UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Trade Unions alive and well? Only if we’re kicking...

‘Thatcherism is unfortunately alive and well, but so – thankfully – is trade unionism,’ says Carl Roper of the TUC, writing on the Stronger Unions blog. Carl makes an important point that ‘the paradox of Margaret Thatcher's policies is that whilst proclaiming the illegitimacy and irrelevance of unions they actually reinforced the need for collective representation of working people.’ Of course unions are alive but we can be less confident that the condition of the trade unions in the UK is ‘well’ whatever criteria is used - membership density, collective bargaining coverage, political influence etc.

A recent Economist article ‘Unions Inc.’ confirms the extent of union decline across the developed world: ‘American union membership hit a 96-year low last year. In the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the unionised proportion of paid workers nudged down from a low base of 17.8% in 2008 to 17.5% in 2011. In the large OECD economies most exposed to globalisation - America, Britain, Germany, France and Japan - unions’ share of the workforce has dropped steadily to roughly half its level in 1980.’

The Economist writer examines different trade union ‘business models’ and prefers the consensual Scandinavian approach such as that practised by white collar union Unionen which 'stands alongside its members, it doesn’t interpose itself between them and their employers.'

This anti-collectivist approach supposedly chimes with the consumerist, individualist aspirations of a new generation of workers. Yet whatever it is, it is not trade unionism.

An economy based on casual, part time and low paid jobs requires strong unions to challenge employers and reverse the decline in employment standards.

Unless unions demonstrate effective 'collective representation' of workers, our relevance will continue to be questioned by the non unionised majority.