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What's The Point Of Trade Unions?

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I shall post a perhaps provocative hypothesis and perhaps learn something as people either agree or pick it apart:

Trade unions serve no useful purpose, indeed were more than instrumental in destroying British competitiveness and a great deal of industry and progress in the past.

Someone starts a company, taking risk, perhaps investing their own money in plant, tools, machinery, whatever.

He or she invites people to work for them and offers a wage in return.

Simple supply and demand dictates whether or not they get the number and the quality of the employees that they want. Nobody is ever compelled to work for them.

Trade unions are nothing more than a mob ganging up on the person or people who gave them employment​ and paid them the wage they agreed to.

If any of the staff disagree with decisions made by the company owners, they're free to leave and take their skills elsewhere.

Or, they could start their own company and compete with the very employer with which they had a disagreement. At no time do they have any right to dictate "terms" in any fashion and so the entire basis of "unions" is flawed. This is not the age of the serfs and the barons.

Argue away..

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Your argument (no point in trade unions) assumes every organization that hires people all operate in identical ways. Reality is not like this. A hospital is not a start-up app development company.

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In my experience of shop stewards and union reps, its to give grumpy men of a certain age who didnt achieve as much as their peers in life something to do :lol:

I spoke to a former Post Office employee who said the union reps and the management (often senior management) were one and the same - and that union activities supported the get-rich-at-the-expense-of-the-organisation attitude of the management. He said they'd rather see someone get killed on the sorting office floor than actually address issues in the workplace that might affect their ability to accumulate money.

Trade unions can be terribly counter-productive in such circumstances, where they do not serve the interests of their members.

HOWEVER, they can be excellent. There's nothing anti-capitalist about collective bargaining, it's a perfectly effective part of the free market economy in jobs. Providing they don't end up politically motivated or in the hands of the management, as above.

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I agree mostly with Si on this. There were definitely abuses of union power - often by those without their members interests as heart in the 70s (and it probably continues to this day). But perhaps it is not a coincidence that as union power has declined that the average person's share in the increases in productivity since the 70s have also declined.

Similarly, when you have so much inherited wealth around - extolling people to simply set up their own company to compete is a rather poor argument - particularly for the young who generally don't have access to much capital.

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Modern Unions cover a multitude of things and not just the old collective bargaining.

For around your £10 union subs a month the union will support you with free legal advice and tribunal if your employer has done something unfair. There are people who are ardently against unions that end up paying £1000s in legal fees against employer that they could have saved had they joined their union. So Union subscription is quite good value for money as legal insurance.

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Plus you only have to look at a company a modern company like Amazon to see that free will to leave a company isn't entirely straight forward in the 21st century and there are many reasons that keep people in bad conditions. The bargaining of individuals in that situation hasn't solved anything as we've seen. Mortgages, rent, living cost etc keep a lot of people in modern day serfdom and that pressure is increasing.

Now if only those Amazon workers had a way of coming together and trying to improve working conditions from their employer.

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If all the UK renters joined the Renters Union (I made that up), they could be a forceful voice in lowering rents, and improving the conditions for tenants. If the landlords don't comply then there would be a rent strike.

Ah but without landlords, renters would be out on the streets as there would be no homes at all....

Everything goes in a cycle - at some point the Landlords would join their own union. Then the unions get bloated, and the heads are overpaid and are in cahoots with the other employer, and just become an appeasing talking head.

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I'm a member of what is supposed to be one of the strongest and most militant unions in the UK... the CWU.

Its quite useful on an individual level but is virtually impotent on a collective level and just rubber stamps whatever new initiatives the employer wants to push through.

The op seems to be harping back to the 50's, 60's and 70's when the unions did have too much power and did have a negative effect on productivity and competitiveness... ironically all to the benefit of their then members, the boomers, who are now the most vociferously opposed to any form of union activity.

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Trades Unions were in many ways respinsible for the decline in UK competitiveness but there can be little doubt that the decline in Trades Union membership has led to a casualusation of the UK workforce with the resultant loss of pay and conditions as compared to when thise people would have been represented by organisations who could bargain with employers on their behalf.

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I'm a member of what is supposed to be one of the strongest and most militant unions in the UK... the CWU.

Its quite useful on an individual level but is virtually impotent on a collective level and just rubber stamps whatever new initiatives the employer wants to push through.

