The Erosion Of Trade Union Power Since — страница 2

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criminal law, where offenders were prosecuted by the state and could be fined or imprisoned and as a result government always risked creating trade union “martyrs”. Much of the union legislation concentrated on civil law and so employers were given powers to sue trade unions for breaches of the law. For instance, if a trade union called a strike without holding a secret ballot, it was the employer affected that sued the trade union for damages. The government has no power to prosecute the union. This means that the trade union risks losing considerable sums of money if it does not comply with the law, but individual trade union members cannot gain public sympathy by being sent to prison as they could in theory under the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. Not only has the

government considerably reduced the ability of trade unions and their members to take industrial action, it also, during the 1980s, took a strong stance with public sector trade unions. The most important trade union defeat in the public sector was the breaking of the miners’ strike in 1984-5. Furthermore, the government completely cut off the trade union movement from decision making at a national level. This contrasted with the 1960s and 1970s when governments, both Labour and Conservative, would often consult trade union leaders before making important decisions. To say whether the reduction in the trade union movement is a propitious development or not, a definition of what trade unions are needs to be obtained. Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s definition of a trade union as

“a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives” is still very apt today. For many important players in the economy, such as this Government, the Institute of Directors and the CBI, the decline of the unions is seen as a propitious development. They blame Britain’s trade unions for pushing up wages, applying restrictive controls to work and thwarting management’s ability to plan and innovate and as a result are the “prime factor in economic crisis”, as McIroy puts it. The Right also emphasise the role of trade unions in creating inflation and cramping productivity. They tend to believe that employees are self-regarding individuals, who have less need than in the past to organise themselves

collectively to defend or promote their interests in the workplace. While some of these arguments can be seen as being true in the 1970s, when trade union power arguably got out of control, these views carry less weight today because of the decline of union power. Other factors must be taken into consideration when looking at Britain’s economic problems. There is the view that there is a debilitating split between the interests of the financial world and the industrial world. In other words borrowing, lending and currency speculation have taken precedence over what is really important as the basis of a thriving economy, building factories and producing goods. Others claim that incompetent management, the fragmentation of the economy into small units, or the tendency of

capitalists to put consumption and dividends before investment, or investment overseas before investment at home is equally to blame. I feel that there is still a need for trade unions as they provide several important functions for the majority of workers. For a start there is and always has been an unequal relationship at work. In other words, the employee as an individual in the workplace suffers from having an unequal relationship of power with his or her employer. It is only when the employees decided to join together collectively, that they can create enough united strength to have a strong and credible voice to counter that of the employers. Unfortunately, the main feature of today,s labour market is its insecurity and lack of certainty. As a result a great fear for the

future exists among employees. This insecurity is no longer confined to unskilled manual workers but has spread to all sections in the British workforce. As John Monks, General Secretary of the TUC said, “There are no steady jobs. They are here today, gone tomorrow jobs with no security, no pension, no sick pay and no paid holidays.” Trade unions at least go some way in trying to redress this balance. Recent years have seen the rise of a divided workforce because the British labour market is not just deregulated but it is also becoming increasingly segmented. The growth of part-time employment has strengthened the sense of employee insecurity. Problems are caused for employees because part-time workers have no legally enforceable employment protection like those who are