Workers want help to 'get on' not 'get even', says new trade union report

A new report courtesy of the Fabian Society and written by David Coats - associate director of the Work Foundation - suggests the 'fighting back' strategy and rhetoric adopted by left-wing trade union leaders risks making the unions irrelevant and endangering the link between the Labour Party and a shrinking trade union movement.

Despite union membership declining by half since 1979, Coats sets out how a new strategy that could reverse decline. He claims that two-thirds of workers want a collective voice in the workplace but many potential members are put off by "union rhetoric of struggle, strikes and strife which has little appeal to employees who care more about 'getting on' than 'getting even'". A reference to the relatively recent election of union leaders who he believes have based their election strategies on a "crude adversarialism". He goes onto say that "unions are stuck in the past, fighting battles in a class war that is of little relevance to most people today" and fails to address the workplace issues which matter to younger workers and women in particular.

There are four main parts to Coats's suggested strategy for decline:

- unions must appeal appeal to both the top and bottom of our new 'hourglass economy'

- unions must go through a painful exercise of political reinvention in response to social and economic change

- unions must not merge to avert decline

- unions must abandon the pattern of making unrealistic demands from the Government

I can see where the man is coming from, but trade union membership is far more likely to rise again when both governments and employers see benefits from recognising trade unions. Without employers recommending membership and accepting recognition, unions will continue to fight on two conflicting fronts - trying to recruit members, but at the same time trying to appeal to employers. Neither seem likely in the near future. See 'Unions face bleak future without reform' warns former TUC economics chief (Fabian Society) for more details.

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