The end of trade unionism?

In Collective failure (Anne Perkins, The Guardian) it states that the "trade union movement is in remorseless decline". The fact that the closure of the Peugeot at Ryton is unlikely to be resisted is given as an example to demonstrate the decline. The infamous Gate Gourmet dispute is used as a further high-profile example of union weakness.

As somebody who teaches employment relations I'm well aware of the decline of trade union membership/density, collective bargaining, strikes, employee participation, etc. However, I just don't feel it is reasonable to suggest all of these changes would have occurred if the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s hadn't removed nearly all the rights and immunities that trade unions had won over the previous century. The conditions for trade unions continue to exist, but the conditions for them to gain a fair foothold once again are not forthcoming.

There are at least two other sides to this story. For example, most ballots in favour of strike action do not end up as a strike because employers tend to want to settle without the disruption and cost a strike will inevitably bring.

The second major problem with Perkins's article is that the strike is only one measure of conflict and certainly only one measure of trade union activity. In other words, there may have been only 130 officially recorded stoppages at the last count, but who is measuring labour turnover caused by a breakdown in the employment relationship, absence without illness, lateness without good reason, work-to-rule, overtime bans, sabotage, and other secret and tacit ways to undermine management authority?

Trade unions have part to play in twenty-first century, i.e. helping to regulate the employment relationship in some shape or form. In reality, it is not the end of trade unionism, it is more like the beginning of employers denying employees access to democracy and social justice in the workplace. What is more, there are strange parallels between what is happening in the workplace and the wider political arena.

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