Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Unionism

It’s very boring to have to repeat it, but repeat it we must: the agreement of individual workers to their pay and working conditions is virtually never truly free. Unless the circumstances are exceptional, they have to take what they are given. Corporate executives everywhere are desperate to find respectable arguments to justify their ability to pay workers whatever best suits them and their shareholders, which oddly enough is usually – admittedly not always, but usually – only just enough to allow workers and their families to keep body and soul together. Cutting workers out of decision-making about wages – deregulating the labour market and limiting workers’ ability to unionize and to take industrial action to press wage claims – has not led to increased wealth creation and the trickling down of that wealth to ordinary workers. It has simply meant productivity growth outstripping growth in real wages, which leads to excessive profits and increasing inequality.

The experience of the last 30 years has shown – as if any more evidence was really needed – that employers will not voluntarily increase their employees’ real wages to match productivity. We don’t need any more debate about whether we need collective industrial relations. Thirty years of neoliberalism has provided all the evidence we could possibly need that excluding workers from decisions about pay and conditions has seriously damaging social and economic consequences.

What we have to start talking about again is what kind of collective industrial relations we need. What kind of workers’ organizations are most effective where employment is largely informal? Is it better to try to organize bargaining at enterprise or industry level? How do we support the growth and development of democratic trade unions? Are there models of democratic workers’ organization that are different from the Euro-American standard and that are more appropriate (for example) in circumstances where workers are informally or precariously employed? What can unions in the global north learn from these organizations? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of mandated as opposed to voluntary forms of worker representation?

They need to be encouraged to take that economically and socially responsible step – and who better them than workers themselves?

Abridged and adapted from an article by New Unionism,  an approach being developed by unions who want to make change and set agendas, rather than just reacting to them. The New Unionism network brings together supporters of these principles and seeks to encourage wider involvement in the change process. The network has no formal structure, no officers, no policies or meetings. New Unionism can be reached at:

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