Adapt or Die- the trade union future

June 23, 2009 at 12:34 AM Leave a comment

I was recently accepted an invitation to speak at a critical labour studies symposium in November and was asked to send in an abstract of 300 words on what I was going to speak about in the next couple of days.

My first reaction was that this was a bit of a tall order given ongoing  the recession , meltdown of the Labour Government’s fortunes, increasingly out of touch politicians and what appears to be a reticence in the labour movement to take the ball by the horns and make a concerted effort to change the nature of the political debate on behalf of working people.

But that got me thinking about how the labour movement sees itself and its current and potential future membership. For me this is crucial if trade union renewal, even in these hard times is going to become a reality and result in the labour movement once again being able to influence political outcomes as a serious player. This issue is not going away no matter what Governmental is in power. So after much headstratching and thinking I came up with the a less dramatic title and the following abstract


As union membership density in the labour market has declined, the trade union movement has invested in organising strategies as a way to promote trade union renewal and growth. A growing number of union mergers have also taken place in an effort to consolidate industrial power in different labour market sectors.

However the advent of a large increase in migrant workers especially from Eastern Europe has tended to obscure the question of where black workers from both settled and new black communities fit into this organising strategy. The almost exclusive attention of migrant worker organising initiatives on eastern European workers raises questions about whether the image that trade unions have of their future membership is any different from that of the past.

The current recession has already had an impact on trade union membership in manufacturing. Impending cuts in public services will undoubtedly have an impact on trade union membership in the public sector and disproportionately affect black workers who are over-represented in the parts of the public sector that are most vulnerable and raise questions of what parts of the labour markets trade unions are seeking to consolidate and organise

Failing to take into account the potential of trade renewal through organising black workers is potentially a missed opportunity given that traditionally a higher proportion of black workers are members of trade unions. This still remains the case with the proportion of black workers in trade unions rising since 2003 from all communities except the Asian community where women especially have been excluded from the labour market as a result of the decline in manufacturing. However this potential can only be realised if the trade union movement embraces the idea that the future of the movement can not be physically or organisationally a reflection of the past


Entry filed under: Union.

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