One of the features of this recession is the ubiquity of trade union leaders on the 24/7 news channels & in the serious press, warning of the uncertainty & hardship facing workers this festive period. Union leaders have been given column space & airtime to excoriate the bankers & other fat cats responsible for the current situation.
All well & good. However, some things don't change. I recall in my activist days railing against the salaries that union leaders & full-time officers enjoyed at a time when their members were under Thatcher's cosh. As we go into an economic downturn which threatens to be worse than that of the early 80s, it's unsurprising to note that at least one union leader won't have to worry about the credit crunch (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/dec/18/unite-tony-woodley ).
David Hencke's incisive piece reveals that Tony Woodley, joint General Secretary of Unite, wants £100,000 to leave a subsidised property for which he pays a peppercorn rent of £200 per month. [Woodley's salary is £80,000 per year.] The £200 per month rent on the flat, in the Elephant & Castle area of south London, includes electricity & heating bills. Documents seen by Hencke are pretty hair-raising:
" . The flat has never been registered as a residential dwelling so Woodley has never paid any council tax on it.
. It was granted to him as an inter-union favour by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU).
. The CSEU was negotiating to sell the commercial offices and the flat to a Scottish property company, Unicorn Developments, and offered him £15,000 to quit it.
. After much negotiating they later raised this to £55,000 but suddenly, to the company's solicitors' surprise, the Transport and General Workers Union -- as part of Unite -- made an identical offer for the same building.
. Then a private company in Woodley's home town [Wallasey], Purple Apple, which also has a contract to manage the TGWU properties, made a higher offer. Documents show that the sale was made personally to the late Gerry White, then director of the firm and who the union confirm was a long standing acquaintance of Woodley's. The commercial firm pulled out. "
[White & Woodley knew each other through their involvement with Vauxhall Motors Football Club in Ellesmere Port. Woodley is the club President.]
Woodley has been vocal in his calls for the UK government to follow the example of the US administration in bailing out the car industry. That's part of his job; his members' livelihoods depend on State support if they are to have any chance of riding out the storm. However, those members at Ellesmere Port, as well as those at the Jaguar plant in Speke, are entitled to wonder why it is that their leader, a man who really should be setting an example, has been cushioned from the day-to-day financial worries afflicting his membership, & now stands to gain as much as £100,000 for leaving a property which he shouldn't have moved into in the first place.
Something tells me those workers & their families won't be toasting Tony at midnight.