You may have picked up Carl’s original posting a month or so ago on trade union membership. But, in case you haven’t, here’s our first Organising Academy webinar on those figures and what they mean for unions. Be great to hear your thoughts.
Union futures — Page 2
A subject that has long concerned unions, and therefore Unions21, is how we recruit the next generation of members.
Recent joint TUC/Unions21 commissioned focus group research uncovered a number of distinct and clear barriers that prevent young people from joining the union movement.
These were categorised into four main themes: Lack of awareness, Lack of ‘push factors’, Lack of ‘pull factors’ and Repellent factors (download the full research report for detail on these)
In the last category – Repellent Factors, young people said they found it difficult to identify with union members. Unions were seen as militant, old fashioned, and aggressive, which turned the young people we spoke to off.
Trade unions are the subject of a new paper published by Acas (written by yours truly – apologies for the shameless self-promotion) as part of its Future of Workplace Relations discussion paper series. In the paper I draw on academic research to argue that unions continue to play an effective role in representing workers, as reflected in the high (and rising) proportion of workers surveyed who believe that unions do an effective job, the constructive role of union representatives in helping to resolve workplace grievances, and the higher wage levels received by members than non-members.
However, unions face the reality of an increasing trend among employers to use non-union mechanisms for communicating with their workers.
I’ve recently been looking at the lessons that British unions might be able to take from the Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where there is widespread political support for collective labour market regulation, with union membership and collective bargaining coverage both at enviably high levels.
High bargaining coverage is one of the reasons why the Scandinavian countries have among the highest levels of income equality in the world. The ‘social case’ for collective bargaining is well established, and is acknowledged by international bodies such as the OECD and the ILO. Indeed, the decline of collective bargaining coverage in Britain has been singled-out by various studies as a key reason for rising inequality over the past three decades. The number of workers that were classified as ‘low-paid’ (i.e. earning less than two-thirds of the median income) was 13% in 1979 when collective bargaining coverage was near its peak, but has since risen to 22%.
While unions can point to the social benefits of collective bargaining, the economic case is more complicated. But it is on this point where the Scandinavian examples are most informative. Studies on the economic impact of collective bargaining have produced rather mixed findings, with many claiming that it can actually worsen unemployment and inflation.
In 1994, the OECD said that labour market deregulation was the best way for countries to reduce unemployment. However, the OECD revised its recommendations in 2006 after the Scandinavian countries showed that highly coordinated collective bargaining systems and active trade unions could actually produce strong economic performance and jobs growth (essentially the opposite of what the OECD had originally prescribed).
There is considerable agreement within the academic community that highly coordinated systems of collective bargaining have a more positive impact than ‘uncoordinated’ or ‘fragmented’ systems. In other words, it is not how many or how few workers are covered by collective agreements, but rather the extent to which bargaining is coordinated, that matters most in assessing whether collective bargaining systems have a positive or negative macroeconomic impact. This is important if unions want to make a political case for extending collective bargaining coverage across the workforce.
More information on employment relations in Scandinavia, and some of the possible lessons for Britain, can be found in the latest issue of the TUC/ESRC Unions, Collective Bargaining and Employment Relations Research Bulletin.
The July issue of the TUC/ESRC Unions, Collective Bargaining and Employment Relations research bulletin is now online. A range of themes relevant to British unions are explored in this issue, including:
Collective bargaining in Scandinavia – what lessons for Britain?
The opportunities for bargaining around the union learning agenda
An overview of proceedings from the recent Roundtable on the Future of Collective Representation
And a wrap-up of the recent issues of the academic employment relations journals
You can find a copy of the latest bulletin here.
I’ve just put together the first research bulletin for the TUC’s Unions, Collective Bargaining and Employment Relations research project, which is supported Economic and Social Research Council. This first bulletin provides some context for the project, and outlines the various studies and related activities that will take place over the coming months. You can find a copy here
Has there ever been a time where there were so many demonstrations, rallies, protests and pickets? In the past there have been huge movements, of course, but never this variety of action.
Working people are waking up to what this government is doing to their lives and communities. While there are some mass demonstrations – all the signs are that March 26 will be memorable – it is the plethora of actions which is unique.
The new media has allowed activists to communicate simply and regularly, reversing the difficulties created by the breakdown of industrial Britain and communities.
So every day, somewhere in the country, something has been organised and we can follow it on the internet.
But as exciting as this development is, it is still a comparatively small minority who use the net this way. The majority rely on traditional media, which means they are being kept in ignorance as newspapers and broadcasters ignore most of what is going on.
There was plenty of coverage of the early demonstrations against the trebling of tuition fees but only because of the tiny amount of violence. Similarly the actions of UK Uncut get covered as invading banks or Topshop makes good pictures.
Meanwhile the Tory spin machine has whirred into top gear. Cuts to vital council services are dismissed as being justified because a few senior officers earn more than the prime minister.
The way round this is to combine the advantages of new media communication with the good old traditional ways of informing and enthusing members. Facebook and the internet provide fantastic opportunities but they can’t replace the tried and tested methods, as Jo Phillips and I point out in our book Why Join A Trade Union?
Our aim is to explain to non-members as well as inactive members why joining and taking part in union activities is today as vital as it has ever been. The struggle against government, employers and the right-wing press goes on and we need every weapon in the armoury, old as well as new.