This article was written for Conservative Home
In September, Robert Halfon announced the rebirth of the Conservative Trade Unionists movement – or CTU for short.
“We are recreating the Conservative trade union workers’ movement. There will be a new website and people will be able to join. There will be a voice for moderate trade unionists who feel they may have sympathy with the Conservatives or even just feel that they’re not being represented by militant trade union leaders.”
I’m pleased to let you know that Robert Halfon’s vision has now become a reality.
The work that trade unions have done since their creation in terms of helping the plight of workers, insuring that workers get a fair deal from employers and providing special services to their members should not go unrecognised by any Conservative. It is something all Conservatives should be proud of. Indeed, it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Derby, who in 1867 set out to decriminalise trade unions.
Conservatism has throughout history been on the side of workers, and continues to be so today – from William Wilberforce campaigning against slavery to great philanthropists such Lord Shaftesbury fighting against poverty; from Sir Robert Peel repealing the Corn Laws to cut food prices to Benjamin Disraeli funding new housing and sanitation for workers; from Stanley Baldwin, who brought in the widows’ pension and holiday entitlements, to Harold Macmillan’s great housing revolution; from Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy to John Major’s mission to make public services responsive to the public’s needs.
And now, it is this Conservative Government, under David Cameron, that is extending right to buy, cutting taxes for lower earners, creating more than two million jobs and two million apprenticeships.
During the 1960s and 70s, there were a large number of Conservative Party members who were also active trade union members. Some of the Party’s biggest beasts came from the union movement – Norman Tebbit, for example. Indeed, in 1950, a certain Parliamentary Candidate named Miss Roberts got her first political role as President of the Dartford branch of the Conservative Trade Unionists – or the CTU as it was better known then.
In 1975, soon after, as Margaret Thatcher, she became leader of the Conservative Party, she addressed a thousand-strong rally of the Conservative Trade Unionists. She said:
“As you well know, for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli’s day, since before the Labour Party existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trade unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members…
You, as Conservative trade unionists, are part of the force for reason and responsibility in the movement. You are part of the majority which is both reasonable and moderate.”
These words are just as relevant today as they were in 1975. While some union leaders are helping the Labour Party to indulge in grumpy old Socialism, many trade union members – most of whom are moderate – are looking for practical and sensible ways to create the best possible environment for all workers.
To really understand what trade unions are about, we need to look beyond the caricature. There is a difference between the one-dimensional political rhetoric that comes out of the mouths of just a few militant union leaders and the support and activities of members.
Trade unions are first and foremost grassroots organisations, rooted in their community, providing much needed and appreciated services to their members. Members interact with their union on a local level. The value unions give to their members is based around the practical issues people come across in their day-to-day working life.
As Conservatives, we have always believed that it’s best to solve problems at the grassroots level in our communities; and that social capital is as important as economic capital and that they should go hand in hand. Collectively, the unions represent a huge swathe of social capital across the country. They are the largest body of volunteers in the UK. Some surveys suggest union members are eight times more likely to engage in voluntary work than the average person. The work that thousands of union members do is a great example of Big Society in action.
The creation of our new officially affiliated organisation within our Party, the CTU, is a direct link to our very proud history.
During the 1970s and 80s, the Conservative Trade Union movement was very strong: by 1986, it had 70,000 members and, in 1979, 4,000 Conservative trade unionists attended a rally to support Mrs Thatcher in Wembley. In 1986, a CTU conference was held with banners “Trade Unions for Tory victory”. ABrian Mawhinney, David Trippier, Robert Atkins, John Lee and Norman Fowler were some of the speakers.
Although the CTU was disbanded in early 1990s it was kept alive by the fantastic efforts of “Conservatives at Work” colleagues.
In the months ahead, and with your support, our team will build a modern CTU for Conservative-minded and moderate trade unions and all working people, so that they too have a strong voice in the future of our party. Please do visit Our website, sign up and join our new organisation, and help us to work even harder to reach out and support all trade unionists and all working people in our country today.