Unions & job satisfaction
Is it in management’s interests, as well as labour's, to make jobs better? Job satisfaction was once a hot topic in academia. From the 1960s through till the late '80s, theorists looked at the question from every angle, trying to find ways to create a contented workforce. By this, they often meant: “one less concerned with money rewards and less inclined to unionise”. Researchers expected to find a simple correlation between job satisfaction and productivity. However, when this proved elusive, research funding dried up. More recently, however, new research has been helping the democratic labour movement better understand what workers want, and how we can deliver it. More»
As network member Merrelyn Emery has shown, the democratic approach to work out-performs other approaches across the board. It’s a conclusion she has tested and proven over and over again in the course of her career. But how can workers create democratic workplaces, starting from the traditional autocratic base? As any unionist will tell you, democracy can’t be installed from above; it must be resolved upon and built from the bottom up. As Hal Draper put it, “Only by fighting for democratic power do (workers) educate themselves up to the level of being able to wield that power.” In this article Emery helps unions in this struggle by describing the “participative design” process, which sets out to change organizations from autocracies (or laissez faire systems) to sustainable democracies. More.
State of the Unions
Here» are our latest stats on the global union movement, along with country trends and links to reports on labour rights. Compiled with help from 14 national editors, this data confirms our earlier reports of renewed growth in the union movement, when it is considered internationally. more»
Social network unionism
The implications of "social network unionism" are only just starting to dawn on many of us. It is a transformation that looks set to bypass formal structures and take root in every aspect of economics and production. Will unions be part of the steamroller, or part of the road? Here's an introduction to some of the top tools available, along with suggestions on how unions might use them. more»
After capitalism - democracy at work?
We've seen a huge upturn in social protests and strikes around the world recently. Many influential defectors from free market ideology have joined social activists in a powerful new critique of the current system. But, as U.S. union organizer César Chávez once said: “We are a movement that builds, not destroys.” What alternative visions are on offer for a globalized economy? Network member Peter Hall-Jones looks at four examples from the past decade. As you’ll see, they all have something rather interesting in common. They're all predicated on the democratization of work. more»
End of an error?
How will the current ructions in the Middle East and Northern Africa affect the World Federation of Trade Unions? The who, you say? The WFTU — the international union body that's “…fighting to overthrow capitalism, fighting for the abolition of exploitation of man by man, fighting for socialism.” Depending on your union politics, that will sound either staunch and militant or, well, a bit auld lang syney Brezhnev. Which is it to be? And who are these people, claiming to be the second largest union body in the world? Let's take a look... more»
Strike wave: a global shift
In September 2010 the biggest strike in world history - involving around 100 million workers - was passed over for a Gainesville preacher who had threatened to burn a Koran. India, China and Egypt are all experiencing a phenomenal growth in labour activism. France, Portugal and Spain have been on the boil. In fact, by our reckoning, two thirds of the largest strikes of all time have happened in the last 10 years. Check out our list. Could it be that the mainstream media (not to mention our own union media) is missing something? more»
Together at last!
Here’s one to watch. Down in New Zealand, a country with an unusually cohesive (though struggling) union movement, affiliates of the national union federation have launched an innovative thing called "Together". We’re calling it a thing because it doesn’t really fit into any of the usual drawers. It’s not a union, not an NGO, not an organisation, not a network, not an association, club, sect, faction, fraction, tendency or movement. What it is, above all else, is a potential solution to several of the quandaries that unions have been trying to solve for at least 10 years. more»
Which way global unions?
The usual suspects are pretty much agreed: unions need to start organizing globally. They've tried a number of different approaches, some of them dating back more than a century. Are we there yet? How much further? Hell, will we even know it if we arrive? Perhaps the most conspicuous voice that has been missing from the conversation is that of working people themselves. Read up on the background and have your own say here»
Red Flag revisited
Interested in labour history? Here's some cool trivia. It seems the old socialist anthem 'The Red Flag' is sung to the wrong tune. The lyrics were written in 1889 by Irish dock worker Jim Connell. The tune he had in his mind was 'The White Cockade' (listen). Later, a bloke named Adolphe Headingley substituted the German hymn 'Tannenbaum'. Connell was furious. "God forgive him, for I never shall." Connell's lyrics were inspired by the rise of New Unionism during the London dockers' strike. The tribute went broader though; it was also meant for those involved in the Paris Commune, Irish Land-Leaguers, Chicago anarchists and Russian nihilists. Broad left indeed! It was meant as a lively reel, not a solemn dirge. Think Pogues, not Red Army Choir. There's a moral in there someplace.
