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

Thursday, 15 August 2013

What is the trade union movement’s core mission?

The announcement of the USA trade union centre AFL/CIO’s new strategy to form alliances with grassroots community organisations has been heralded as ‘a return to its 19th-century roots when the labour movement claimed to speak for, we call them ‘the 99%’ today.’ Similar transformative claims accompanied Unite’s launch in 2011 of a category of community membership for the unemployed and students beyond that unions established sphere of influence.

However with private sector density in the US and Britain at 6.6% (11.3% generally) and 14.4% (26% generally) respectively, it begs the question why unions are diverting resources into recruiting and forming alliances with non workers when large swathes of the economy (i.e. the vast majority of workplaces) have no union representation? It’s self evident that the decline in union power will not be reversed unless and until membership is built and revitalised in workplaces. As difficult as that task is in the fragmented, outsourced and sub contracted economy of the early 21st Century, we should be cautious of activities and strategies which displace that primary objective. Either we renew unions as workplace organisations or we risk them mutating into something very different and marginal from the world of work.