Heart Unions
Credit: PFTM, Midjourney

Pablo John

GMB Member

February is the month of love, and I’m sure everyone in the country will have two dates circled in their calendar, Valentines Day, and the much more important #HeartUnions week.  

#HeartUnions is the TUC’s annual love-in, where our movement highlights all the good work we do. Unfortunately, this love is not shared across the political class as we saw with minimum service legislation coming into effect at the end of last year. Our movement has long been a punching bag for politicians and a bogeyman to be slain by the firm hand of the Government.  

If only there was a way to spread union love around. 

Unless you’ve stumbled across this blog by accident you can probably guess where I’m going with this, yes it’s proportional representation. I could remind you that countries with better electoral systems have higher union membership and stronger workers rights laws, but colleagues have said that much more eloquently than I can in other blogs. Instead, I will demonstrate how electoral reform can make trade unions more beloved – by politicians of all stripes. 

Let’s examine the case of New Zealand, a country with strong ties to the UK and a comparable political climate and make-up. According to Prof Rob Ford’s analysis, before the country switched to a proportional voting system in the 1990s, the political attitude towards trade unions was overwhelmingly hostile. In 1991, National – the Tories’ sister party – only mentioned trade unions once in their manifesto and that was to disparage them, with New Zealand’s Labour party only mentioning unions positively on six occasions in their respective manifesto. By 1996, after the switch to a proportional voting system, National began to speak positively about trade unions in their manifesto and Labour praised them ten times. This increased year upon year. In New Zealand’s most recent election Labour had positive mentions of unions in their manifesto seven times and National four – their highest on record.  

I’ve put the full snazzy graph below, but under a PR system left-wing parties are forced to speak more about their support for trade unions and right-wing parties are forced to U-turn entirely and start being nice for once. In New Zealand, Labour and its’ allies have repealed the draconian trade union laws of the 90s, heralding in a new age of paternal leave, rest breaks, breast-feeding and flexible working laws. Transforming New Zealand from one of the developed world’s most hostile locations for trade unionists to one of its best.  

We as trade unionists need to be pushing our leaders and our politicians to adopt fairness back into our voting system this #HeartUnions week, we need to be talking to our colleagues about all the good that fairer votes can do for our movement. It’s time to share the love around. 

So this #HeartUnions week, we can celebrate all we’ve achieved, we can shout to the rooftops that union workers earn £60,000 or more over their working lives than non-union workers. We can proudly declare if you want to make things better, you should join a union. If we want to change the narrative across the political system, if we want to change minds across the country, fairer voters is one of the best ways we can do that.  

Proportional representation goes right to the heart of the trade unionist movement and who knows, maybe one day we’ll follow New Zealand and see pro-union policies in all party manifestos. 

Meanwhile, check out our Trade Union Case for Political Reform and get in touch with your union to let them know you support PR. 

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