As part of Blog Action Day, Owen blogged earlier today on the ‘Power of We’ and that trade unions are the manifestation of the ‘we’ at work. What does the ‘we’ at work actually mean and how do unions think about this to make us stronger?
Union organising — Page 2
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…
It seems we are fighting on all fronts at the moment: defending jobs, terms and conditions, services; campaigning against cuts to services and benefits; struggling to win our fight for equality. There is no question that we are already stretched.
So why is the TUC young members conference pushing now for a TUC-led campaign of awareness and education to win young hearts and minds to our cause?
Austerity and the poor state of the economy have created a tough climate for union negotiators, according to the latest TUC Equality Audit.
The Audit identifies instances where previously good policies and practices are being withdrawn in the face of cuts and a more hostile political climate. A number of unions said they had examples of flexible working arrangements being cut back in order to reduce costs or reasonable adjustments for disabled workers being removed or disabled workers being targeted in redundancy exercises.
Despite the challenges though, unions are still making progress.
Free marketeers like to sing the praises of “risk taking entrepreneurs”. Willingness to take risks is held up as a virtue. But in reality the real risks in society are taken not by entrepreneurs but by workers, and not by choice but by necessity.
BECTU’s motion on Vulnerable Workers at this year’s TUC was about the current trend for employers to offload risk onto workers, by redefining the employment relationship itself. We see it in the 1.4 million agency workers in this country; the 1.25 million freelance workers; and unknown numbers of casual employees, unpaid interns and bogus “volunteers”. And at extreme, we have gang-masters operating outside the law.
I would consider myself to be both an optimist and a realist. So whilst I am proud to be part of what is still the largest (and best) voluntary movement in the UK, I’m also concerned about our future.
When I started work, the TUC represented just over 11 million trade union members – 5 million more than it does currently. Whilst it can be unhelpful and uninformative to focus on numbers in isolation from the economic context, it is frightening to contemplate just how close we may now be to dipping below critical mass.
Indeed, the reality in some parts of the private sector is that this has already happened.