Comparative Labour And Trade Union Movement Commerce Essay

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This report sets out to consider the issue of how some of the British unions have adopted what is termed an 'organising strategy' in order to renew union strength, and to then compare this strategy with that adopted by unions in the U.S. and France.

Frege and Kelly link the issue of union membership to "the contours of collective bargaining" (2003:16), and argue that, in comparison to the rest of Europe, there is more of an incentive within the "decentralized systems of the UK and United States" (ibid) for trade unions to organise, Baccaro, et al, similarly link the UK to the U.S when they comment how the UK trade unions "have borrowed from the organizing tactics of American unions" (2003:123). Consequently this report takes cognisance of these views and will draw from studies and literature, from both the United States and the United Kingdom, examining both the historical and current notions of union organising and union revitalisation in these countries.

Other academics, such as Jeffreys (1996), comment as to how there are also growing similarities between the pressures facing both the UK and the French unions and this report will also endeavour to consider and compare the differing organising strategies within the French Trade union movement where, although there is a lower level of membership density (see table 2), the French Trade unions are still able to mobilise large numbers of workers when needed.

The report will also consider the industrial and political environments that each union movement faces, in their respective countries, in order to assess the role of organising within the union movement. The report will seek to compare the successes, or problems, that the trade union organisations may have encountered, by analysing the information gathered and then considering what conclusions and recommendations can be made regarding the role of trade union organising strategies in the three countries.

The need for an organising strategy 201

It is important to examine the history, and concept, of organising as seen through the literary works of academics. In comparative studies of trade unions by other authors there is a common theme which suggests that throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, trade unions throughout the UK and Europe were in decline (Kelly: 1998, Heery: 2003, Darlington: 2002), and that consequently many unions have had to re-examine their structures, and methods by which they represent their membership in order to survive in today's competitive free market economy.

Today's unions have several choices when choosing to organise within a workplace as this can be achieved through;xxxx

partnership deals and appealing to the employer - as with Nissan, however a recent paper on 'Union renewal' by Danford et al. argues that partnership and organising cannot work in tandem as there is a strong likelihood that senior activists would become alienated from the membership thereby restricting members participation and mobilisation (pp1-27)

organising to achieve a numerical target that would allow recognition under statute or,

a strong leadership that is able to motivate the workforce to the inequalities and injustices that members may perceive as demonstrated by the RMT union. (Darlington:2009)

Heery also argues that today's unions are "less able to attract members and [have become] less representative of the working population" (2003: 79) and, it could be argued, that in today's current industrial relations climate, Sidney and Beatrice Webb's definition of a Trade Union as being "a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives" (1920: p.1) is no longer enough to attract people to the trade union movement.

2.1 Defining an organising strategy within UK unions 860

Evidence to support Heery's argument (2003:79) can be observed in the TUC's decision, in 1998, to set up an Organising Academy in order to re-build membership and grow workplace organisation as a result of the year on year decline in union membership since the 70's. [See table 1]

Table 1. Trade union membership figures, 1993-2003


Confederation /centre




Change 1993-2003





























Union members




Source: France & UK data: EIRO:2011 United States Data: Mayer G, 2004

.* France- according to CGT, 24.9% of members were pensioners in 1993. and 21.8% in 1998. ** Change from 1993 to 1998.

In essence, it could be argued that the TUC organising model was not so much a newly imported concept from the United States, but instead was an attempt to shape a strategy under the banner of 'New Unionism' with the aim of bringing an organising culture to the centre stage of the trade union thinking. This would at the same time, help to counter the US 'union busting' HRM techniques that companies in the UK were starting to introduce (Smith: 2008, Moore: 2004). However bringing such an organising model to the forefront of trade union thinking requires the unions to adopt new techniques and cultures, such as 'mapping the workplace' and creating organising committees (Heery et al.:2003), and any such process would also rely upon the introduction of a new kind of union official who would be a trained specialist, able to be used as an

"agent of change" ( ???? 2008) in order to help move the union movement away from the old adage of union officials being "pale, male and stale"(Coddington:1998).

