ANALYSIS-Could strikes and inflation spark global union renewal?


(Corrects spelling of law firm to Thompsons Solicitors (not Thompson Solicitors) in 33rd paragraph) *Inflation fuels wage demands and worker strikes

* Unions hope unrest will boost membership * Across the world, anti-union laws limit expansion

Trouble is brewing behind the bar at Saint James’ Tavern in the southern English seaside town of Brighton.

As Britain’s cost of living crisis fuels workers’ discontent over pay and working conditions, pub bar staff have taken the unusual step of going on strike – led by their manager, Jake Marvin, 25. “I don’t think I ever thought I would be this involved…but needs have to, I guess,” said Marvin, who along with colleagues recently made his first foray into union membership in joining United Voices of the World Union (UVW).

They went out for two days in June and July, but so far failed to get satisfaction. Marvin and others were suspended, highlighting the challenges faced by low-paid workers in the private sector, even as interest in organizing grows. Pub tenants said employees had been suspended for various disciplinary issues, adding that they respect their right to join a union.

Dubbed “the summer of discontent”, a wave of strikes is sweeping Britain as soaring fuel and food prices erode workers’ purchasing power. But the unions are hoping there could be a silver lining to the inflationary pressure – helping them regain some of their lost influence and membership, which has roughly halved since the “winter of discontent” at the late 1970s.

“There is going to have to be a settlement in this country for paid people and all the other issues that are fueling this cost of living crisis,” said Eddie Dempsey, principal assistant general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. . (RMT). The RMT is due to stage another 24-hour strike over wages and job protection on Wednesday, after carrying out Britain’s biggest rail strikes for 30 years last month when inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.4%.

Along with his boss Mick Lynch, Dempsey, 40, has won praise for his media and upbeat television appearances advocating the need for industrial action, despite critics pointing to the economic damage and disruption caused by the walkouts. “Asking nicely doesn’t work in the best of times, and it won’t work in the toughest times,” Dempsey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that more than 3,000 people have joined the RMT in the past two month.

During the June rail strikes, visits to an online tool that helps workers find a union increased eightfold, said Kevin Rowan, organizing manager at the Federation of Trades Union Congress ( TUC), which manages the tool. ‘SUCCESS MAKES SUCCESS

In other countries too, workers’ interest in collective bargaining seems to be growing In the United States, industrial action increased in 2021 and some employees of leading companies such as Amazon and Starbucks formed unions, partly reflecting the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and labor shortages. work.

In Europe, wage disputes have also spread, from Germany’s largest union IG Metall demanding a pay rise for 3.8 million workers to widespread strikes in the airline industry. A tight labor market, with low unemployment and plenty of job vacancies, historically leads to more industrial action, said Harry Katz, director of the Scheinman Institute on Dispute Resolution at Cornell University. .

“Workers can more easily find another job, so they have a better chance of succeeding if they go on strike,” he said, adding that sudden layoffs and health problems during the pandemic have fueled the anger of many workers. But more than just organizing strikes, unions will need to show tangible results in improving workers’ wages and conditions to lock in the current interest in organizing, Rowan said.

“Success breeds success, and there is certainly an air of confidence among our unions,” he said, pointing to recent private sector victories – such as a pay rise for workers at the chocolate company. Cadbury worth 17.5% cadbury-workers over two years. PRECARIOUS JOBS

Yet only 12.8% of employees in the UK private sector belonged to unions in 2021, compared to 50.1% in the public sector, meaning that the vast majority of workers lack bargaining power. The UVW union, which has just 5,000 members including Saint James Tavern staff, was founded in 2014 in response to a perceived gap in the union movement for minimum wage workers and precarious jobs, many of whom are immigrants.

“The workers who really need unions the most are those least represented by unions,” said UVW general secretary Petros Elia, whose members include cleaners, security guards, drivers- delivery workers and other people in precarious jobs. “These are people that the labor movement has kind of kept invisible,” Elia said. “That’s a huge pool of workers that the labor movement should be trying to talk to.” Union membership and the number of workers covered by collective agreements – that is, those involved in union negotiations with employers, which may include non-member employees – vary widely around the world.

In countries like Germany and the Nordic states, the majority of workers are subject to bargaining agreements to improve their wages, which academics have linked to lower levels of economic inequality. In Britain and the United States, meanwhile, the power of unions has waned, with some pointing to the decline of traditional industries like mining.

“It has been difficult for unions to make inroads into new sectors of the economy and the service sector,” said Tony Dobbins, professor of labor and employment relations at Birmingham Business School. Another problem facing trade unions is that members are aging, which is a problem even in countries with stronger trade union movements.

According to the European Trade Union Confederation, the percentage of people under the age of 25 joining a union has dropped significantly %20guide_EN. pdf, contributing to the decline in union density in most European countries. POWER IMBALANCE

In places where unions are weak or non-existent, analysts also point out that much of the potential for growth is beyond their control. The laws surrounding unions have a significant impact on their ability to organize. According to the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index, four out of five countries block collective bargaining and more than three quarters of countries deny workers the right to form and join a trade union.

As Britain grants these rights, its laws have become stricter and the government has recently introduced plans to allow companies to temporarily hire agency workers during strikes. “Unions now have to navigate more legal hurdles to get the change they want on behalf of their members,” said Neil Todd, labor expert and partner at law firm Thompsons Solicitors.

“Right now the whole system is leaning far too much towards protecting employers rather than protecting workers – and it is unfortunately getting worse,” he said in emailed remarks. That means talk of a full-fledged union renaissance is premature unless there is a significant increase in long-term membership, labor analysts say.

But on the heels of the difficulties of COVID-19 and an inflationary surge, union leaders believe the momentum is on their side. “We hope we lead by example and other people follow suit,” Dempsey said.

“I can only see this spreading.” Originally posted at:

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


About Author

Comments are closed.