The New Unionists of the late 19th century built trade unions as we know them by organizing the proletariat – the working class of the day. Similarly, today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat - workers without traditional employment security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come: “Most of the full-time jobs lost in this recession won't come back. Most of the employees laid off in the past year won't find permanent work. When the statistics catch up to the reality, people will be forced to confront the new normal.” more»
Need some inspiration?
We've put together a collection of snazzy quotes, facts and figures for union organizers. There's words of wisdom on organizing, workplace democracy and the future of work, as well as data on the union premium (the difference unions make to pay) and the representation gap (the gap between those who want to join a union and those who actually do). Browse»
Union values survey
Everybody knows - roughly speaking - what unions are opposed to. But what are we in favour of? What values should our movement be asserting and exemplifying? As part of our ongoing discussion on this subject, the New Unionism network ran a survey of union values from 2007 to January 2012. You'll be surprised by some of the results. Click here» to see for yourself.
Unionism meets workplace democracy
An informal coalition of U.K. unions and thinktanks has produced an important new thinkpiece on workplace democracy. If this agenda is new to you, then here's a great introduction. Don't worry about the British/European focus - there's enough food for thought here for anybody who thinks their workplace needs a deep shake-up. Some members of this network felt there were limits to the report, but all were agreed: if you're interested in understanding the trajectory of New Unionism, read this report! download»
Can we calculate an actual value, in blunt financial terms, for union membership? In this discussion we look at the difference between union-pay and non-union pay (generally known as "the union premium") in 20 countries. We also look at some of the oddities involved in the math. In weighing the benefits of union membership, be prepared to think outside the market square. more»
Old new unionism
There have been two movements in labor history known as "New Unionism", and they are closely related. The first began in the 1880s, as craft-based structures gave way to industrial unions. The new leaders argued that unions had to become more open and inclusive. Membership grew rapidly, and the results these early unions achieved were inspiring. Then came labor's "great split" in 1920, as three competing ideologies drove bureaucratism deep into unionism's soul. These divisions were to last until the end of the century, and their echoes are still plainly heard. But are we now picking up where those early new unionists left off? more»
Workplace democracy and class
Workplace democracy is championed by many unionists, entrepreneurs and employers, yet governments have not picked up on the agenda. Why not? Work by US academic Ed Collom in 2001 may suggest the answer. Collom's research confirms that there is "cross-class support" for workplace democracy, but finds intriguing "inter-class" divisions within this. Some of us have eked out a few privileges above the others in our class, and we want to retain them. The self-empoyed, women, people of colour, and lower-paid workers are more supportive of workplace democracy; those with conservative leanings or higher incomes less so. Union members are more supportive of the agenda than non-members. Among employers, young entrepreneurs support it more than older managers. Public service workers are supportive, as are professional and technical workers. Managers and supervisors are less so. Majorities aside, each group controls a critical cohort of votes. No wonder governments are trying to bury this in the too-hard basket. download report»
Economists tend to congregate around "bottom lines" - measures of success that traditionally centre around production. However, most would agree that the GDP measure is deeply flawed (details). A recent survey in the UK found that 81% thought the primary objective should be the creation of happiness, rather than wealth. Is such a measure possible? Short answer: yes. In fact you can take your pick of alternative measures. "Triple Bottom Line" (TBL) accounting is very popular in ethical business circles. It balances the books according to people, planet and profit. Another good one is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which measures advances in well-being. Several steps further down the road one finds Bhutan, the tiny kingdom where economics is measured by "Gross National Happiness" (GNH). Them there's the "Happy Planet Index" (HPI), which measures how successfully countries turn resources into long and happy lives. You can sit your own personal HPI test here. And last but not least, there's the "Satisfaction with Life" index (SWL). So what's the bottom line in all this? Economics is an art, not a science. The principles, rules and measures are negotiable.
Flexicurity is a combination of an active labour market policy (at government level); relatively easy hiring and firing (for employers); and high benefits for the unemployed (providing security for employees). The aim is to reduce social fears of change. It was first implemented in Denmark in the 1990s, and then spread to Finland and the Netherlands. It is currently generating a lot of interest across Europe, and also within the ILO. What do the "social partners" make of it? Here's a good introduction to the discussion: more»
Don't be fooled again
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."
