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Trade unionism works...in principle

As the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s star wanes, the Pharmacist’s Defence Association’s is rising. Why? Because the PDA does stuff that its members value and are prepared to pay for, insists our correspondent…

 

 

I am not a union man but a substantial number of community pharmacists already are and that number may well grow in the future now the PDAU’s long running and acrimonious campaign for recognition by Boots has finally met with success.

No doubt the PDAU is already knocking at the doors of other large pharmacy multiples seeking recognition and it may be no bad thing. Tales of the pressures applied to pharmacist employees have been a consistent theme for a number of years now.

It will be interesting to see how the multiples respond. If I am ever fortunate enough to employ a second pharmacist, could I one day find a union representative knocking on my door?

To my mind this is an important development in the pharmacy profession’s evolution: it marks the point where we must accept we are largely an employee profession rather than independent professional practitioners.

The PDAU is flexing its muscles in a number of areas. It is progressing a compensation claim against Well Pharmacy for a data breach and has offered advice to pharmacist members who may be affected by branch closures such as those announced by Rowlands.

Towards the end of March, it announced it has affiliated to the General Federation of Trade Unions, an eclectic group of specialist unions that represent footballers, musicians, prison officers, social workers and the Society of Union Employees among others.

The PDAU says it needs to strengthen the organisation’s trade union activity. “The GFTU provides a comprehensive range of services to support affiliates … the training programme will be a great resource for PDAU’s network of representatives to develop their skills and will provide a further benefit to those pharmacists who volunteer to become a union representative.” So watch this space!

I have nothing against trade unionism in principle – workers need representation and unions can bridge the communication gap between the shop floor and senior managers in a way that middle management frequently fails to do.

But I was brought up in a household, and at a time, when the finger was pointed at the unions for driving the country towards economic ruin – an accusation that could be levelled at our politicians today – and it is difficult to shake off those formative influences.

Remember the satirical lyrics of Part of the Union, the top 20 hit by the Strawbs?

The PDAU might be relatively young but it is far from being the only health profession union. Don’t forget the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing are also unions.

But what is instructive is that the PDA Union is now the largest membership organisation in the UK for pharmacists and has grown so quickly that it is already among the largest 30 trade unions in the country.

That’s quite an achievement since the PDAU was set up a little over a decade ago. I know that many pharmacists buy their indemnity insurance through the PDA and that members can join the PDAU at no extra cost to their PDA membership, so becoming a union member is not exactly onerous. Why not join, then?

The numbers matter, though, since as an independent trade union – one that is financially independent and free of employer control – the PDAU has a number of statutory rights including the right to seek recognition and bargaining agreements with employers where more than 50% of relevant employees are union members.

What this dramatic growth doesn’t say much for is the membership satisfaction, services, representation – call it what you will – provided by some of our other national membership organisations, and I’m thinking particularly here of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

I coughed up my annual fee of £212 earlier this year but it will probably be for the last time.

Apart from the Pharmaceutical Journal, the only thing of value that the RPS has provided for me over the past few years has been access to meetings set up by our local practice forum.

The PJ, to its credit, it has become more readable of late but in practice, it contains little I cannot pick up elsewhere so is a marginal benefit.

On the reverse side of the coin I have been hugely frustrated by cack-handed way the RPS has ‘supported’ local practice forums to the point where they might become extinct.

I should declare here that I have been a member of the LPF committee and have seen at first hand the way the Society’s bureaucracy impacts on the running of local events.

So as the Society’s star wanes, the PDA’s would seem to be rising. Put simply, this is because the PDA does stuff for its members that they value and are prepared to pay for.

The Society is struggling and continues to survive because it has substantial financial reserves and the diminishing loyalty of old timers like me.

As a membership organisation, why can’t the Society offer indemnity and commercial premises insurance? The BMA does, or partners with companies that do.

Why can’t the Society do more to support its members in the workplace? If the RPS does not make itself more useful to the younger generation, it will become like the Society of Apothecaries, with a nice London address and no real purpose.

I said at the outset that I am not a union man but the inertia and generally dispiriting performance by the Society would be driving me in that direction if it were an option for independent proprietors.

It seems that for the majority of pharmacists in primary care, the PDAU is in a far better place to represent their interests than anyone else.

How much longer before the Union really starts to throw its weight around, I wonder?

So, for those of you young enough not to be familiar with the Strawbs, here are the lyrics to Part of the Union. Take it away…

Now I'm a union man
Amazed at what I am
I say what I think
That the company stinks
Yes I'm a union man.

When we meet in the local hall
I'll be voting with them all
With a hell of a shout
It's out brothers out
And the rise of the factory's fall.

Oh you don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die.

As a union man I'm wise
To the lies of the company spies
And I don't get fooled
By the factory rules
'Cause I always read between the lines.

And I always get my way
If I strike for higher pay
When I show my card
To the Scotland Yard
This what I say.

Oh you don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die.

Before the union did appear
My life was half as clear
Now I've got the power
To the working hour
And every other day of the year.

So though I'm a working man
I can ruin the government's plan
Though I'm not too hard
The sight of my card
Makes me some kind of superman.

Oh you don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die.

 

 

Picture: godrick (iStock)

 

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