Labour And Trade Union Movement Commerce Essay


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, and Baccaro, et al, also 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 this link and will draw from studies and literature, of both the United States and the United Kingdom, examining both the historical and current notions of union organising and union revitalisation in these countries.

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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 1), 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 compare the successes, or problems, that the trade union organisations may have been 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;

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)


2.1 Defining an organising strategy within UK unions 811

Heery 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.

This argument is also supported by 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]. At a presentation to the Working Lives Research Institute, the TUC'S National Organiser, Paul Nowak spoke of how the TUC Organising Academy, since it's conception ten years previously has changed. However he also accepted that the academy hadn't "led to a huge upsurge in trade union membership" adding how he believed that; "right from the start …one initiative couldn't" achieve this (Nowak:2008).

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In essence, it could be argued that the TUC organising model was not so much a newly imported concept from the United States, as an attempt to shape a strategy under the banner of 'New Unionism' in order to bring an organising culture to the centre stage of the trade union thinking, and so also help to counter the US 'union busting' HRM techniques that companies in the UK were starting to introduce (Smith: 2008, Moore:2004). However bringing the 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), a process which also relies upon a new kind of union official, one who is a trained specialist, and is able to be used as an "agent of change" ( ???? 2008) in order to 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 difference, 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).

From the TUC 's perspective the organisers were seen as a way of professionalising the issue of organising, however the role is a resource hungry process which also requires the membership to become actively participative in the key workplace issues rather than 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.

Moore argues that as "the benefits of winning [recognition] may be perceived as higher for the union…unions may invest significant resources into organizing" (2004:p.21), and the TUC upon launching the scheme set out a budget of £1.5 Million, with 17 sponsoring unions also providing £15,000 towards the organisers wages. (Coddington: 1998). Kelly et al however, ask the question as to 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) and this raises the question as to whether declining union revenue, through reduction in members, is actually a driver that is preventing the unions from providing adequate resources to allow the TUC's organising strategy to fulfil its aims.

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 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 and their families in the community, and encouraging members to remain in the organisation when they retire (Community:2011). She also points to the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council, who set up the 'Workers Beer Company' and use the funds to help employer three organisers in the local area (Battersea and Wandsworth TUC: 2011), as another facet of the UK trade union movement attempting to move 'outside the box'.

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.

2.2 Defining an organising strategy within United States unions. 515 social unionism

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is the United States equivalent to the British TUC. It 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), and has set itself a target to:

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

The AFL-CIO has not only had to deal with employer hostility to the trade union movement, through the Taft-Hartley Act which produced 'Right-to-work' states which banned the closed shop, mainly in the Southern and western states (Gaspin et al), but the movement has also had to face the emergence of the growing civil rights movement that emerged during the 1960's and 70's. Considering the past history of the AFL's when it "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 competing organisations formed as a direct result of the AFL-CIO'S "refusal to adopt internal desegregation measures" (Tait: 2005; p.25).

One such organisation is the Negro American Labour Council who in 1963 organised the memorable 'Jobs and Freedom' march, where Martin Luther King jnr. spoke of his 'dream' and so, it can be argued, began the link between the civil rights movement to the issue of jobs and employment. This linkage between civil rights and the US Labor movement can also be seen in the language used by the unions, who talk of 'social and economic justice', and 'empowering workers to speak', coupled with the highly visible and successful political campaigns, on issues such as the Obama presidential campaign and other public issues that affect workers lives and reach beyond the workplace (Ghitza et al.2009: p.81; Radcliff: 2001).

Union organisations such as the AFL-CIO have therefore had to develop complex methods to attract workers to join the union movement, not only through their campaigning activities and also through the variety of services provided to members such as social insurance schemes, social spending programs, and consumer protection legislation all of which have a broad appeal and are highlighted on their web site:, along with links to the 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.

However, Heery et al, challenge whether or not such services attract members pointing to the AFL-CIO 'associate membership' program which "failed to contribute significantly to membership growth and had enrolled fewer than 100,000 members by the early 1990s" (2000: p.160). Acuff also comments upon the AFL-CIO's lack of growth, and he warns 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)

informs and mobilizes union families to encourage their participation in the political process.

DSA Democratic Socialists of America labor activists. We seek to be a place for a broad range of labor activists to discuss ideas for the renewal and strengthening of the labor movement.

Affiliates of National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

2.3 Defining an organising strategy within French unions 139

The French Trade Union movement is built around five main rival, and competing, confederations, the CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC and CFE-CGC, that are recognised through a legal status of being 'representative' at a national multi - industry level, and act as umbrella organization 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. all have the ideal of "the transformation of society" as one of their main objectives (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 mobilise workers to undertake Industrial Action when needed.

These confederations are able to participate in the formulation of the rules of labour and social security law. In practice, a considerable amount of power is concentrated in their hands.

This raises the question as to how have such strong support in and are able to mobilise French workers as and when needed ? It can be argued that the French

Still moved by the Jacobin spirit of the French Revolution - the ideal of individual liberty as opposed to privilege - they had no need to follow the tradition of submitting to a master artisan or of letting a guild's monopoly of labor keep them from work. As individuals, workers considered themselves free to do what seemed best to escape the effects of disorganization.

Analysis 90

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

Main focus of TUC strategy appears to be infill recruitment rather than reaching out to new work areas with weak or little evidence of UK organising under represented groups such migrant workers, Black Ethnic Minorities, and females and when compared to the AFL-CIO's prioritisation to "organize the unorganized" (AFL-CIO:2009).

US commitment to 10% of union resources

Main move by the istc to expand the role beyond the traditional workplace into the community is more of a replication of US community unionism