Saturday, August 01, 2009
The need to organise
In 1980, 55% of workers belonged to a union; today, fewer than one in five workplaces negotiate over pay, hours or holidays; and 64% of workplaces have no union members at all.Trade union membership in the UK fell more than 2% to 27.4% in 2008
Symeon Cope works in the security industry and has never joined a trade union. "Where I've worked, if management got wind of anything like that, they'd find reason to sack us, or worse," he explains.
Rob MacGregor, a national officer with Unite admits "There is a whole generation of workers with no family or community links to organised labour," .
Being a union member really will make a difference to their working lives.
The main incentives, as one trade union official put it, "are protecting decent wages, protecting your job, and, if the worst happens, getting a fair redundancy deal."
The latest figures suggest union members earn around 12.5% more per hour than their non-union counterparts. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that about 3 million union members in the private sector (a fifth of all employees) enjoy a pay premium of around 10% directly as a result of strong collective bargaining.
According to figures from the Labour Research Department, in 2004 unions won an estimated £16.2m for their members at employment tribunals. Unfair dismissal awards won by trade unions are more than three times higher than the average in a non-union backed case.In 2007, unions won a record £330m in compensation for members through legal action. They also won £1m in equal pay claims – an average of £15,000 per member affected.
A barrister who regularly attends tribunal hearings for nurses notices a big difference in the outcomes. "Those who come up before tribunals without union representation rarely get a good outcome. They just don't understand what a huge difference it makes to the presentation of their case."
But as the article says "Unions can't work miracles, though" and this has always been the caveat that the Socialist Party has always given in its support for sound trade union action and it has been recognised that the trade union movement to function is required to integrate within the capitalist system.In our view trade-union action is necessary under capitalism, but is limited by being of an essentially defensive nature.Trade unions , in general , have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tended to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions and peerage . It has to be admitted that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system.
"A recent meeting at the TUC between union leaders and HR directors to debate the future of union and employer relations suggests the trade union movement as a whole is moving towards a more conciliatory approach: working with employers to mitigate the effects of job losses, putting more emphasis on helping people to retrain or encouraging voluntary redundancies where possible."
Combining together in trade unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way workers can prevent their wages falling below the value of their labour-power. It is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell. This is the usefulness of trade unions to the working class but they can do no more than this. The competition of individual workers for jobs enabled employers to take full advantage of their strengthened position. If, however, the workers unite and agree not to sell their labour-power below a certain price, the effect of individual competition for jobs can be, at least in part, overcome. Organised workers can ensure that the wage they get is the current value of their labour-power and, at times when the demand for labour-power exceeds the supply, they can temporarily push wages above the current value of labour power or even, in the longer term, raise its value. This was, and still is, the economic logic for the working class of trade union organisation.Workers may influence their wages and working conditions only by collective effort and only by being in the position to stop working if their demands are not met. The ability to withhold their service in a strike is one weapon in their possession ( work-to-rules and overtime bans are others) . It is the only final logic known to employers. Without it, wages tend to sink below subsistence level. With it , a substantial check can often be placed on the encroachments of the employers and improvements both in wages and working conditions can be made. The strike is not a sure means of victory for workers in dispute with employers. There are many cases of workers being compelled to return to work without gains, even sometimes with losses. Strikes should not be employed recklessly but should be entered into with caution, particularly during times when production falls off and there are growing numbers of unemployed. Nor should not be thought that victory can be gained only by means of the strike. Sometimes more can be gained simply by the threat of a strike. The most effective strike as the one that did not take place .Workers must bear all these things in mind if they are to make the most effective use of the trade union and the power which it gives them.
Trade Unions can - and do - enable workers to get the full value of their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class.