Although I always enjoy watching Vince Cable get booed, I was curious to see the GMB Union giving him such a hostile reception, and even resorting to booing and heckling him, during his speech at their annual conference this week.
That a non-Labour Cabinet Minister gets booed at a public sector union conference should not be a surprise in and of itself. Past experience tells us that union cronies rarely have any manners whatsoever, and love to enjoy acting like thugs in ties whenever the opportunity arises. Additionally, given that unions almost exclusively fund Labour, it is not surprising that anyone who does not belong to Labour is seen as the enemy.
Yet Vince Cable is probably as left-wing as they come, and is probably more left-wing, anti-business and pro-union than many Labour MP’s. One may therefore be forgiven for thinking that he would receive a positive reception in a union that, like many other public sector unions, appear to have stopped fighting for workers and are instead acting as arms of the Socialist Worker Party.
Cable’s speech was a clever and shrewd warning from a socialist to a fellow socialist organisation. He noted that while the right to strike was an important right, there was a strong movement in the government to update and tighten up strike law. He went on to state that as long as strikes remained limited and low (as they have been for the last year) then “the case for changing strike law is not compelling.” Yet Cable was clear that if there was an attempt at widespread, organised mass industrial action designed to provide another “winter of discontent”, then the case to update strike law would be stronger, and that there would be little that he could do about it.
The message Cable was sending was clear and correct; the Conservatives wish to update strike law to make sure that the public sector unions can’t throttle the nation like they did in the 1970’s and tried to in the 1980’s. Yet while strike rates are low, such a move is politically impossible. Only if the unions try to bring the country to its knees and damage the national economy would the Tories have the support needed to clamp down on union action.
Cable finished this part of his speech (after pausing while he was booed and abused) by saying “that is something that you and I will both collectively want to avoid.” In other words, “I’m on your side, but if you engage in mass industrial action, I can’t keep the Tories at bay.”
Yet he was booed and jeered anyway. What the GMB members do not appear to understand is that Vince Cable is being a friend not a foe. He is warning them that there are plenty of Tories (this writer included) who want to see the hand of the public sector unions loosened from around the throat of the British taxpayer, and are looking for the opportunity to do so. Cable is not stating opinions or views, but is simply observing reality; if strikes are limited, the Lib Dems can keep the Tories at bay, but if there is a 1980’s insurrection, the hands of the Lib Dems are tied, and we Tories get to crush the unions like we did under Thatcher.
This is not what the unions, nor Vince Cable wants to happen; and this is what Cable’s speech to the GMB was trying to prevent. Yet if public sector unions like the GMB are unable to distinguish friend from foe, then their narrow minded pseudo-communist mindset will surely lead them to destruction, just like it led the NUM to destruction in the 1980’s.