Most CEO's are in the job for less than 3 years. This statistic is remarkably consistent across developed countries (more). It goes a long way towards explaining the short-termism of modern management. Which in turn played a huge part in creating the financial crisis. Many CEOs never declare the clear conflict of interest they face: ie quick results are great for their CV. They get to move on, with a bonus at one end and a pay rise, irrespective of the long term effects on the company. A round of layoffs is the classic device. Yes, evidence shows this will damage the company in the long term, but hell... they're long gone by then. One solution is for employees to have a voice in shareholder meeting, performance appraisal and succession planning. This latter is what LIUNA's pension plan is proposing (more). Another is for workers' pension funds, estimated at about one-third of the world’s total share capital (more), to be used to promote responsible governance. With the Board representing shareholders (including pension funds) and the union representing employees, might we see a challenge to the CEO's hidden conflict of interest?
Mondo laboro bizarro
In searching global union membership statistics we have found clear evidence that unionism is a secret plot devised by Monty Python. Take a look at some of these examples, and reflect upon the toils of the poor workers who have to sort this mess out! more»
a union issue
Depression, stress and anxiety are now the primary cause of workplace absence in most developed countries. It used to be back injury. This reflects changes in the nature and culture of work, and represents a major challenge for Health and Safety reps. How do unions change workplace cultures? It is an urgent issue. Japan and China both have a word for death by overwork (karoshi and guolaosi). In the USA more than 65 million suffer from the symptoms of stress. 80% of workers saying they feel stress on the job; nearly half saying they need help in learning how to manage stress; and 42% saying their co-workers need such help. Depression costs U.S. business at least $44 billion a year. 420,000 such cases are reported in the UK each year. “This is a really important area where unions can become more active,” says Unknown representative Dave Eva, in announcing a joint programme to send workplace reps on 3-day training courses to learn about handling the problem from a union angle. We hope to report more on this soon. more»
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Managing union management
Management is a function, as well as a group of people. In this article, network member Ken Margolies discusses the management function within unions. It’s a subject he knows pretty well, having written a thesis about it. However, despite some great work by Ken and others, we are still a long way from a union theory of management. We know that command-and-control leads to endless problems, but we are still scratching our heads over what to do instead. Perhaps one place we could start is within our own organisations – labor unions. It seems unlikely that we can meet the challenges ahead unless we learn to manage ourselves (and others) better. more»
The story so far...
"We have survived to fight another day, and that day is today."
Network member Dan Gallin is Chair of the Global Labour Institute, with bases in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. GLI works at the forefront of change in the labour movement. This article looks at the development of the labour movement up until now, and the urgent next steps that are necessary. It is taken from Dan's introductory address to the GLI international conference in Manchester, July 2012. more»
Employment Relations Quality Assurance
It’s not enough to produce widgets, we must produce quality widgets that can be sold for a profit. This expectation applies to the service industries as well as commodity production. However, “quality” is a notoriously elusive concept. For this reason blue collar workers (and an increasing share of white collar workers) have grown accustomed to the checklists and graphs that come with quality assurance. Here’s an interesting idea: what if we extended quality assurance processes to cover employment relations? Network member Owen Johnstone discusses his innovative new approach. more»
Passing the buck
Generally speaking, the term ‘casual’ has positive connotations – relaxed, informal, easy-going. Applied to the world of labour, though, the reverse is true. It describes a situation of increasingly insecure, pressure-driven employment, at the whim of employers whose demands may chop and change, forcing millions of workers to realign their lives, routines and other commitments in their struggles to get by: less casuals than casualties. Passing the Buck: Corporate Restructuring and the Casualisation of Employment is the latest volume in the excellent Work Organisation Labour and Globalisation series. It is reviewed by Richy Leitch here»
Union ethics and by-laws
Phil Lillies has spent ten years applying his training in philosophy and organizational development to the study of internal workings of labour and community organizations. In this article he focuses on bylaws — the rules and regulations that do so much to reflect and condition union culture at local level. He offers some reflections on how to write bylaws that will help create a democratic, inclusive organization… one that will inspire and empower its members to support good causes during times of quiet as well as times of struggle. This will prepare the union to better face the future, no matter what it may bring. more»
The DOJO of organizing
The third article in our popular series by Rex Lai (following on from his TAO and SHIH of union organizing) looks at the DOJO of organizing -- and at five key principles that will help workers to shift their mindset. Literally, “Do” means practice and “Jo” means place. So what are the practices of successful organizing, and what are the places we must create in order to achieve these? As a metaphor, the Dojo looks to capture the art and the discipline of effective organizing. more»
New Unionism in Israel?
