To What Extent Can We Argue That There Is Union Revitalisation in Europe and North America?

Topics: Trade union, Collective bargaining, Labour relations Pages: 8 (2815 words) Published: October 10, 2012
Trade union is an important aspect in protecting workers rights and improving their working conditions. According to Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1920), trade union is “a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 1920). For many years, trade unions in most advanced market economies like UK, US, German, Italy, have been on the decline and faced increasingly challenging conditions in representing their members. The declining of trade union would influence over the government and employers; Howell (2005) argued these factors would contribute to diminishing revenues and pushing many unions into financial crisis and the lack of labour resources (Howell, 2005). Despite this, there is evidence of exists of trade union revitalization (Heery et al., 2001). Union revitalization has been defined as “variety of attempts or a range of effort to tackle and potentially reserve union’s problems” (Frege C.M. and J. Kelly, 2003); problems including membership density declining, weakening capacity for mobilization or reduction in bargaining coverage, etc. Frege and Kelly (2003) argued that these problems are often more quantifiable and partly drawn from empirical evidence, such as looking at the member density data to conclude whether the power of trade union declined without taking into account the potentially different meanings in different industrial relations contexts. For example, the losses in membership number would be a strong indicator in Britain but not necessarily the case in German. According to Frege and Kelly (2003), union revitalization is a “multi-dimensional concept including “membership” (number and composition of members); “economic” (ability to achieve wage and benefit improvement, and the distribution of wealth);“political” (effectiveness of unions in influencing policy- making process); and “institutional” (organizational structures and internal dynamics of unions). Derived from this conceptualization, there are six strategies developed at the center of union revitalization: “organizing”- acquisition of membership, “organizational restructuring”- mergers/internal reorganization, “coalition building”- with other social movements, “partnerships”- with employers, “political action”- with a focus on legislation and labour market regulation policies and “international links”- exchange of information (Frege and Kelly, 2003). The varieties in revitalization strategies can be distinguished as efforts aimed at redistributing power and resources among unions. The next section examines the evidences of union revitalization in Europe and North America. The analysis is based on four countries including United Kingdom, United States, Germany and Italy- where unions are constituted in significant different industrial relation systems. Due to the difference in industrial relations systems and purpose of revitalisation, each country may pursue different strategies. With membership focused, the revitalization strategy developed in UK is mainly “organizing”, in which the main aim is to increase the membership number, thus enhancing the union’s labour market power and mobilizing capacity (Frege and Kelly, 2003). The new trade union movement strategy in UK emerged through the initiative of the trade union national centre - Trade Union Congress (TUC). TUC have launched a series of recruitment initiatives; for instant, TUC established an Organizing Academy in 1998 to train specialist organisers and recruited approximately around 18000 employers between 1998 and 2000, thereby increasing 0.2 % of the union density in the same period (Trade Union Density Databases- )

Besides organizing, British unions also focused on “social partnership” in their revitalization effort, which is related to “economic dimension”. Social partnership is a tool for union revitalization in helping unions to protect and develops collective bargaining institutions;...

References: Baccaro, Hamann and Turner (2003) ‘The Politics of Labour Movement Revitalization: the need for a revitalized perspective’ European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 9, No.1.
Behrens, Fichter and Frege, (2003) ‘Unions in Germany: Regaining the Initiative’ European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 9, No.1
Clark, P
Frege C.M. and J. Kelly (eds) (2004) Varieties of Unionism: Strategies for Union Revitalization in a Globalizing Economy, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Frege C.M
Haynes, P. and Allen. M. 2000. Partnership as union strategy: A preliminary evaluation (Manukau Institute of Technology, New Zealand), Unpublished manuscript
Heery, E., Kelly, J
Heery, E., Kelly, J. and Waddington, J. (2003), Union Revitalization in Britain, European Journal of Industrial Relations 2003; 9; 79
Howell, C
Hurd, Milkman and Turner (2003) ‘Reviving the American Labour Movement: Institutions and Mobilization’ European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 9, No.1.
Hyman, R. (1997) ‘The Future of Employee Representation’, British Journal of Industrial Relations 35(3): 309–31
Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism, Longmans Green, 1920 edn, 1950, p.13.
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