Blog: They're understandably frustrated, but unions must face reality

Sam Webb | 15 December 2011

Let's get one thing out of the way: I'm a former union member. I've been out on strike for more than a month over pay and conditions and recognise the essential service they provide, now and historically. I'm also someone who's been made redundant and struggled to make ends meet, so I understand the difficulties and heartbreak faced by people who have lost their job.

That said, the recent spate of press releases from unions angrily denouncing job cuts by food producers sometimes seem a little out of touch with economic reality.

Many angry reactions are justified. If a company trims staff or benefits when they're raking cash in and paying out handsome bonuses, while putting remaining staff under huge pressure, the anger is understandable.

But then there's the other side of the argument. The fact is, consumers are spending less, therefore businesses sell less products. An adjustment to production capacity has to be made or the business will lose money and this normally means job losses. It's not nice, but there it is.

Job cuts are not necessarily made by malicious fat cats swigging champagne out of top hats as workers collect their final wage check and trudge home to an uncertain future. Often it's well-meaning men and women having to make difficult decisions - perhaps involving people they've been friends with for years - for the future of the company.

A lot of the time it's the language used that grates. Unions are often "disgusted" and "appalled". They blast redundancies as "heartless", "digraceful" and, even more annoyingly hyperbolic, "cruel". Perhaps they should quickly look up "pragmatism", "survival" and "necessity" the next time they start a press release?

 


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