Challenges to Trade Unions – 21st Century

Challenges to Trade Unions – 21st Century
Forces of Globalization:
Beginning l970s the world’s economy under-went rapid change. This global change was
driven by 3 processes: technological revolution, economic liberalization and political
change. All impacted the trade union movement.
Technological revolution.
This dramatically altered the world of work and the structure or employment. Such
innovations include advance manufacturing tools, robots and computer-controlled
transport and storage systems, computer-aided design (CAD) and just-in-time (JIT)
manufacturing. These processes have enabled multinational corporations (MNCs) to
downsize, sub-contract, outsource and open smaller centers of business. These
innovations have cut production costs, increase productivity and profitability of capitalist
operations and further increased the dominance of capital over labour.
Economic liberalization
This is the process that promotes trade competitiveness. I has taken place through the
reduction in barriers in international trade and investment as well as through deregulation
and privatization. States are ‘encouraged’ to relinquish economic assets into private
hands, remove protection from indigenous businesses and to enact legislation that gives
the same rights and privileges to MNCs. Both public and private activities are subject to
Political Change
In the era of globalization the role of the state has changed. Up until the early 1970s the
state functioned as the provider of welfare services to citizens. The state’s role is now
one of regulator i.e. of creating and ensuring the conditions under which private capital
can thrive. The concept of the minimalist state has replaced the welfare state.
Impact on Trade Unions: Threats
Smaller membership, declining dues consequent survival.
Increased cost to recruit, bargain and service membership
Weakening of bargaining power
Decline in attractiveness of unions as increasingly they become unable to protect
and advance workers’ interests.
Bargaining in public sector gets tougher
Further decline of trade unions as governments advance the rights of states; union
harassment not defended; state not initiate actions on union’s behalf.
Establish global links to exchange relevant information, share resources and
expertise; new forms of cooperation with other groups e.g. NGOs.
Use technology to find, analyse and transmit information to union officers and
members. enhance skills and knowledge of negotiating team to enable it to
challenge management’s responses.
Formulate appropriate policies on technology; increase knowledge of its impact
on work and the worker.
Inform and educate workers
Recruit new types of expertise – engineering, IT, ergonomics.
Improve training and research.
Watson, Hilbourne. Ed. (1994). The Caribbean in the Global Political Economy. Ian
Randle Publishers: Jamaica.
ICFTTU. Globalising Social Justice: Trade Unionism in the 21st Century. 17th World