The New Unionism: Employee Involvement in the Changing Corporation

The New Unionism: Employee Involvement in the Changing Corporation

The New Unionism: Employee Involvement in the Changing Corporation

The New Unionism: Employee Involvement in the Changing Corporation

Excerpt

The American worker is living through a time of change—change in the domestic economy, dramatic advances in technology, increased foreign competition— which has brought a decline in the power and prestige of labor unions. After World War II, almost a third of the American work force was unionized; today, only a fifth is—and unionization tends to be in precisely those areas of the economy facing decline and retrenchment. These changes pose a serious challenge to both organized labor and management, because the cost of a decline in worker representation in economic decision making through unionism is all too often a loss of worker commitment, which translates into decreased productivity.

The problem facing the unions is complicated by the changes that have taken place in the labor force, that is, increases in white collar jobs, traditionally non-unionized, and a blurring of the lines between labor and management. These shifts may portend a demise of labor union power and influence. In fact, many observers claim that the age of independent trade unions and collective bargaining that began some fifty years ago with the passage of the Wagner Act is drawing to a close. The question is what will take its place.

America's social and economic health demand that a new road to labor‐ management cooperation be found. Charles Heckscher, now an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, who worked with the Communications Workers of America studying innovations in worker participation in management, has examined the problem, analyzing possible responses that might be made by government, labor, and management.

In his book, he carefully probes the strengths and limitations of the New Deal system in light of the changes that have taken place in the economy, in society, and in technology over the past five decades. Then he examines the birth of a new movement, one he calls associational unionism, which opens the system of worker representation to a multiplicity of groups and interests. Heckscher suggests that by shifting the focus of labor-management relations from defense of the collective-bargaining contract to a combination of increased legal rights for employees and pressure from associations set up to influence employers through negotiations, associational unionism may be able to increase employee involvement in decision making and improve the quality of work life.

The Fund is grateful to Charles Heckscher for his penetrating examination of . . .

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