The new 'union organisers' were set a strategic role by the TUC that it could be argued, is a somewhat contrary position to Kelly's 'mobilization theory' (1998), and Darlington, uses the Royal Mail Industrial Relations environment to provide an example of this dichotomy, when he describes the postal 'union leadership' as being;

"…a layer of workplace union activists and militants capable of standing up and arguing with their fellow workers, and providing rank-and-file leadership often independently of full-time union officials" (2002:98).

However, rather than simply having the union leadership seen as the key activists that generate workforce grievances, and highlight issues to the membership, in order to bring about some form of collective action as described by Darlington, the TUC's perspective was to use the organisers in a way in which they could be seen as 'professionalising' the issue of organising, however the organisers' role relies upon the membership to become actively participative in key workplace issues, and in order to complement and assist the lay activists it can become a resource hungry process.

Nowak states that, since conception ten years previously, the TUC Organising Academy has changed significantly and he accepts that the academy hadn't "led to a huge upsurge in trade union membership" however he believed that; "right from the start …one [such] initiative couldn't" achieve this (Nowak: 2008).

Moore raises an important point when she argues that as "the benefits of winning [recognition] may be perceived as higher for the union…[and]…unions may invest significant resources into organizing" (2004:p.21), and it is noteworthy that the TUC, upon launching the Academy, set out a budget of £1.5 Million for this strategy, with the 17 sponsoring unions also providing £15,000 towards the organisers wages. (Coddington: 1998). Kelly et al adds to this by asking why, with such a commitment to resources undertaken by the unions, "was the recovery of membership in Britain so modest in the period 1998 - 2002?" (2004:p.32).

Whether this amount of money can be seen as 'significant resources', when compared to the 2006 total annual membership income of UK unions which stood at £747 Million, with the TUC receiving £14 Million in affiliation fees and spending £1.59 Million on organising (TUC:2008), is open to debate and this raises the question as to whether or not declining union revenue, through reduction in members, is actually a driver that is preventing the unions from providing adequate resources to fulfil the aims of the TUC's organising strategy, and for the unions to achieve the benefits of recognition as described by Moore.

Wills (2001) highlights the fact that the TUC is not the only organisation that has considered the impact of organising and in 2004 the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation re branded itself as 'Community - the union for life', a union which not only offers all the traditional union services but also goes beyond this by offering a range of benefits such as Child Benefit through to Learning centres for members, their families and the community. It also encourages members to remain in the organisation when they retire (Community:2011).

Another facet of the UK trade union movement attempting to move 'outside the box' is the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council and they have "run a number of successful, community-based projects to extend union organisation to companies providing privatised public services" (Heery abbot p169) as well as founding the 'Workers Beer Company' which uses the funds from the venture to help employ three 'union organisers' in the local area (Battersea and Wandsworth TUC: 2011).

Willman (2004:p76-79) offers a view that, with regards to the loss of members, the trade union movement has three options,

To increase membership fees, whilst taking into account current economic conditions regarding members pay,

To "seek new membership markets"

To lobby government for changes to the employment regulatory process.

Defining an organising strategy within United States unions.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is the United States equivalent to the British TUC and is a voluntary federation representing a total of 57 national and international labour unions with a combined membership of 12.2 million union members. It has the 'mission statement' to: "improve the lives of working families - to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation…" (AFL-CIO:2011), it has also set itself a target to:

"create a broad understanding of the need to organize among our members, our leadership and among unorganized workers" (ibid).

It can be argued that this 'mission statement' regarding organising and more notably amongst unorganised workers, is the result of employer hostility towards the trade union movement, as demonstrated through the Taft-Hartley Act which produced 'Right-to-work' states and this enabled the Southern and Western states to ban the closed shop (Gaspin et al). However, the AFL-CIO has not only had to deal with the employers attacks but historically, ever since the 1960's and 70's, it has also had to face the emergence of the growing US civil rights movement, and considering the past history of the AFL, which "welcomed into its ranks white-supremacist unions that often had clear racial-exclusion clauses in their membership requirements" (Fletcher et al 2009: p.12), it is not surprising to find that other organisations formed as a direct result of the AFL-CIO'S "refusal to adopt internal desegregation measures" (Tait: 2005; p.25), and these now openly compete for membership.

