Iain McNicol The Man Who Changed My Opinion On Unions

A very old business card of Iain McNicol's

Iain McNicol was the General Secretary of the Labour Party

Sometimes we get to meet people by whatever means; on a few occasions I met with Iain McNicol; this was when he was a regional organiser for the GMB union. Iain McNicol is the man who changed my opinion on unions; which was no easy task based upon my preconceived view of them.

“Unions” was a Dirty Word

“Unions” was a dirty word in our household; my father didn’t like them. Whether it was them in general or the fact he read the Daily Mail; I will never know. I feel it was more of a case of only getting to see the unsavoury side of what the unions did via the media. I will add my father was one of the most helpful people around and this is not meant to disrespect him in any way.

When I was young, I saw lots of images about strikes on the news; these were often associated with the three day week, As I grew older this was added to by the miner’s strike and Arthur Scargill. All blamed on the unions.

In between the three day week and the miner’s strike I undertook an apprenticeship in Portsmouth Dockyard. The Conservative government at the time were trying to make cuts (as they always do) and although not a member of the union I was invited to a meeting.

The meeting was a fiery affair; yet was very ideological and did nothing to address the issues; all that the union leaders wanted was a strike. Any calls for negotiation appeared to thwarted; I left thinking I would never join a union.

Chestnut View; Haslemere

After various jobs I ended up working in a home for the elderly based in Haslemere; it was operated by Surrey County Council. The Conservatives were still in power and making yet more cuts. To them, a care home run by a profit-making company was a better option; as was closing a home; than one being run by a council.

Anyhow, the care home thankfully was saved from closure and ended up being run by a company called St Cloud Care; whom, after a couple of years decided it was time to rip up our contracts and offer us peanuts. We were advised that a group of us would form a committee to thrash out new contracts and compensation for loss of the old ones. (The website for the home is Chestnut View; Haslemere).

I was selected, along with four or five other staff members to be part of the negotiating team. However, I was not part of any union. Iain McNicol came to see us and his manner; his way of getting things across and his enthusiasm to help via negotiation rather than screaming the old “Strike” war cry persuaded me to join the GMB.

During the negotiations; there were a few meetings; Iain McNicol helped us no end in understanding where we stood. Initially, things looked bleak; thanks mainly to the legislation bought in by the Conservatives. These were geared to helping businesses rather than the people; especially when it came to change of contract negotiations; Iain help broker something that worked.

Since the above event, I have tried to look at each workplace dispute from both sides and not take what the media is telling me as being the truth. I also understand the need for unions and that the majority of them aren’t run by the bolshie bands of troublemakers who are hell-bent on one thing only; agitation, instead of arbitration.

Unions are important in modern Britain

Unions are important in modern Britain; they are there to support people; they help them understand their rights and try to protect them from bullying. I guess the best way to describe what they do is to lift the Meta description tag from the GMB unions website:

GMB are experts in the world of work offering protection at work and solving problems for GMB members by providing back up, representation and advice on every issue related to life at work

Find out more about the GMB here.

I have tried to abridge this article and so apologies if it doesn’t read well. I guess the crux of it is that Iain McNicol is the man who changed my opinion on unions; which eventually led to me changing a lot of things. These changes included a process of me finding out what my true political beliefs are.

An Apology and an Arrival

For the record and I apologise profusely for this; until 1997 I voted Conservative. When working in care, I saw first hand how the health and social care of Britain was being torn to shreds by a Conservative government who felt it was better for a 90-year-old confused lady with a broken collarbone to wait in a corridor until 2:45 in the morning for an ambulance home. Whereas before; she would have been made comfortable; allowed to sleep and returned to the care home during the day.

There are a few other things about their policies that still gripe me know; such as the unfairness of people having to sell their homes to pay for care; alas that is another story.

I have strayed; this is about Iain McNicol; the man who changed my views on unions and not a political attack on the Conservatives. Iain is one of the first people to get me to think about my politics; not by talking about it, but because of me changing my views on the unions. Eventually, after much reflection, I concluded that (now this is probably the first time I have written it down) I am now a Labour voting social democrat with some third way tendencies.