EVOLUTION OF TRADE UNIONS
Why Trade unions need to evolve!
In the interest of article length i have taken some liberties with the timeline and given a very brief history of the trade union movement in the UK.
The turn of the 18th century could be regarded as the dawn of trade unions as we know them today In the United Kingdom. This was in response to the ever growing industrial society that used underprivileged workers from a variety of backgrounds. The policy at the time was maximum amount of work and hours for the least amount of pay.... Sound familiar??? So workers banded together to demand better rights and more money. At the time this concept spread like wildfire amongst what at the time was known as the “productive class” this movement quite quickly attracted a range of socialists and revolutionaries that ultimately ended the initial momentum.
Later that century more stable, less radical and better resourced trade unions begun to be established and later in 1868 the formation of the trade union congress (TUC). Trade unions were finally legalised in 1872, after a Royal Commission on Trade Unions in 1867 agreed that the establishment of the organisations was to the advantage of both employers and employees.
Moderate New Model Unions dominated the union movement from the mid-19th century and In 1899, a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed at his union branch that the Trade Union Congress to call a conference to bringing together left-wing organisations and organise them to sponsor candidates for parliament. This led to the formation and of the Labour Party in the early years of the 20th century.
Later in 20th century Trade unionism in the United Kingdom come to the fore front of the economic problems during the 60s and 70s which ultimately culminated in the “winter of discontent”. The conservatives under Margaret Thatcher introduced the trade union reform act which reduced the effectiveness of trade unions.
So understating trade unions tactics is simple.... a group of workers are unhappy or are being exploited or even being asked to work in unsafe environments they form a group consisting of the majority. Stop work and one of them is nominated to talk for the group and they begin negations with the employer this is known as a collective agreement. Job done! Everyone moves on happy however it very rarely happens like this and ends up with strikes, dismissals this often be attributed to apathy within the group. A quote I found very interesting from a guy called John Stuart Mill in 1871 about the concepts of unions.
“If it were possible for the working classes, by combining among themselves, to raise or keep up the general rate of wages, it needs hardly be said that this would be a thing not to be punished, but to be welcomed and rejoiced at. Unfortunately the effect is quite beyond attainment by such means. The multitudes who compose the working class are too numerous and too widely scattered to
combine at all, much more to combine effectually. If they could do so, they might doubtless succeed in diminishing the hours of labour, and obtaining the same wages for less work. They would also have a limited power of obtaining, by combination, an increase of general wages at the expense of profits.”
Its quite apparent that this problem still prevails today and we can see that these tactics cannot be relied upon and it is time for a new approach from trade unions to change tactics, Get creative and put aside egos. Use modern technology to cultivate alliances but furthermore working with organisations instead of reacting against bad decisions made by them.
Being the voice of the working majority is really the first and foremost obligation of any union. By not taking this obligation seriously the concept of a union has already failed. Any long term success had by a union comes from continually addressing the concerns of their rank and file. An example of this is a Australian construction union called CFMEU not only do they represent the will of the workers they work diligently with the organisations who are involved in the industry and help deliver they well trained, motivated and committed workers and continually drive training and improvement on a professional level.
The Second commitment should be to help each individual worker plan for the future. This can be done in a number of ways from providing a network of organisations that will enhance you professional development and help you plan a road map of improvement.
As a Co – Founder and chairman of a new Electrical Workers Union I have had great success working with organisations to resolve matters quickly and effectively and I believe the continued success in giving the workers a voice relies on building bridges rather than engaging in a battle of wills and attrition. In conclusion the problem with unions is ‘unity’ that’s not changed for over a hundred years perhaps it is time to consider new methods new attitudes the EWB certainly intend on evolving our approach to trade unionism.