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Unions are good for you

This article is over 23 years, 11 months old
Issue 1700

New report shows

Unions are good for you

So why aren’t union leaders campaigning?

NEW LAWS giving workers the legal right to win trade union recognition came into effect this week. Yet you would hardly know it from the lack of any response of most major trade unions.

The trade union leaders should be using the occasion as a signal to launch major publicity, recruitment and organising campaigns. They should be pushing the message that unions are good for workers. Wages are up to 10 percent higher on average in unionised workplaces. This week a report by the Centre for Economic Performance showed that unions win much more than higher pay.

“Unions temper inequality in pay. They wield the sword of justice in the British labour market,” says the author, academic David Metcalf. The report found that in unionised workplaces:

  • There is a smaller gap between men and women’s pay, and between black and white workers’ pay than in non-union workplaces.
  • Workers who are sick get treated better.
  • Workers are over twice as likely to get time off for childcare as those in non-union workplaces.

The report emphasises that this is not because managers and bosses in unionised firms are “softer”. Instead it is union organisation that has won better conditions for all.

Where is the action?

UNION leaders have made great play of the new union rights law in the last few years. You might have expected them to organise events across Britain to highlight the new laws. Or you might have hoped for a series of high profile initiatives to target key non-union workplaces for recognition drives. But, with a few exceptions, none of this has happened.

Major unions, such as the TGWU, GMB, UNISON, MSF and others, barely uttered a word as the new laws came in. A few unions have shown a better spirit. The print workers’ GPMU, the journalists’ NUJ and banking and finance UNiFi union have launched major organising drives.

Activists in every union should be demanding that their union leaders campaign and get involved themselves in initiating local union recruitment and organising drives.

Bosses organising

IN CONTRAST to the timid approach of the unions, bosses are organising to keep unions out. Some employers are turning to US union-busting outfits. Texas-based PTI Labor Research is about to set up an office in London.

It says it has been approached by several of Britain’s major companies to help with anti-union campaigns. PTI has organised over 1,000 such campaigns in the US. Its methods include what it calls “captive meetings”, forcing workers to attend heavy briefings against unions. It produces videos with titles such as Unions: Just Say No.

PTI has linked up with law firm Evershed, which has already been involved in anti-union seminars for employers in Britain in recent months. It is about time our union leaders got just as organised to win union rights.

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