Monday, 3 February 2014

Pay and the Presence of Trade Unionism


Two shocking new reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirm formally an inconvenient truth for the UK Coalition, in that they are presiding over a 50-year low in the real-terms value of wages.

Whilst this long-term trend owes as much to the economic legacy of New Labour, the continuity of labour market and employment rights deregulation under the Coalition has firmly pushed down the value of wages. Even the Government's own Office for Budget responsibility (OBR) admits that real-terms increases in the buying power of take home pay will not start to improve until 2018-19, and that in the context of significant increases in the overall costs of living the shrinking of wages is causing far too many UK workers considerable anxiety.

You can get a link to the three reports via this Guardian article:

For labour and trade union studies students there is an appreciation of the strong, historical correlation between the overall presence and strength of trade unions in an economy and the level and buying power of wages.

A contemporary appreciation of this historical phenomena can be seen in the current volatile debate in the US around the call to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. The US-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) provide a detailed critical appreciation of the argument for the increase and of its benefits to the national economy.

An older article from the EPI locates the historical role of US trade unions in the vanguard for decent pay: In the US, as with the bulk of the European Union (EU) the demise of collective bargaining has witnessed a significant dip not only in the presence and relative strength of trade unions, but correspondingly a demise in the qualitative status of terms and conditions of employment.

A December report of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working Lives (EUROFOUND) 'Quality of employment conditions and employment relations in Europe' helps to unpick the fast-changing European picture and concludes that the dominant, contemporary position of workers is one of a polarised labour force with significant numbers of women and young workers clustered at the wrong end in poorly paid, insecure work:

Of course it is not all doom and gloom, not least as last years' UK analysis of trade union membership data showed a promising growth of density:

As we start the new year though it's quite clear that there is even greater pressure on trade unions (particularly, although not exclusively) in the UK to secure for members improvements in wages. And so coverage of this particular aspect of the work of trade unions will feature again this year.

In Solidarity


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