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Saturday 8 October 2011

TPA – The Union Bashing Dodgy Dossier

[Update at end of post]

After the grandstanding at the Tory Party conference by Francis Maude and Eric Pickles over supposed “taxpayer funded trade unionism”, and the subsequent news that the figures used by Maude in his presentation to that conference came not from official sources but the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), now is a good time to examine the TPA’s “research note” on the subject.

And at the very outset, the false assumptions and logic leaps characteristic of the TPA can be easily identified: this can be seen by turning to Page 3. Here, the TPA firstly correctly shows that the duties and activities of union representatives are two distinct entities. Then, the logic leap comes, in this paragraph:

But union duties and activities both fall under the remit of a union representative and therefore some union representatives are paid for undertaking union activities and duties”.

That’s rather like saying that someone in full time employment who takes a lunch break is being paid to frequent the local takeaway or restaurant, because they do both work and lunch in the course of that employment. And it isn’t the only dodgy item on the page.

Having established the idea that union representatives are “taxpayer funded”, this proposition follows: “The significant number of union representatives that are paid for by public funds means that trade unions themselves do not bear representation costs. This frees up large amounts of money ... to be used on political campaigns. If their other costs are paid at taxpayers’ expense, the unions will be able to use the rest of their income for political activity”.

Note that the “activities equals duties really” logic leap has been escalated to “union representatives ... paid for by public funds”. This is then coupled to the unproven assumptions that “unions ... do not bear representation costs” [no evidence given, as there is none], and that there is a zero sum trade-off between “other costs” and “political activity” [ditto].

Also implied, though not stated, is the assumption that not only is there no benefit to the employer from the work of union representatives, but also that, were that work to cease, there would be no need for that employer to perform similar work using its own resources, and therefore there would be no cost involved.

The zero sum trade-off assumption is also applied to the Union Modernisation Fund, with payments under the Union Learning Fund lumped in, to make the numbers look larger. This series of logic leaps and false assumptions underpin the “research” – bad enough in itself – but have now been used as the basis of Tory Party commitment. And that’s not good enough.

[UPDATE October 9, 1700 hours: with suspiciously coincident timing, the Telegraph has also been investigating facility time. Under the joint by-line of Edward Malnick and Robert Mendick (crazy names, crazy guys?!?), the line is to push the idea of "taxpayer funded trade unionism" in as many words, following the TPA lead. Sympathetic MPs, notably Dominic Raab (again) are quoted, with Alok Sharma trotting out key phrases such as "hardworking taxpayers" in conjunction with "union gravy train". The response from trade unions is included, but at the very end. In any case, the headline, "Taxpayers pick up £68m bill for thousands of union reps", is hardly a paragon of balance]

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