The op seems to be harping back to the 50's, 60's and 70's when the unions did have too much power and did have a negative effect on productivity and competitiveness... ironically all to the benefit of their then members, the boomers, who are now the most vociferously opposed to any form of union activity.

Where is your evidence for that statement?

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Trade Unions are responsible for some of the most important bits of legislation to hit the statue for a couple of hundred years..

Factory's Act, Health and Safety at Work Act, Equal Pay Act and many more.... Left to their own devices the capitalist system would still be shoving kids up chimneys without the intervention of these rules.

I think these things are cyclical, once more and more people realise what the likes of Amazon and globalisation are doing for them they will organise again to improve their lot...

Bob Crowe is widely castigated in the media as a union baron with too much power!! Look at the members he represented. Some of the best paid workers with the best conditions in London.

Some would say that Bob Crowe is as successful as the likes Richard Branson or Alan Sugar. He knew how to get things done and get the best for the people he represents. If he did command too much power in the sector that's only because TPTB allowed that to evolve...

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25yMB

If you are talking to me then no. I just happen to see that the route out of the current predicament for young people is a return to a society more like the one that existed between 1945 and 1979 rather than a continuation of the one that has existed since 1980 and that is producing a future for young people similar to the one that existed <1939.

Edited by campervanman

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25yMB

If you are talking to me then no. I just happen to see that the route out of the current predicament for young people is a return to a society more like the one that existed between 1945 and 1979 rather than a continuation of the one that has existed since 1980 and that is producing a future for young people similar to the one that existed <1939.

It's not always about you :P

Its a line at the end of the OP, I assume you read all the thread?

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Modern Unions cover a multitude of things and not just the old collective bargaining.

For around your £10 union subs a month the union will support you with free legal advice and tribunal if your employer has done something unfair. There are people who are ardently against unions that end up paying £1000s in legal fees against employer that they could have saved had they joined their union. So Union subscription is quite good value for money as legal insurance.

Is it good value? You can easily buy stand alone employment legal insurance - if you don't henge it already packaged with another insurance (house etc). I find it hard to believe that the economies of scale of a union outweigh the costs of other union and political activities that are included in your sub.

(declaration of interest: one time (briefly) member of SOGAT82! It was a summer job in a closed shop).

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I did join the trade union, when I was an apprentice. When my services were no longer required, I found the union did not defend me very well. In fact they were the puppies of the management. I was a bit disappointed. I think many were better than the one I joined. :blink:

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There is nothing wrong with labour unions in principle or, as a matter of fact, any voluntary formation of like-minded people. If they unite workers for a peaceful negotiation of a better deal, conditions and so on, so be it. But the reality is usually different - labour unions more frequent than not are the ultimate outposts of militant Marxists who couldn't care less about general well-being of even many members of the unions, who have been forced to join them, let alone fellow non-unionised workers or aspiring workers. As Mr.Pin exemplified above. Maybe less so in the UK, but on the continent they can resort w/o impunity to violence and inflict damage on random property that happens on their route often by pure chance. Something anybody else would be imprisoned for, but there some of the darkest tranches of human breed are protected by law. I am sure it rhymes a bit with the UK.

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Unions are a double edge sword, in some respects the excesses can be very negative and cost jobs etc... However since union power has been undermined, strikes have been reduced but the economy is no better off. Wages have stagnated for the lowest paid, the rich have got richer and a labour market where people don't have job security is clearly producing returns only for the 1%.

Clearly we need to give more power to the 1%.

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25yMB

If you are talking to me then no. I just happen to see that the route out of the current predicament for young people is a return to a society more like the one that existed between 1945 and 1979 rather than a continuation of the one that has existed since 1980 and that is producing a future for young people similar to the one that existed <1939.

I agree with your sentiment but not your dates. I was an apprentice in Lucas Industries 1978 -1982 and Britain was in serious decline. The Thatcher revolution created the most vibrant renaissance for 70 years. However like all pendulums it has swung way too far, way too far and morphed into this grotesque them and us capitalism we have now

So I would say the golden age to be young and have the world at your feet was the eighties which if you had your wits about you was a great time

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The employer wants 100% of the employee's productivity. The employee would rather keep 100% of his/her production. As someone already pointed out, unions are an intergal gog of capitalism, which is just brutal if left unchecked. We are just entering the post-union phase for the west which has been kept afloat through firesales and credit binges borrowing huge ammounts of money from the future - not looking pretty as the future is now here.

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