From the TUC

The Road to Recovery: Unions can help rebuild the economy

16 Mar 2010, by Guest in Economics, Society & Welfare

Unions are the largest voluntary sector organisations in Britain today, with well over six million members in the unions that affiliate to us at the TUC, and 200,000 workplace activists. In workplaces up and down the country, unions are working hard to ensure that people get a voice at work. Much of this never makes headlines or gets the credit it deserves, but the bread and butter work of unions – representing members in disciplinary and grievance cases, negotiating with employers, helping members access new skills and training opportunities, ensuring workplaces are fair and free from discrimination – makes an immeasurable difference to the lives of working people and their families.

Our new ToUChstone pamphlet “The Road to Recovery: How effective unions can help rebuild the economy” highlights some of these benefits to workers, but also identifies the broader economic and social benefits that effective unions bring to Britain’s workplaces. These benefits include better long-term employment relations, reduced staff turnover and a positive impact on the effects of workplace change and innovation.

The paper calls on employers and government to think hard about how to harness the positive benefits that unions can bring to the workplace and calls for a ‘positively plural’ approach to industrial relations, which recognises the value of
genuine employee engagement and the positive role of collective bargaining.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that unions and employers are always going to agree. In real-life there are often tensions between the interests of unions and their members, and the interests of the organisations that employ them. But approached in the right way, and with the active involvement of well-trained, confident union workplace reps, unions are well-placed to help Britain’s businesses to succeed.

Unions and collective bargaining can also play a role in reducing inequality. As collective bargaining has declined over the last 30 years, so wage and income inequality has risen. Increased inequality impacts on social mobility, and widens the gap between Britain’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. If the Government is serious about reducing inequality, it also needs to be serious about positively promoting the role of unions and of collective bargaining.

The credit crunch and ensuing economic downturn have demonstrated that the neo-liberal, ‘free market knows best’ consensus that has held sway for much of the last two decades is no longer credible. In its place we have the opportunity to help forge a new consensus – and one that recognises that unions are essential to establishing both fairness at work and fairness across society more generally. Better, stronger trade unions can help create a better, fairer, more successful society.

NOTE: This post is taken from my foreword to “The Road to Recovery: How effective unions can help rebuild the economy”. You can download the full paper in pdf format.