In order to answer this question I would be looking at various aspects to the topic and how each of them relates and have created a more effective outcome. I would start by explaining the difference between trade unions and workers, I would then go on to explain the history of trade union detailing what has happened to trade union membership since the 20th Century. I would explain what trade unions as institutions and workers as employees mean. I would then look at the ways in which these strategies have influenced the growth of both unions and the workers and ways that they can be more effective
According to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, “Trade union is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving their working life”.
Unions are organisations set up to help employees in the negotiation of pay and other working conditions. The worker on the other hand is an employee of an organisation where he works under a contract and gets paid for the services he renders.
By the beginning of the 19th century the trade union membership was below 1/2 million were only about 4% of the population were members of the trade union. All through this time there were a lot of depressions going in the economy that brought on an upward and down ward movement in the number of workers in the union. By the 1970s the trade union members reached its peak point where it had about 13.3 million workers as members of the union; which was about 55% of the working population, this made them a force to be reckoned with the society were forced to take notice.
By 1979 when the conservative party took over control under the rule of Margaret Thatcher it meant the death of trade unions in Britain. They felt that the power the unions had were too much and if not stopped will result in a lot of damages to the government plans for the society.
The conservative party abolished a lot of the laws that were in support of trade unions in Britain, one of the things that were changed was the employment laws and this affected the bargaining power of the unions. The laws that supported closed shop and the ability of the unions to carry out lawful industrial actions like strikes were also abolished. The conservative party moved the focus of the state away from the people thereby abolishing the welfare state. The economy became more focused on pleasing the employers, and a lot of the public sector became privatised. Trade unions were excluded from a lot of decision making that affected the workers in the parliament. By the end of 1997, only about 6.3 million workers were in the union.
Trade unions are quickly seen as economic organisations who are mainly concerned in pay negotiation and terms of employment on their member’s behalf. Roberts discovered in the late 1950s that unions have more roles than these, he feels that they are “an expression of the fundamental right of men and women too organise themselves in order to protect and promote their interests in a collective action”.
By the late 1980s Towers came up with his idea of unions being “much more than engines for converting bargaining power into improved pay and conditions for their members… they are an integral and important part of the systems of checks and balances which compose capitalist, liberal democracies”. Trade Unions functions vary considerably away from just being about the worker and the work place but also about being about economic, social and industrial relations matters. Although there have been a lot of dramatic changes in trade union membership with organisations having different “labour flexibility” strategies, this has allowed the unions to come up with their own counter measures in the recruitment of new members, coming together with other unions to form a stronger union.
Trade union suffered considerable decline in industrial organisation which was brought on by the government (Conservative Party) and management itself. All the change management that was been introduced into the UK at this time transformed the way work was seen and this hastened the job losses especially in the manufacturing industry and service industry, where union membership was low. There is a lot of material to analyse but giving the space constraint I would be looking at just a few in details. Trade unions seeing that their members have dropped came up with different renewal strategies that they felt would help them regain their status in the eyes of the state, the organisation and especially in the eyes of their members.
They came up with New Realism as one of their renewal strategies; this was introduced after the time of the conservative party in the 1980s. As the forces of globalisation grew stronger, the union leaders changed their thinking to be real about what was going on in the economy to that of being more business friendly a sympathetic to the feelings of employers. This weakened the power of trade unions that now thought of strike has been the last resort instead of the first cause of action. The trade union also saw partnership as a strategy for them to get a foot hold back into organisation. Partnership is an agreement between the employers and the trade unions; it was seen as a way of negotiating working conditions at the same time helping organisations grow by changing the working attitudes of the employees into that which delivers high productivity.
Mergers in trade union is now seen a compulsory measure for the unions, this is because of the various mergers and acquisitions that is taking place in organisations. Unions feel that the take-overs and mergers is a plot by the organisations to diffuse union membership. Unions are now general unions that are representing people in different agencies and this helped them to solve the problem of the union resources.
In the recent years it can be seen that unions see this step as the way forward when unions like National and Provincial Building Society Staff Association (NAPSA) and the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU) making them Europe biggest white collar specialist. Another way that the unions though of getting more people back into the unions was the Managerial Serving Relationship this was done by offering special services to their member for example insurance, credit card services. They began to see their members as reactive consumers who are attracted to servicing packaging.
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