"The social and democratic revolutions that have been sweeping the Middle East have redrawn the political map and rewritten the regional rules", writes network member Assaf Adiv, National Coordinator of Israel's WAC-Maan. Antagonisms between Israel, the Arab world and the Palestinians have taken on a new dimension, in light of the movement for change in Arab states. Revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt have brought down the regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, shifting the center of power back to the street. The neo-liberal order that has prevailed in the region for more than 30 years is being shaken to the core. more»
Conor Cradden takes a good hard look at organisational hierarchy and 'management's right to manage'. Unions have never been slow to say to what they do not want for their members, but are always more reticent when it comes to proposing a positive vision of management and organisation. What might a Union Theory of Management look like? more»
Young people and unions
Jodie Schluter looks at the relationship between young people and unions. All those meetings, workshops, sub-committees, forums, quotas, caucuses and motions... why is it that the young are still not flocking to join up?? Irony aside, this open discussion presents the issue through the eyes of young people themselves, including those working successfully in the field (as well as a few left-field gonks). more»
Democratising work and unions
Alex Twigg reflects on the rise of ‘managerialism’ – the belief that management is a science, a toolbox of technical skills which can be taught and applied like a fusion between economics and engineering. The standard bearers of managerialism were the MBAs: “that swollen class of jargon-spewing, value-destroying financiers and consultants (who) have done more than any other group of people to create the economic misery we find ourselves in”. (And that’s one of them speaking!) Alex believs we need a new model for management, and in this article he puts forward some persuasive ideas on the subject. more»
Democratizing work: why & how
Merrelyn Emery draws on an international body of theory and practice to support the case for the democratization of work and workplaces. In discussing how this can be achieved, she looks at the surprisingly simple world of organizational design principles, and argues for an employee redesign process. Worker participation needs to be supported by binding enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs). By extension, in transition and in day-to-day practice, workplace democracy needs healthy, independent unions. more»
The master-servant relationship
Peter Hall-Jones asks: "Why do we defer from 9-to-5?" In trying to explain this behaviour he looks at the "master-servant relationship" which haunts the workplace and industrial relations. It's a feudal hangover, passed down the generations through English common law. Nowadays, in their own different ways, many employers and most workers are wanting to exorcise the old ghoul. The way unions react to this shift, and to the workplace democracy agenda, may have a huge effect on the movement's future. more»
Labour's enemy within
Dan Gallin speaks to New Unionism about the roots of bureaucratism in the union movement. Dan is Chair of the Global Labour Institute and was formerly head of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant and Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF, for 37 years). He has seen the best and the worst of the labour movement, and is an outspoken critic of the way many labour institutions work. more»
Örsan Şenalp provides information on the intriguing MAPEO process of The Transnationals Information Exchange (tie), which was set up in 1978. Today, there are affiliated groups working to strengthen democratic and pluralist unionism in Bangladesh, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the USA. MAPEO is helping workers analyse and change production in their workplaces and global supply chains. more»
Network members and others reflect on "relational organizing" - an approach which sits equally well with trade unionists, community activists, and faith-based networkers. What these enthusiasts describe seems to be a variant on the organizing model, but with much heavier emphasis on building dynamic relationships within the group. As one organizer who has used this approach with spectacular results puts it: "This is about us, not them". If you're a union organizer then take some time to read this discussion; it may just change everything. Click here»
Steve Early reflects on how we can optimise communications between union members and union staff. Over the past few years many larger unions have experimented with call centers. Steve's forthcoming book "The Civil Wars in U.S. Labour — Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of The Old?" explores call center servicing through a Service Employees' International Union experiment. Critics feared that stewards and shop floor activists were being undermined by “Member Resource Centers”. Was the call center facilitating relationship-building or acting as a poor substitute? No matter what your feelings are about the Change to Win split, there's a lot to be learned from this analysis of the SEIU experience. more»
European unions after the crisis
Roland Erne argues for the the primacy of society over the economic system, in this closely written analysis. If nothing else, the financial meltdown has helped demystify economics. Current moves towards increased regulation can only assist the process. They may also offer a range of new opportunities for influence. However, we need to be careful: "...it would be wrong to perceive radical and pragmatic action repertoires as mutually exclusive... Transformative counter-movements will only be able to mobilise people if they are able to propel concrete improvements as well as a “reasoned utopia” ...the democratic control of labour, land, and money markets..." download»
Changing deeper structures @work
