For all the points of disagreement between myself and the Green Party candidate for Rochford & Southend East (and there are many), I do not believe that our views on trade unionism is substantially one of them.
Those who are friends with Simon Cross on Facebook — which is where he seems to do the bulk of his “campaigning” these days (mumble mumble armchair activist mumble -Ed) — will know that he frequently attacks the Labour Party as not supporting the unions, rants usually containing his slogan “Who cares? Greens care!”.
Readers may be surprised to learn, then, that Mr Cross is not a member of a trade union. They may be more surprised that he sees neither problem nor inherent contradiction in that position.
This little saga all started with the local government strike in July of last year. Simon posted on Facebook that Labour did not back the unions and that his party were the natural political party of trade unionists.
Which was a bit rich, given that the Labour group leader in Southend, Ian Gilbert, became the first Deputy Leader in Southend history to address a strike rally, and Labour councillors were actively trying not to cross picket lines — a position which Tory Cllr James Courtenay later attacked Labour’s Anne Jones over, blaming the closure of a, err, private school on her not being at the Civic Centre (which, also, was untrue).
Of course, in the ensuing discussion, the question of which union he was a member of came up. The answer was astounding then, and I find it pretty damn astounding now:
“I do not belong to a union as I work for a company which looks after me quite well.“
As Ian Gilbert put it in a subsequent comment:
“I’m astonished. I cannot think of any argument that misses the point of Trade Unionism so completely as ‘I don’t need to join a union because I’m alright.’“
Now, in the interests of being fair to Simon, I put this question to him again the other day, to see if his position had changed. People do change their minds, even me, and that is not always (Or even often -Ed) a bad thing. This was his response:
“I think you will find that you are boring everyone by continually asking this question Matthew. I support the homeless as do many people who are not homeless. I support the residents of the Kursaal Estate but it is not a requirement that I live on the estate! Your constant question regarding my membership of a union is a typical attempt at a smokescreen!“
I’m going to take that as a no.
His analogy here is, I would suggest, spurious. He is entirely right that he doesn’t need to live on the Kursaal estate in order to support residents. But an estate is not the same as a union. Unions are founded on the ideas of collective bargaining and mutual support, that not every union member is going to need union support all at the same time.
I am a member of a trade union (Unite, for the curious). I have not yet needed to call upon the services and support of my union, and don’t anticipate a situation in the near future when I will. But others do and will, and through the union my membership fees and my support are there at their back. All of Simon’s supportive Facebook posts are of precisely no value to the trade union movement if he stands apart from them.
Apart from anything, it makes him look like a hypocrite.
If some of Simon’s trade unionist party colleagues want to explain this to him, then I wish them better luck than I have had. Perhaps they’ll be successful. But I’m not, as a trade unionist myself, going to be taking lectures on the subject from someone who ‘doesn’t see the point’ in being a member of a union, whilst being happy to use them as a political campaigning tool.