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My own union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) - which from 1 September 2017 officially merged with the National Union of Teachers to form the National Education Union - shares this European instinct towards involvement in the work process. It has been part of our union’s philosophy and is in our DNA. ‘“Done with”, not “done to”’ has been the watchword. Thus, for example, the ATL was a keen participant in the UK government’s short-lived education social partnership.

It is my belief that a failure to adopt this kind of attitude more widely accounts for much of the decline in trade union relevance in the UK: it is not only caused by anti-trade union legislation and the changing nature of the workforce. Interestingly, union membership has in some case gone up in societies - such as Belgium, Denmark and Sweden - in which unions are implicated directly in running important social welfare systems. Union membership also remains highly valued in Germany, where unions are a part of the intricate ‘co-determination’ system of industrial and economic planning. And union membership has stabilised in Ireland, where a social pact, through successive National Agreements, has entrenched the role of unions in national life since the late 1980s. Taking responsibility for running things – this has to be our direction of travel.

This is particularly the case within the professions, where workplace debate is at least as much about the quality of work, involvement in work and quality of life, as it is about pay. Issues people feel most strongly about are long hours, high workload, the application of performance management regimes, low-trust, low-discretion levels of accountability, and ceaseless examination, testing, reporting and recording. Traditional adversarial posturing and a rhetoric based on struggle and strife simply doesn’t connect with many workers’ lives, and they have little appetite for fighting ideological battles.

Supporters of workers’ control have a mountain to climb in interesting British unions on what is a well-established practice in Europe. However, it should be seen as one of the issues that could differentiate the left in a positive way from a populist right intent on capturing the working-class vote.

Part of the ‘British’ problem is that inflexible leftist ideology plays a part in holding us back from practical ‘workaday’ solutions which put working people in the driving seat. But it is also embedded in British trade union culture: as unions, we feel that the state is somehow ‘not our business’. Our trade union movement has not felt that our role was to second guess the state - or to ‘run things’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the green shoots of hope that do exist within the United Kingdom are mainly in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and even in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, for example, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has participated in the development of a new apprenticeship system that borrows consciously from the Swiss and Dutch apprenticeship models. A partnership Strategic Apprenticeship Forum has been set up to oversee the arrangements, in which the unions are involved.