The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace

The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace

The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace

The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace

Synopsis

Six out of seven US, and two out of three British, employees are not represented at work. Towers argues that the erosion of the effective defence and representation of employees could have a serious negative effect on economic performance.

Excerpt

British industry and commerce appear to be moving towards the situation in which non-managerial employees are treated as a 'factor of production'.

(Millward 1994: 133)

While there is no evidence that unions can come back and reverse their downward movement in this century, it is quite possible that unorganized workers, less well protected than their union counterparts in different economic circumstances may be storing away a resentment that will explode in coming years.

(Gould 1994: 263)

It is not difficult to describe the US industrial relations system as 'in crisis', even though the crisis has been in the making over a very long period. Both unionization (i.e. 'density' or the proportion of employed wage and salary earners in unions) and collective bargaining have been falling and contracting in the USA for over forty years with the density figures now back to the levels of the early years of the Great Depression. The British 'crisis' has been more recent. For the twenty years up to 1979 unionization moved in the opposite direction to the USA as the labour movement reached a high point in its strength and influence. Then all the indicators began to fall so fast that by 1995 total membership was at 1945 levels and unionization back to the last years of the 1930s. These reminders of hard times have, in Britain, been reinforced by rates of unemployment in the 1980s and 1990s frequently matching those of the 1930s, and by the reappearance of poverty in employment, alongside growing insecurity, as union influence has waned and state protections eroded. Similar developments have been taking place in the USA. The real pay of most workers has been declining since the early 1970s, benefits have been consistently cut by employers, and welfare entitlements have been undermined. The good news for the USA is that its labour market seems better able to create jobs and get the unemployed back into work than is the case in most EU countries but even that is qualified good news given the evidence of the often poor quality, part-time nature, and limited tenure of the extra jobs.

The downward pressure on workers' living standards, employment conditions, and traditional rights is largely associated with the decline in trade union membership. This wide, and widening, 'representation gap' means that only one out of six US employees, and one out of three . . .

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