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Wednesday 14 September 2011

TPA – The Union Of Spin

As the trades union movement gathers for the annual TUC Conference, the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has renewed its attack on them, with a characteristically pretentiously titled “Research Note” on what it calls the “Trade Union Rich List” [.pdf]. This propaganda has been obediently churned by the usual suspects in the press.

And the creative accounting is visible at the outset: the use of “remuneration package” to suggest that these are the amounts the various top people at a number of unions actually earn is typical. What Matthew “Gromit” Elliott and his pals don’t tell is that the number who actually earn over £100,000 a year is not 38, but in fact just nine – that’s one person with that salary over a twelve month period.

The figures are inflated by adding pension contributions and any other benefits that are received: what those are, the TPA is not telling. But if they are not part of the actual salary, then that isn’t what the person in question earns. If someone has to travel and incur costs for hotels, transport and meals, those expenses may be benefits but are not part of a salary package.

That is why the TPA approach is misleading, and deliberately so: it adds a sixth figure to the pay of many union chiefs, and this is an invaluable tool in the propaganda war it is waging. The success of that war can be seen in the direct churning of the TPA press release by the Express, and that Elliott is given his own “blog” by the Daily Mail.

Also under attack is trade union facility time, a phrase the TPA will not be using – as they want the public to believe that this is “taxpayer funded trade unionism” – where the TPA has taken the figure for paid staff time and declared it to be a subsidy, although Elliott only goes as far as to say “That could indirectly support executive pay”, demonstrating that he is of less than perfect courage.

At the outset, pitching the figure of £67.5 million and calling it a public subsidy looks to provide an open and shut case, but the TPA does not provide any analysis of what this saves organisations – the practice covers both public and private sectors – and they will not be doing so. The TPA does not want anyone to look beyond the headline figure: it would rather the general public remain ignorant.

The benefits of workplace representation have long been recognised: one recent publication, including a range of case studies [.pdf], has been signed off by both TUC and CBI. Any analysis of facility time must consider not only the costs, but also the benefits, of union representation. The slanted and selective propaganda from the TPA cannot fulfil that role, and is not fit for purpose.

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