It is a strength of trade unionism that it functions as part of a movement for solidarity and justice. That is why strikes are not unpopular; people don’t think the championing of rights is self-serving. They value posties, doctors and train drivers. They know strikes are a gamble not taken lightly and that principles are at stake. They know the miners had right on their side and were trampled for political reasons.
But, if unions are solely motivated by the specific interests of their members, to the exclusion of all other considerations, they cease to be part of a movement and become professional associations. The Police Federation, for example, is not a union.
This isn’t to say that unions shouldn’t fight tooth and nail to defend their members’ rights. Just that, sometimes, other criteria come into play. Nuclear weapons, for example, cannot be seen purely as a source of jobs. If you could convince me that they have any defensive or aesthetic value, I might be reconciled to the billions they cost. But if you just say they keep people in work, I will retort that cracking down on paedophiles poses a risk to workers in the confectionery industry. Or, as Mark Serwotka puts it, ‘It’s like me defending unemployment because it keeps my job centre staff in work.’
I’m not being glib about people whose livelihoods are tied up in Trident. It sometimes occurs to me that, if we had the kind of government I long for, I’d be out of work myself. But that kind of government would have the money to retrain people, because it wouldn’t waste it on weapons of mass destruction.
We could make millionaires of all those employed on Trident and still have money left over to turn Faslane into affordable housing.