The Bargainers: A Survey of Modern British Trade Unionism

The Bargainers: A Survey of Modern British Trade Unionism

The Bargainers: A Survey of Modern British Trade Unionism

The Bargainers: A Survey of Modern British Trade Unionism

Excerpt

T he proper role of the trade unions today both in industry and in politics is a subject of major controversy. So it was sixty years ago. But in the meanwhile great social changes have almost turned upside down the type of argument that is going on. At the turn of the century, when the unions were for the first time gaining general recognition, they were recognized by thinking people to be fighting the battle of the under-privileged. Today, as affluence increases and memories of the Hungry Thirties slip further back even in the older worker's mind, the thinking public has become more sceptical. The ideals of trade unionism are no longer automatically acceptable even on the Left; to the young in particular the clear-cut issues between the haves and the have-nots have become blurred and the old battle cries have lost their edge. Trade unionism, as the most decisively working-class of all the country's institutions, has had to bear the brunt of these changes. It faces in them a challenge at once more delicate, more complex and more far-reaching than was ever posed by the out-and-out antagonism of the nineteenth-century employer.

The bare bones of trade unionism today are common knowledge. The unions are powerful bodies. Their negotiations on behalf of their eight million members effectively determine the wages and conditions of most workers in industry. They are represented in Parliament by close on one hundred M.P.s. They straddle the country's wage-fixing and consultation machinery from the factory floor to the civil servant's office. They play an integral -- if passive -- part in the social horizons of the British worker. All this influence is the product of a great social revolution which the unions have led and largely won -- the revolution which established for the first time in British history the right of the worker to share reasonably fairly with his employer in the fruits of his labour. It is . . .

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