One example of such an organisation is the Negro American Labour Council which, in 1963, organised the memorable 'Jobs and Freedom' march, at which Martin Luther King jnr. spoke of his 'dream'. It could be argued that this march was the impetus for the US union movement to form the linkage between the civil rights movement to the issue of jobs and employment.

Evidence to support this argument can be found in the manner and style of the language used by the unions, who talk of 'social and economic justice', and 'empowering workers to speak'. This, coupled with the recent highly visible and successful political campaigns, such as the Obama presidential campaign (Ghitza et al.2009: p.81; Radcliff: 2001) demonstrate how unions are now linking political and other public issues that reach beyond the workplace, and affect workers daily lives, in order to attract members.

Not only have union organisations such as the AFL-CIO have therefore had to develop complex methods to attract workers to join the union movement, such as campaigning for 'social and economic justice' but they have also had to provide a variety of services for their members, such as social insurance schemes, social spending programs, and consumer protection legislation (AFL-CIO:2011). All of which have a broad appeal to the workforce, however, Heery et al, challenges whether or not such services do actually attract members, pointing to the AFL-CIO 'associate membership' program which, Heery believes,

"failed to contribute significantly to membership growth and had enrolled fewer than 100,000 members by the early 1990s" (2000: p.160

However the AFL-CIO organising strategy did not just rely upon their becoming a 'service union', and their partnership approach to collaborating with "Working America" which has

"worked side by side AFL-CIO union activists on protecting social security, reining in corporate excesses, the Employment Free Choice Act, health care reform, and more" (Sweeney:2009.p.3),

demonstrates how this partnership can help the AFL-CIO reach out to the three million members of Working America.

Acuff also comments upon this partnership approach and his perceived lack of growth by the AFL-CIO when he states that:

"It has taken too long, but the AFL-CIO and it's affiliate unions have finally faced the fact that American labor law works against organizing and the process of collective bargaining and that America's unions must change the way we organize" (2003)

is the link to the US Working Families site.In 1995 the AFL-CIO's new leadership committed $20 million to support a significant drive in organising and asked all affiliates to commit to placing 30 per cent of their spending to organising ventures. Other large unions, such as the Communication Workers of America, also followed suit and this venture attracted over a thousand young workers, and college students into organising campaigns.

Defining an organising strategy within French unions

The French Trade Union movement is built around five main and competing, rival confederations, the CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC and CFE-CGC. These confederations are recognised through a legal status as being 'representative' at a national multi - industry level, and they act as an umbrella organisation for individual trade unions, and occupational or industrial federations, at département and regional and national level. Unlike the UK and US trade union movements, they are able to form associations which they can utilise to improve their circumstances and they have a common principal which is the support for "the transformation of society" as a main union objective (ETUI:2011).

However, despite the union density being lower than that of either the UK or US [see table 2] the French trade unions are still able to organise workers to participate in employee representatives elections and to mobilise workers to undertake Industrial Action when needed (LRD: 2010), although this viewpoint is challenged by Boulin who argues that the French Trade Union movement is "in the throes of a crisis that is deeper than ever before." (1998:p242) and uses the decrease in disputes to contest that the "decline in the unions' image, as distinct from that of their leaders, has resulted in a loss of influence and made it more difficult to mobilise workers".

