In the US the Knights of Laborthe Industrial Workers of the World and the mass production unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations all succeeded to some extent in building a mass movement. Craft unionism means further decline and irrelevance. The broad, radical thrust of that tradition has not energised the mainstream of the unions for some time, but its spirit still lives on.
There are also signs that the Alliance has prioritised legislative solutions over the organising of domestic workers themselvesand some organizations affiliated with the Alliance, such as Domestic Workers Unitedhave called for a different, more worker-led model of organization. Its legislative victories in city after city from New York to Seattle prove to previously passive workers that strikes and mobilisations can work.
The third tradition falls somewhere between unionism and charity. To promote unity between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking members they began English-Spanish language exchanges. The failure of unions to organize precarious workers has gone hand in hand with a failure of internal democracy.
It alone has the wide vision needed to organise the millions of precarious workers alongside those with greater leverage and bargaining power.
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Unless that changes so that member-led democracy replaces charity as the guiding principle of the movement, these campaigns and alliances will fail in the longer term. In general, the craft unions ignored such workers whenever possible. The second, more inclusive tradition is industrial unionism, which found adherents on both sides of the Atlantic in the rise of the mass production industries during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Philanthropic unionism means eternal dependence on fickle liberals. Take for instance, the national strike by public sector workers that took place on 30 November last year.
Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America explains, agency fees emerged in the s in response to a wave of strikes by public employees, from teachers to police and firefighters to postal workers to sanitation workers, whose strike in Memphis was attended by Martin Luther King when he was assassinated.
Falling membership in the past 40 years stems in part from union leaders not doing enough to draw on the talents and abilities of their members.
It does involve a fight for the real control of those unions by their members—a struggle as old as the labour movement itself. As with the Domestic Workers Alliance, however, they tend to work over the heads of the workers who stand to benefit from the campaign, and who must defend those gains from future attacks by university management.
But big turnouts seen at recent strikes and demonstrations suggest that the power of trade unions is not quite coming to an end just yet. But he says that while union numbers will continue to shrink in the private sector, they will remain "well entrenched" in the public sector.
Whatever your political stance may be, they present a check and balance within the labour market. At institutions from the School of Oriental and African Studies to the London School of Economics, they have waged successful strikes to secure better sick pay and holiday pay, and to end the outsourcing of their jobs.
The same philanthropic model guides living wage campaigns at UK universities today. Not coincidentally, they organised precarious workers especially women and non-white workers in far greater numbers than craft unions ever did. With their right to strike abrogated, public worker unions turned to politics.
Different traditions within the British and American unions have addressed these questions in their own distinct ways. A day strike in February and March has transformed my own union, the University and College Union UCUwhose national leadership faced harsh criticism for its apparent willingness to end the strike on any conceivable terms.
Inclusive, industrial unionism remains the only tradition with real democratic potential. Collective agreements, large representative committees, traditional pay bargaining.
If future of work predictions hold true, over the next ten years we will see the hollowing out of work. Prime Minister David Cameron initially said the day of action had been a "damp squib" but later described it as a "big strike".
The various predictions about the future of work present very real challenges for trade unions. And he believes that public sector strikes, when used, can be effective as many of these workers are highly skilled and hard to replace, unlike when there is a strike in, say, a small factory, where the employer could bring in back-up staff.
As flexible and remote working increases, and the traditional office environment decreases if indeed it doesthen where does collective action actually form?
John Kelly, professor of industrial relations at Birkbeck College, agrees that the government has made some concessions that he does not think they would have done without the strike.
They are building much of their content around the future of work and the future of Human Resources, and there is no mention of unions there, either.
Clive Rich says there is still a place for unions, but they ought to take a less confrontational approach in bargaining. The sharpest edge of this contradiction involves workers at the bottom of the occupational pyramid: The League survived for several decades on subscriptions from prominent ladies with aristocratic titles.
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