country is in, we simply cannot afford to keep giving tens of millions of pounds to the unions so that they can ensure that their members—who are overwhelmingly in the public sector—can continue to squeeze as much money as possible for as little work as possible.
Cameron is not only continuing to fund his enemies, he is continuing to fund our enemies—and he is doing it with our fucking money.
Further, from the angle of liberty, Cameron should be able to see that it is absolutely flat-out wrong for the general public to be taxed so that a vested interest can continue to operate how they please. I mean, for fuck's sake, I never expected the Tories to be much different from Labour, but surely even they can see that this kind of thing is wrong in principle, as well as practicality.
One can make a case for any number of things being of benefit to society as a whole and, thus, eligible for funding through taxation. The unions are not one of those things.
Cameron and CCHQ knew about the Union Modernisation Fund, because they explicitly confirmed that it would stay (presumably to pursue some stupid bloody policy of appeasement); it is safe to say that the Coalition were also well aware of the third method of funding the unions—which brings us back to Guido's "Pilgrims"...
With the unions agitating it was only a matter of time before someone said something stupid. In April one such taxpayer-funded trade union official put her head above the parapet and claimed to the Standard that Andrew Lansley had lied about NHS cuts at a pre-election visit to St Georges Hospital in Tooting. Unfortunately for the now infamous Jane Pilgrim, Mark Clarke, the local Tory candidate who had organised said visit, had a slightly clearer recollection of events – mainly that Jane had refused to meet Lansley on political grounds. The first shots were fired and suddenly Jane Pilgrim, the union-funded smearing liar, began to unravel. She had a private consultancy firm on the side and lived at the expense of the taxpayer too. Eventually she was forced back kicking and screaming to frontline nursing, but the can of worms had been opened…
Given CCHQ's attitude to the unions, it is unlikely, I think, that they would have done anything about these kinds of disgusting abuses of taxpayers' money (we can only assume that they need the Labour Party to stay afloat: I suspect that some deals were done in the back rooms of Parliament—something to speculate about in the future, methinks*).
It is only because the Taxpayers' Alliance and Guido started kicking up such a stink (with the press then picking up on it), that the Tories suddenly found themselves under pressure to do something about this scandal.
Guido has seen emails sent around senior brothers expressing concern that the activities of Unison’s poster-girl could be the thin-edge of the wedge and they even speculated that her big mouth might ruin the taxpayer funded fun and games for everyone. How right they were. Suddenly, with personification and a focus point, the outrage about the concept of taxpayer-funded trade-union staff grew. Speeches began to be made in Parliament, motions were put down and people began to realise that there is a Nurse Pilgrim in every hospital, school, government department and pen-pushing office in the country. The TPA numbers came alive and the bandwagon was rolling…
As Guido began smoking out further pilgrims, David Cameron was put on the spot about at PMQs in May. June saw public opinion turn in the polls. The tabloids waded in and Eric Pickles and Frankie Maude soon got behind the issue. As conference season approached word reached Guido that a breakthrough was imminent. On the eve of Tory conference leaked CCHQ briefings saw MPs given anti-pilgrim lines and Pickles and Maude opened fire from the podium. In less than six months a full government consultation had been announced and the figures mooted as potential savings saw even more people get behind the campaign. Union funded Labour MPs went berserk…
Because of the pressure piled on, the Coalition were forced to act—or, at least, promise to act—against a practice whereby the British taxpayer subsidises the unions to the tune of over £113 million a year, through paying for the full-time employment of some 2,840 staff. Plus, of course, the taxpayer gets whacked twice: we have to stump up for another nurse or teacher or council idiot to do the job that the union person was supposed to do.
This is a total disgrace: there is only one group of people who should pay for the unions, and that is the union members. It is time to put the costs back where they belong—or, of course, the unions could cut their costs (perhaps by refusing to bankroll the basically bankrupt Labour Party, or not paying their lying bosses £100k+ every year).
Your humble Devil has been particularly lame this year: whenever Pilgrims have come up, it has been at a time when my blogging inertia was at its height. As such, this is the first time that I have written about them (although, in the future, I shall be following Mark Clarke's Trade Union Reform Campaign with interest).
Luckily, Guido claims that he is in this "for the long haul" and, in this case, your humble Devil is happy to support him.
* It's interesting to note that, shortly after the Tories promised to abolish Pilgrims, the "poison" of
** Apparently, there won't be any state-funding "in this Parliament". So, expect to see it seriously proposed for the next one then...