Workers of the Ward Unite!

Modern British trade unions are sorry institutions. They overwhelmingly represent degree educated public sector workers and are led by career radicals rather than respected professionals. The number of employees in Trade Unions today is well below the 13 million peak in 1979.

This was not always the case.  In the mid-19th-century organisations like the Amalgamated Engineering Union represented skilled workers and campaigned for better pay and working conditions. It is important to remember that collective bargaining does not inevitably lead to socialism. As some on the left and right would have us believe.

The Marxist hijacking of labour organisations is perhaps one of the biggest tragedies in modern British history.  To reiterate my point, working people requesting better conditions in itself does not constitute a threat to free enterprise. Many of the labouring poor in the early years of industrialisation put up with truly miserable conditions.

Transitioning from associations of skilled labourers into ideological bodies lost organised labour mass support and legitimacy.

A similar process is taking place in the modern public sector. 2018 is young, and already the public sector is a sea of rage. As it stands Labour is rapidly becoming the party of all public-sector workers. I cannot decide if this has already happened or is in the process of happening.

This is a peculiar feature of contemporary Britain, it has not always been the case. For example, the police force has historically backed the Conservative party. It would appear now that most public-sector bodies are unwilling to endorse the Conservative’s economic policies.

This promises to be a truly terrifying situation. If the public services go from institutions filled with competent individuals to ideological bodies, led by demagogues then disaster will follow.


  1. Trade unions could have gone on two different paths – the “Friendly Society” path of providing benefits to their members (such as old age pensions) financed from fees and contributions – the fraternal path.


    The “Collective Bargaining” path that W.H. Hutt spent his life exposing as the racket it is. Jordan – you remind me that there is no substitute for a good grounding in economics. One can not get better wages and conditions for all from “the strike threat system” (which is always backed by the threat of VIOLENCE – which is what para military terms such as “picket line” are about), one can only get higher wages and better conditions via collective bargaining as the expense of HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT for other people (not “out of the profits of the capitalists” – the lie that is trotted out endlessly). And EVENTUALLY even the union members lose – not just other people, as the industries go into relative decline.

    When did British industry start to lose its competitive edge, start to be known for lack of innovation and for carrying on with out of date methods? After 1875 – when Disraeli’s Trade Union Act (allowing picket lines and so on) came in – and even more after 1906 (when unions were put above the law by the Liberal Party government).

    American “labour history” is a lot more violent than British labour history – with endless bombings and so on (the bombings are normally left out of American history books – because the left control the teaching of history), but there is a bad reason for that…..

    Under the influence of a different system of law (at least till American law changed in the 1930s) British managers tended to just agree to keep things as they were (why cause trouble and get a strike?) – whereas American managers could still innovate (at least till the 1930s). In some areas American managers can innovate to this day – although not as much as they once could (as the economy is saturated with government regulations and taxes).

    A trade union is a GUILD – and compulsory guilds strangled innovation trades in the classical world (including in the Byzantine Empire). Those States in America that encourage such unions (as opposed to Right to Work States where belonging to a union is voluntary – so “Collective Bargaining” is not really a big thing) have turned out like Britain.

    Ever wondered why Britain not France had an industrial revolution in the 18th century? The French guilds (unions) made compulsory by Henry IV back in the early 1600s.

    What about printing presses in the Ottoman Empire? Why were there fewer printing presses in the whole of the vast Ottoman Empire than in the average Western town?

    The Scribes Guild (union) that is why.

    Want an economy that has industrial innovation? Then you have to have a situation where an employer can say “take a hike – get off my property, I am going to employ someone else”.



    1. It is indeed tragic that the fraternal model of unions failed. If they had flourished then our society would be a very different place than it is today.

      I am reminded of the ‘big man’ of American unionism John L Lewis. He is a perfect example of how the left’s reverence for unions is totally misplaced. Even in the 1930s- a time when radical socialism was in vogue throughout most of the world the unions were nor ‘pure as the driven snow’

      I remember seeing a poster in a university a while ago showing a strike being led by a person waving the communist manifesto. How wrong the poster was- even in the 1930s communism was never genuinely popular among skilled labourers. Many big union leaders tolerated the communists but they never played an instrumental role in organising things.

      The story of John L Lewis is even more amusing, he rose to great power in the USA. But in the late 1930s became hungry for more power- so much so that he perceived the Democratic party as a threat. So he stood for election as a Republican!

      If that’s not a lesson about the nature of ‘big labour’ then I don’t know what is…



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