Evoulution of Trade Unions in the 21st Century

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A trade union is defined by Smith (2008) as an independent self-regulating organization of workers created to protect and advance the interests of its members through collective action. Trade unions were of course very important once upon a time, but their job has been done. The age of mass production is over. The new world is all about individual relationships, and unions will wither away. “A glorious past perhaps, but no real future” says Jacob (2008). There was at least some evidence to support that view. Union membership had fallen every year from its post war peak in 1980. The government had cut unions almost entirely out of the political loop, and their electoral strategists were still convinced that attacking unions was a vote winner. A series of legal restrictions on unions sought to undermine capability to recruit and represent members effectively. Industrial action had fallen, and there had been some significant union failures to advance through strike action. Shareholder value was becoming the sole objective. Above all there was wide restructuring across much of the economy, usually to the detriment of trade union membership and influence. There was a big decline in the kind of large workplaces that once made up the backbone of employment such as the mines, the steel works, and the car factories. Male manual work both skilled and unskilled has been in relentless decline. And as any historians here will know the two great waves of growth of trade unionism's early years came from male manual workers, first craft workers and then the new unionism that organized the less skilled. However in today’s world of individual employment contracts, performance-related pay schemes, Human Resource and Total Quality Management and all the other ingredients of the so-called new workplace, trade unions are often regarded as old-fashioned obstacles preventing success of the market economy. As collective voluntary organizations that represent employees in the workplace, it is argued that trade unions no longer serve a useful purpose (Linzi, 2006). The main priority of this essay is to represent the arguments for and against the relevance of trade unions in today’s working society. Furthermore, I shall comment on the future of the trade union movement, based upon the facts and findings that helped construct this text. Trade unions exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions that are made about his or her job. The greatest advantage in joining a trade union is because, by doing so, individuals possess more chance of having a voice and influence in their place of work. By joining forces with other workers, an individual’s opinions and beliefs regarding their job will also be voiced by other union members, thus creating a stronger stance against management, if needed. Therefore, the main purpose of a trade union is to protect and improve people's pay and conditions of employment. This objective is usually achieved through negotiation and representation. Negotiation is where union representatives discuss with management, issues which affect people working in an organization. The union finds out the member’s views and relays these views to management. Pay, working hours, holidays and changes to working practices are the sort of issues that are negotiated. However, not all views will be taken on board by management; there may be a difference of opinion between them and union members. Negotiation, therefore, is about finding a solution to these differences. This process is also known as collective bargaining. In many workplaces there is a formal agreement between the union and the company, which states that the union has the right to negotiate with the employer. In these organizations, unions are said to be recognized for collective bargaining purposes. People who work in organizations where unions are recognized are better paid, and are less likely to be made redundant than people who work in...
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