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Decline of Trade Union Influence in the Work Place

While the studies of Sampson (2001:209) in The Role of the World Trade Organization in Global Governance and Sampson (2002:45) Trade, Environment and the Millennium herald the advent of globalization for its significant impact on the 21st century, the U. N High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has sounded a note of caution. “Our point of departure should be that trade and economic growth are not ends in themselves. ” (Sampson, 2001:209) There are many signs that globalization has brought changes to various countries, and one of

the most significant changes that will be investigated in this paper is the decline in the influence of trade unions in the work place. Stephen Machin (2003: 15) notes the contrast in Trade union decline, New workplaces and New Workers. He observes that compared to the ‘heyday years of unionism in the late 1970s, when 58% of employees were trade union members, and 70% of employee wages were set by bargaining,’ trade unions have fallen to the minimal levels we see today. (Gospel & Wood, 2003) To add further support to this finding, two significant

worker surveys, the British Workers Representation and Participation Survey (BWRPS, 2001) and the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS, 2001) both confirm that the percentage of union members has fallen among young employees. The BSAS 2001 survey shows 20% membership among employees aged up to 29 years, while the BWRPs 2001 survey shows 17% union membership. These figures contrast sharply with workers aged 30 and over, who have a 33 and 41% union membership as reflected in the BSAS and BWRPs, respectively.

The figures are based on Freeman and Wayne Diamond’s study, ‘Young Workers and Trade Unions. ’ (Gospel and Wood, 2003: 29) 2 For the purposes of this study we will take O’Keefe’s definition of trade union influence as the ability of “unions (to) negotiate a complex web of rules that restrict the ability of management to manage. (Mishel & Voos, 1992: 109) As with any phenomenon, the decline in trade union influence in the work place can best be understood in terms of the combined effects of several forces.

This study identifies five common factors that contributed to the decline of trade union influence in the work place. These are sexist attitudes within labor unions, hostile employer attitudes toward labor unions, decreasing strength of union ideology; globalization and its emphasis on young workers with no history of union membershiop; and dictatorial tendencies within labor unions. II. Five Common Factors contributing to the Decline of Trade Union Influence a. Sexist Attitudes as observed in the studies of Bolles(1996) and Fonow(2003)

Women’s studies of Trade Unionism attest that sexist attitudes in the steel and textile industries were contributing factors to the decline of women’s participation in the unions. A. Lynn Bolles (1996) in We Paid Our Dues: Women Trade Union Leaders of the Caribbean, notes that leading male trade unionists in Trinidad ‘met to pledge assistance to women garment workers who were on strike at the Renown Shirt Factory’ yet subsequently appealed to the media to give the ‘girls’ their support.

According to Rhoda Reddock, who wrote the article, the records mentioned the names of male union members who supported the struggle, but only referred to the female strikers as ‘girls. ’ (Bolles, 1996: 127) Margaret Fonow, in ‘Forging Feminism in the United Steelworkers of America,’ documents another case of sexist attitudes towards women in the steel industry. The reported attitude of a foreman at the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Company to

women in the steel company was ‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? ’ (Fonnow, 2003: 72) Accounts show that women’s involvement in trade unions peaked in the 1970s, a finding which agrees with Machin’s description of the 1970s as the ‘heydey of trade unionism. ’ Fonow adds that the Calumet District 31 Women’s Caucus was formed in 1977 to address issues of harassment that women experienced in the mills. (Fonow, 2003: 112).

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