The enormous turnout at the March for the Alternative on Saturday showed the TUC’s capacity to mobilise opposition against the government’s cuts agenda. The next obvious step is to mobilise support for an economic alternative, and I would argue that a stronger system of collective bargaining needs to be prominent in the case that unions make.
At last week’s TUC/ESRC roundtable, we heard from a number of speakers on the negative outcomes that followed from the decline in collective bargaining coverage over recent decades, for instance the rise of low-paid work and the growth in latent conflict between workers and managers.
There was also consensus among participants that unions can help to address some of the economic problems facing Britain, such as rising living costs and falling consumer demand, by making the case for stronger collective bargaining regulation. I’ve echoed some of these arguments in a post on Left Foot Forward today, where I say that collective bargaining can help to boost wages and consumer spending, which would facilitate economic growth.
But a number of speakers also made the point that unions need to find innovative ways to organise in order to extend collective bargaining coverage. We heard some interesting presentations on the various tools available to unions to increase their organising presence. Steve Murphy (UCATT’s Midlands Regional Secretary) spoke about how UCATT have used framework agreements with large companies to improve pay, conditions and union access among their sub-contractors and suppliers, and Annie Watson (the ETI Trade Union Coordinator) told us of the organising opportunities available through the Ethical Trading Initiative and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
Keep an eye out for the next Unions, Collective Bargaining and Employment Relations Project Research Bulletin for a full report from the roundtable.