It’s 2012′s blog action day today, and the themes chosen by the organisers is “the power of we” so I thought I’d recall an old story about defining trade unions that I have used many times (but not, I hope, on this blog!)
In the early 1980s, computer multinational IBM got wind of attempts to unionise its workforce, and, being ferociously anti-union at the time, sent an urgent message to managers. They were instructed to use the 24-hour global hotline (this was before 24-hour global hotlines were commonplace,so it was a big move) to report any signs of trade unionism in their workforce.
Being IBM managers, they had little experience of trade unions, so many asked whether IBM could set out for them some top tips for spotting incipient trade unionism. And IBM said this…
If a worker comes into your office and says “I want a raise” or “I want a better workspace” or “I want training”, that’s ok – it’s the IBM way. It shows initiative and confidence and a will to get on.
But if a worker comes into your office and says “we want a raise” or “we want a better workspace” or “we want training”, that’s trade unionism, and you should press the panic button immediately.
So, from the mouth of what was then the biggest, kiss-ass multinational corporation, the best definition you could wish to find of a trade union. Not the endless committee meetings, the conferences by the seaside, the points of order and the badges and banners (actually I quite like them, but you see the point).
Trade unions are when workers say “we”.
Happy blog action day, and march with us for a future that works on Saturday 20 October!