A genuine democracy needs effective trade unions

I spent 24 years working professionally as a national trade union official, so I know the vital role that unions play in counterbalancing the power of employers and exploitation at the workplace and I know the reluctance of unions to take strike action especially when this is so heavily circumscribed by law.

Last week, an article in the  “Guardian”newspaper highlighted new data on trade unionism in Britain.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that there were just 79 strikes last year, the lowest figure since records began in 1891. Just 33,000 workers were involved in labour disputes, the lowest number since 1893.

It is not just the number of strikes that has fallen. Trade union membership has too. The latest figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show that just 23.2% of employees were unionised in 2017, half that of the late 1970s.

All this is happening at a time when average pay is yet to recover to levels before the financial crisis a decade ago and workers are going through the worst period for wage growth since the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 – well before the labour dispute records began. The use of zero-hours contracts and the rise of the gig economy has rightly fuelled fears over a decline in working conditions in recent years.

In an article in the “Observer” newspaper today, Kenan Malik reviews these trends and concludes:

“Not only have unions been drained of much of their power, but the workers that most need help are the least likely to be organised. The very character of the new, fragmented labour market makes organisation more difficult. The state of traditional trade unionism only compounds the problem.

Much has been written about the crisis of social democratic parties throughout Europe that have abandoned their old working-class constituencies and as a result have largely imploded. Much less thought has been given to similar trends within traditional trade unionism.

Yet, the crisis of trade unionism is as great as that of social democratic politics. The two are inextricably linked. To address the crisis of working-class politics, we need to address questions of working-class organisation and solidarity, too.”


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>