The dairy farmers protests and the government’s double standards

Does anyone else find it ironic that the dairy farmers, who have been blockading milk processing plants, haven’t been painted as the “enemy within”? Not a single government minister has labelled them as “Trots” or “militants”. The Tory press has also been noticeably quiet, save for the outpouring of sympathy for the farmers. There isn’t a single Telegraph blogger that’s put his or her head above the parapet and accused the dairy farmers of “holding the country to ransom”. Yet when workers take industrial action for better pay and conditions they are attacked by the government and their allies in the media. The reason for this is simple: most farmers are supporters of the Conservative Party.

Instead, the right-wing press continues to lay into the unions. This article from The Daily Mail is typical,

The public would clearly welcome a law to prevent the country being brought to its knees by a few hundred union die-hards.

A backbench Tory MP, Dominic Raab, proposed a law which would have set minimum turnouts for strike ballots, but it died in Parliament for want of ministerial backing.

During last year’s strikes, Francis Maude did a lot of tough talking, accusing the unions of playing with fire and making veiled threats.

Now it’s time to back up those strong words and take some serious action.

First, the hack who wrote this offers us a generalization instead of hard facts: he claims that “the public” wants to see tougher union laws. That isn’t true.  Second, Dominic Raab should make better use of his time instead of trying to relive the life he didn’t have in the 1980s. He was clearly too young when Thatcher and her goons smashed the unions. Raab loves to talk and write about freedom but he’s more than happy to deny trade unionists their freedoms.  As I keep reminding readers, most local authorities are elected on a 21 to 25% turnout. Boris Johnson was re-elected as London Mayor on a turnout of 32%.

While the government is loathe to talk to trade unions – unless it’s to bully them – they are quite prepared to talk to the protesting dairy farmers. This is from The Independent,

The Government is to have talks with dairy farmers following two nights of protests over the prices paid to milk suppliers

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and Farming Minister Jim Paice are to meet farmers, milk processors and supermarkets next week, a spokesman for Defra confirmed.

The ministers will hold talks at the Royal Welsh Show, in Powys, on Monday to try to resolve the crisis in the dairy industry.

The protests are being led by a group calling itself “Farmers For Action” (FFA). The FFA and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) are working together and both organizations support the Tory party.  The NFU is a not a union in the accepted sense of the word. Alan White writing in The New Statesman says,

But the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has historically seemed either unable or unwilling to unionise their members.” And indeed, many have asked whether the NFU can really be called a union at all, such is its close relationship with government.

Just to show you how well the Tories support this action, the MP for Bridgewater, Ian Liddell-Grainger has, in the words of This is the West Country, “applauded” the dairy farmers.

He said farmers who used heavy machinery in a blockade at Robert Wiseman Dairy put on a ‘magnificent’ show of strength which should send a clear message to the processors and retailers.

Can you imagine what he’d have said if this had been a picket blockading a factory or a mine? They’d have sent in the army and there would have been calls in the Tory press to hang, flog or transport the offenders to a remote Crown Dependency.

Back to FFA, it turns out that the leader of this group is none other than  David Handley, who was behind the fuel protests back in 2002.  Nowhere Towers also understands that the same people were also involved in the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004.

Don’t get me wrong, I think dairy farmers are paid badly for their produce but I also think that workers who take industrial action are often paid badly and face severe hardship because of cuts to their pay and pensions. The government is clearly operating double standards here and it’s easy to see why: most trade unionists don’t vote Tory because if you’re a worker who votes Tory, you may as well slit your throat now.

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