The TUC’s red barons are failing their members

Duncan Simpson writes for The Times

The TUC conference is an annual spectacle of diehard socialism. Union bosses seem to be more powerful than at any time in the past 30 years. The number of employees who were union members rose to 6.35 million in 2018, the second annual increase. Predictably, industries with the highest proportions of public sector workers had the highest union memberships.

These union cartels wield tremendous political power. They control a chunk of seats on the Labour Party’s NEC. The Tories have recruited union bosses to various cushy public appointments, including, remarkably, the Bank of England. They also enjoy generous salaries, as we reveal in our latest Trade Union Rich List, published today, with union coffers boosted by millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, received £167,604 in total remuneration, with her gross salary alone putting her in the top 3 per cent of earners. At least 30 of these red barons were in receipt of pay and benefits in excess of £100,000, at an average of £144,168. That’s an increase of £12,970 on the previous year.

This is all despite some underlying problems that union reps ought to be worrying about. More than three quarters of employees who were trade union members were 35 or older. Membership rates for young people couldn’t even breach double figures. Not only are the unions getting older, they’re getting narrower. In 1998, the levels of public sector and private sector union members were comparable at about 3.5 million. In 2018, public sector membership was 3.7 million, while private sector membership had crumbled to 2.65 million.

Perhaps that’s because unions are failing at their most basic duty of securing better pay. The trade union wage gap (the percentage difference between union members and non-members) is falling fast. In the public sector it’s down by more than 5 per cent to 11.6 per cent. In the private sector it has almost disappeared, from 7.1 per cent in 2017 to only 2.6 per cent last year.

These union barons are clearly not delivering better pay for their members, nor are they working for a younger and more private-sector workplace appropriate for today. The politicians speaking to the TUC would do well to remember that.