Table 2. Trade union Density figures, 1999-2008












United Kingdom











United States






















Source: OECD. StatExtracts

This raises the question as to whether or not it is actually the Trade Union movement that is capable of mobilising the workforce, or whether the answer to the mobilisation of workers lays in history of the French workforce's institutionalised approach, and culture of republicanism, coupled with the trade union movements' concept of syndicalism which to seek to overthrow of the capitalist processes through industrial struggle. One example of the dichotomy facing the unions can be demonstrated by the expulsion, by the CGT, of a group of telecoms and postal members for their actions in supporting a strike that the central union did not agree with (Denis:2006), and the expulsion in turn led to the formation of SUD (Solidarity, Unity & Democracy).

SUD-PTT unionists: moral entrepreneurs?

References and further reading may be available for this article. To view references and further reading you must purchase this article.

Jean-Michel Denis Sociologie du Travail

Volume 48, Supplement 1, August 2006, Pages e39-e55

Analysis 458

The modern workforce has changed from the era of the Webbs and the biggest problem for the trade union movement in all three countries, is how to organise in industries that are becoming more and more de regulated and where employers operate HRM techniques which are leading to the creation of a more individualistic workforce, with companies utilising the use of flexible, and part time, working contracts (Gaspin 1997 p. ).

In membership terms the French trade union movement is the weakest of the three comparators, with only 8% of employees in unions by comparison with the UK at 27.1% and the US at 11.9%, but unlike their declining counterparts, the French movement should be considered as autonomous confederations which, in respect to external bodies, are more able to contribute towards in the formulation of legislation relating to the rules of labour and social security law, and this in practice places a considerable amount of power in their hands.

It could also be argued that the French workers continue to demonstrate the spirit and independence associated to the French Revolution, and that there are similarities within the American workforce attitudes in terms of their 'independence', with supporting evidence that demonstrates how the US trade union movement has attempted to use the rise in civil rights campaigning to promote 'social and economic justice' initiatives as a positive image to help gain acceptance in the community and allow organising to move beyond the industrial environment.

Schenk et al (1992) puts forward a view that:

"…the situation for unions would be much bleaker in the US if it had not been for organizing gains in the public sector and in education. Significant gains in these two areas helped to offset the decline in the private sector and construction".

Schenk's view, regarding organising in the public and education sectors, is more significant in today's current economic climate as the current economic crisis brings the spectre of cuts in public services looms to each country, however in the UK there has only been a limited move towards community issues, and these have tended to focus upon raising awareness of public service issues such as the Royal Mail privatisation although the recent cuts in public services along with the issue of university tuition fees has now seen the TUC reach out to the students union to form a collaborative approach to challenging the cuts.

In both the UK and US the legal structures allow employees the right to organise, in order to achieve collective bargaining, however the process for collective bargaining differs between all three countries. There are similarities between the hurdles that are set in place, in both the US and UK, by their respective governments, such as the clear anti union laws regarding secondary action, introduced in the UK during the Thatcher era, and the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act in the US, which similarly abolished the 'closed shop' and severely restricted union action through sympathetic strikes.

It is not surprising to therefore find that the AFL-CIO and TUC have committed to a joint programme of work that includes

"Work together to develop and deliver 'Busting the union busters' training materials for union officers and organisers in both the US and UK, and to exchange training and organising staff". (TUC / AFL-CIO: undated).

Uni - combined approach to organising on a global basis involving unions in UK,US and France,

Frege and Kelly's …… to give a greater understanding of the various trade union strategies

and willingness to take industrial action, through initiatives such as…..

can this be linked to

In Britain, the success of attempts to organise contingent workers has yet to be evaluated,

And The main focus of TUC organising strategy appears to be to change the culture and thinking of British trade unions and there is little evidence to demonstrate the financial commitments required from individual unions, especially when compared to commitment of the AFL-CIO and its associates to prioritise 10% of union resources to "organize the unorganized" (AFL-CIO:2009).

Evidence leans towards UK organising as an infill to recruitment rather than reaching out to new work areas with weak or little evidence, with the exception of Community union, of British unions replicating US community unionism and expanding their remit beyond the traditional workplace and into either the community or to the new generation of peripatetic or migrant workers that are

Both the British and US models of organising require the unions to help the workforce understand the role of collective bargaining and



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