THIS meeting was held, courtesy o USDAW, in the roomat the Mechanics Institute in Manchester where the rst TUC in 1868 was held. Far be it or Unions 21 to compareourselves with those awesome pioneers o the movement,but the rst summons to the TUC encapsulated whatwe think Unions 21 is all about 138 years later. The TUCwas called on to ‘assume the character o the BritishAssociation or the Advancement o Science and theSocial Science Association…..and that papers, previouslycareully prepared, shall be laid beore the Congress…witha view o the merits and demerits o each question beingthoroughly ventilated…’
David Coats’ paper on ‘Working Futures’ certainly lived up tothe pioneers’ understanding o what a trade union debateshould be. John Hannett, general secretary o USDAW joinedDavid in examining a series o ‘myths’ about work – that wewill all be ‘knowledge’ workers in the uture, work in smallrms, change jobs requently, be pauperised by globalisation,work till we drop, deer to an individualistic culture and onlythrough militancy will we discover the best route to unionresurgence. The meeting discussed the concept o the ‘hour glass’ labourmarket. The centre o the traditional workorce – skilled cratand reasonably well paid manual work – is ast shrinking andbeing replaced by growth o graduate occupations at oneend o the labour market and a growth, too, o jobs at thebottom o the labour market. Growing income inequalityand alling social mobility result as the qualications neededto escape rom the unskilled lower end o the labour marketelude growing numbers o workers. The shrinking middle ground is the heartland o unionmembership, particularly in the manuacturing sector.Workers who have never been in a union now exceed thecombined totals o current members and ex-members addedtogether.In the lively debate that ollowed, Frank Hayle rom Accordpointed out that unions have to segment their appeal – whatworks or the people at the bottom o the hour glass will notattract those managers and aspirational graduates in thetop hal o the hour glass. Coinciding with the publicationo the Women and Work Commission report Frank Holt,the Regional Secretary o Unison, also spoke o the roleo women workers and the issue o equal pay. With morewomen now in unions than men, this issue must engageunion concern as a priority.
Modern Unions and the Quality of Work
ACADEMIC opinion is convinced that trade unions aretoo slow in promoting our role as a ‘sword o justice’ inthe workplace. Roger McKenzie TUC Regional Secretaryor the Midlands spoke about the need or equality to beembedded in union structures and used as a collectivebargaining tool to unite workers and attract new membersto the trade union movement.
He said: “We cannot tell employers to put their houses inorder without trade unions rst doing the same. Let’s getdown to the basic oundations o why we came together astrade unions in the rst place, we need to look at people whoare still being discriminated against in the workplace and seehow we can help them”.Joe Mann, National Secretary o Community, explainedhow his union has boosted membership by becominginvolved in causes such as campaigning or concessionarytravel or people with disabilities. Getting involved in suchissues is another way o involving people in trade unions. Hehighlighted the amount o time and resources unions placein campaigning or changes to the law to gain equality ormarginalised groups. He told the meeting that, while thisis vital, legal changes will mean little unless unions work to change the culture o inequality which exists in manyworkplaces.NASUWT Senior Assistant Secretary Roger Darke, whochaired the event, summed up the importance o unionscoming together to discuss equality issues.He said: “I can see how ar our unions have come and yes,we have to go a lot urther. We have to be honest enough tosay where our own problems are rather than just setting outwhat we want the employers to do. This sort o event does that because we are being honestoutside o our own trade unions. We should celebratewhat we have achieved so ar, but we should also not becomplacent.”
Modern Unions as a Sword of Justice