Rune Kvist Olsen discusses the roots and historical development of 'leadership' in management, and all this implies for the shaping of relationships at work. Consultative or not, leadership implies a vertical hierarchy. Olsen has a participative, horizontal model that he recommends as an alternative model. He calls it "leading-ship". more»
Organizing: the Arts and Sciences
Richard Moser presents an intriguing summary of the current state of work and unionism in the US. He argues that unions have tended towards an organizational culture which resists change and is unaccustomed to democracy. He traces the evolution of the process, mapping it against changes in work and society. Unions must develop a culture of organizing if they are to renew their influence and reconnect with their members. He then presents recommendations on organizing, exploring the contradictory but creative tensions that animate union activity. These are the challenges faced by those who want to put the movement back into labor. more»
Organizing meets social partnership
Eddy Stam (pictured) and Ron Meyer are experienced unionists from the Netherlands. One is a seasoned veteran, now working at international level, the other a determined young organizer working with the rank and file. They're good friends, and they're pretty much agreed: the European model of social partnership unionism has a lot to learn from the organizing model of the Americas. Interview»
High performance workplaces
Max Ogden reports on some interesting work New Zealand unions are doing around the concept of “high performance workplaces”. In short, they are seeking to raise the quality of work against a backdrop of improved performance. Furthermore, they want to embed the process in collective negotiations. You can read more about the approach here» and/or download the handbook for unionists here»
Parecon and union revitalisation
Mark Evans discusses the historical roots of the identity crisis in trade unionism, and considers the value of an approach based on "participatory economics", or ParEcon—an alternative economic vision that is being developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. more»
Conor Cradden takes an innovative and in-depth look at the case for workplace democracy, starting rightat the beginning. In doing so he considers how such a goal might tie in with a broader social agenda: that of democratising economics itself. more»
Organizing: Beyond fear and anger
Peter Hall-Jones questions the view that unions exist purely to bargain for higher pay and protection. It is a model of unionism that has been in steady decline since the 1950s. Fear and anger are dubious drivers for organizing; evidence suggests that workers have their sights set higher. more»
Innovative trade union strategies
Dirk Kloosterboer, writing for The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation FNV, has produced a great booklet on how unions are responding internationally to changes in labour and production. It's a wide-ranging and genuinely open-minded investigation, and deserves to be read by anybody who's interested in contemporary union practice. A PDF version can be downloaded here»
the story so far
(last updated 7 September 2011 )
|The New Unionism Network was launched at the beginning of 2007. Here's our membership directory. In terms of demographics, 48% of members work for unions. The next biggest group is "rank and file" workers (at 31%), followed by academics (11%). The gender balance is 34%/66% female/male, which is a worry, although female membership has been rising more proportionately in recent months. There are about 700 members from 47 countries, and 1800 subscribers to our Work In Progress newsletter. We're well pleased with the balance between white-collar and blue-collar members. The nationality with the highest membership is the USA (24%), followed by UK and Australia (21%), and then Canada (11%). As you'll see from the map below, we're needing to build our website audience in South America and Africa in particular. In terms of finances, we aren't aiming high - we just seek donations to cover operating costs. We're currently holding our own in this respect, but no more than that. We have no other source of income, nor any political links.
We've had two members' meetings. Records from the first can be downloaded here, and the second here.
Latest news for members
Since our last meeting, members have been informally discussing our "escape from virtual reality" -- i.e. options for a New Unionism organisation(s) and work in the real world. The goal is to find ways to apply the key principles in workers' everyday lives . We want to hear from EVERY member on this. What should be done? Please share your ideas at the FaceBook site set up for this purpose, here»
The map below shows the location of visitors to our website. You'll find last year's map here» and the year before here» As you'll see, we need to lift our presence (even allowing for language and digital divide) in Africa and South America. Members' ideas on this would be very welcome.
There are two kinds of network member, although this in no way implies any hierarchy. Founding members are experienced union reps and officials, supporters and activists who accept the principles of new unionism and want to put some work in to help us get established. Network members (including the founding members) are those who accept the principles and are willing to promote and/or apply them in their work. Joining is free, but we hope you'll make a donation to become a financial member within six months. Only financial members can vote, although all members are encouraged to take part in meetings. We ask members to give the equivalent of one hours pay per year, on the basis that this is the average amount of time we spend per member, and our time is worth no more or no less than your own. To join the network just fill out the form here» You can check who the other members are here» We'll be in touch within an hour, give or take a few disturbances in the æther.
Here's a few words of thanks and acknowledgement to some of the good folk who have helped us along the way.