UNION chief Roz Foyer has said the language used by the UK Government towards trade unions is an attempt to portray workers as “the root of all evil”.

Over the past year, former prime minister Liz Truss has referred to “militant unions” and told them to “get back to work”.

Grant Shapps told them to “stop grandstanding” while Nadhim Zahawi claimed industrial action was playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands and Buckingham MP Greg Smith claimed unions were “holding the country to ransom”.

What is the impact of this kind of language?

“What the UK Government is trying to do is dead cat the unions, trying to frame the debate in a way that creates a bogeyman that’s not them”, Foyer, the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), told The National.

She continued: “They’re trying to make unions the root of all evil when the reality is that what we’re talking about is ordinary working people who have been let down and abandoned who are having to come together to take action and exercise their human right to take strike action.

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“They have every right to demand a fairer share of the huge wealth that exists, but we have a UK Government who is ideologically opposed to the working class having a fairer share and they know if they fight back then they’ll have a better chance of winning.

“The UK Government fears trade unions and will do everything they can to attack us and you see that when they come out with the usual tropes like ‘militant’, ‘greedy’, you name it.”

This comes as the RMT’s latest wave of strike action hits the UK as Network Rail rejected the latest pay offer which was put to them on Monday.

Meanwhile, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the head of the Royal College of Nursing confirmed strikes would go ahead after they were averted in Scotland.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said on Tuesday morning that the “tide is turning” when it comes to pay offers on the table in the rail dispute but added that “there isn’t a bottomless pit of money to go into the rail industry". 

What is the impact of this kind of language?

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri, a lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews who was recently involved in UCU strike action, explained to The National what he believes the intention is behind such severe anti-union rhetoric.

He said: “As much as I might disagree and in some cases despise their politics, they (the Tories) are not stupid people.

"They know how they’re using language and sending the message they want to send.

"There’s an interesting division put forward between unions and people as if unions are not people, as if they are somehow a less legitimate party in some way.

“It’s all about why unions are ruining Christmas for people as if members don’t have a Christmas of their own.”

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In spite of this though, Foyer says that she’s never seen such high levels of support for unions amongst the general public.

“I’ve been on hundreds of picket lines this year and folk are honking their horns as they go past, I’ve never seen solidarity like this and people are realising this is about more than just their own workplace, it’s about people saying we deserve better than this”, she said.

“I don’t think the Tory rhetoric will cut through, they’ve lost the support of ordinary working people because they’ve just no idea, they’re so out of touch with reality.

“People are really scared. We’re in the middle of a cold snap and people don’t know how they’ll cope with energy bills, how they’ll afford food.”

How do the UK and Scottish Governments differ?  

Although the STUC have had their disputes with the Scottish Government, with teacher strikes still to be resolved in Scotland, Foyer said there is a “fundamental difference” between the Scottish and UK Governments approach to unions.

“We’ve got a government in Scotland that, certainly by their rhetoric, claims to be a left of centre government that supports fair work and that supports trade unions”, Foyer said.

She added: “I have to say words can only go so far. We still have a huge group of public sector workers whose demands are very reasonable.

The National: Scotland's Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth called on the Tories to bring an end to the RMT disputeScotland's Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth called on the Tories to bring an end to the RMT dispute

“We have teachers leaving the profession having had a hell of a time through the pandemic.”

The STUC recently outlined proposed changes they would like to see made to the Scotland’s tax system with John Swinney set to announce a draft budget on Thursday.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said supporting “fair public sector pay settlements” was a priority for ministers and that proposals on tax policy would be announced on Thursday.

What role does the media play?

Since the beginning of the wave of strike action seen across the UK this year, much has been made of the media appearances made by various trade union bosses, most notably those by RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.

His no-nonsense style approach to interviews with the likes of Kay Burley, Piers Morgan and Richard Madeley have, largely, been well received.

“One of the noticeable things is how incredibly articulate trade union leaders are, people like Mick Lynch are doing amazing jobs at the PR part of things”, Raychaudhuri explains.

He added: “There is a danger as we get close to Christmas that public support starts to wane but I think the unions are aware of that and that’s why the PR campaign is as strong as it is.”

Raychaudhuri believes the media has a role to play though in educating people on what a strike actually is and why they are happening.

Specifically, he believes it’s important to distinguish between a strike and a protest.

He said: “Sometimes a strike is treated as if it is a protest when it is not. A protest means you have the right to protest or you don’t and it’s about you as an individual or a group expressing your opinion.

"That’s not a strike, a strike is workers together exercising the only right they have to withdraw their labour to shut down the functioning of the organisation to say ‘you will not be able to be a functioning business until you negotiate’.

"One of the important things the media can usefully do is inform and educate on what a trade union is and what a strike actually is, speaking to union bosses as well as rank and file members."