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Unions should bow out of Brighton and Hove politics
The death of Albert Einstein and the resignation of Sir Winston Churchill as Prime Minister duly hit The Argus headlines back in 1955.
Yet not a word about these two major events appeared in any of the national newspapers at the time.
Why? Was it that the editors of these London-based journals had taken collective leave of their senses?
The answer was that Fleet Street was crippled by a month-long newspaper strike organised by the powerful print unions.
That strike was an early sign that unions, formed half a century or more earlier, were becoming more of a hindrance than a help to ordinary people.
The print unions in London - not the provinces - extracted huge sums of money from the employers because they had a firm grip on the Linotype levers of power.
They were able to indulge themselves in ludicrous restrictive practices and some even went so far as to invent fictitious employees to receive inflated wages.
Unions started to help workers receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. Conditions were often appalling and wages ludicrously low.
Even in the 1930s, George Orwell was able to write about how widespread poverty was, whether for the coal miners of the north or the dishwashers of London.
Although unions were strongest in the industrial areas, there were pockets of intense activity in seaside towns like Brighton and Hastings.
The Battle of Lewes Road, held in Brighton during the 1926 general strike, may have seemed like a defeat for unions at the time but in the long term showed employers how much muscle they had.
Many union leaders were widely respected. Ernie Bevin, who moved from the giant transport workers' union into the government, is generally reckoned to have been one of the best foreign secretaries Britain ever had.
The public was often sympathetic towards men like miners, even when they went on strike, believing they deserved decent pay for a dirty, dangerous job.
But unions started to run out of support when they, helped by feeble management, started to cripple major concerns like the car industry.
Millions of days' work were lost every year through disputes and people began to ask whether unions or the government were running the country.
Edward Heath narrowly lost the first 1974 election on this issue but five years later Labour was kicked out of government following the winter of discontent in which rubbish was left scattered over the nation's streets.
Margaret Thatcher duly instituted her union reforms and Rupert Murdoch ended the power of the print unions. The miners bravely walked into oblivion under the misguided leadership of Arthur Scargill who could have won the long 1984 strike if he had been less dogmatic.
That might have been the end of the story. But it wasn't as is clear from the Trades Union Congress being held along the coast in Bournemouth.
No longer are trades union leaders like Hugh Scanlon and Jack Jones household names but Dave Prentis and Len McCluskey still carry a clout. Unite, Unison and the GMB are big unions, especially in the public sector.
Unions have changed their methods. Instead of the all-out strikes like the 1955 newspaper dispute, they tend to favour short stoppages causing equal disruption at less loss to their members.
The more savvy unions have also found they can often co-operate with progressive employers to the benefit of both. This has contributed in no small measure to the revival of the car industry.
Unions have largely been linked with the Labour Party which started life with many of the same aims.
Many Labour leaders, particularly Jim Callaghan who had a home in Sussex, were proud of their union backgrounds.
The first woman Cabinet minister, Margaret Bondfield, started her working life as a shop girl in Western Road, Brighton, who campaigned for better wages.
Now union leaders like Alex Knutsen of Unison in Brighton are openly questioning what if anything they gain from bankrolling Labour.
Labour leader Ed Miliband also wants to loosen the financial ties although the loss of union loot could be crippling for the party.
But eventually the break must come. Labour is no longer a party solely for the workers. It is too big and broad for that. It cannot be seen to be dominated by the unions.
Equally the unions would fare better concentrating on the welfare of their members rather than seeking to interfere in local and national politics.
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