The Organising Works

Thirdly, as Metcalf13 argues, the change in management practice also has impact of union membership. Between 1980 and 1990, management’s involvement in employment relations has changed and management prerogatives were restored. Collective agreements have become more flexible, in order to develop the capacity to respond more quickly to business conditions. Sisson ; Marginson14 identify four possible areas of flexibility – functional, task, labour and financial flexibilities. Multi-employer bargaining has moved towards individual employer bargaining; communication directly with employees, rather than through trade union or formal works council.

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Payment systems moved towards merit pay – overall increase in payments-by-results (PBR), profit sharing schemes and employee share ownership plans (ESOPs). This greater financial participation of employees increases employee participation and involvement. HRM Literature reveals that management has placed a greater emphasis on commitment of employees through greater participation and involvement15. Metcalf16 gives the example of team briefings, ‘now regularly used by nearly half of all workplaces’. Regular newsletters increased from 34% to 41% and surveys and ballots from 12% to 17%.

Also line managers are now spending more time on personnel matters, “senior line managers in particular can no longer afford to allow specialist personnel or industrial relations managers simply to maintain a ‘system’ for its own sake. The key decision in industrial relations must have regard to the business strategy and must be taken by line managers. “17 Increasing numbers of Managers have evidently been assuming responsibility for their own industrial relations, rather than relying on trade unions to do this18.

Despite on above changes in macro-economy, union activities, and management practice, Bryson and Gomez19 suggest that the rise in the percentage of employees who have never become union members (‘never-members’) since the early 1980s is the main reason for the decline in overall union membership in Britain rather than the losing of existing members. Their study shows that there is a steady rise in never-membership over the period 1983-2001. And the probability of being a never-member rose by 19 percentage points during the period.

More than half of the never-membership rising is because of compositional change in the workforce. Unionisation also differed in worker ‘segments’20 and some types of worker are more likely than others to be never-members. For example, since the early 1980s, young workers have been more likely to be never-members than older workers. The data of workforce composition between 1980s and 1990s show that women, older workers, part-timers, those with qualifications, non-manual workers, those in services, and those in the private sector all increased shares in employment by 5 percentages or more.

This means number of employees in the segments where never-membership is usually higher has increased. The within-group changes can be explained by the changing preferences for union membership. The research found that the biggest single factor determining the probability of never-membership is whether an individual is employed in a workplace with a recognised union. Employees in unionised workplaces are 40 percent more likely to be union member than the employees in non-unionised workplaces. The precipitous decline of trade unions appears to have been reversed since 1998.

In 1998, union membership rose for the first time in 19 years, and the increase continued in 1999, although it fell in 200021. Besides the macro economy fact, that the unemployment has fallen since 1993 and was as low as 5. 1 percent in 2002, there are two more reasons contribute to this revitalization. Firstly, the change of climate in IR, for example, the new policy introduced by the Labour government in 1999 – the Employment Relations Act 1999 (ERA) set up a statutory recognition procedure and a right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings22.

Secondly, the strategic change within unions. Following in this section we will discuss these two reasons in more detail. The old model of trade union was not consistent with the increasing and widespread recognition of union and a change of adoption of the United States ‘organising model’ is introduced27. As we mentioned earlier, the composition of workforce in the whole economy changed significantly since 1980s. This resulted in unions representing only 30 percent of employees by end of 1990s, and membership is largely shifted to the public sector28.

With this background, two possible future directions of unions was suggested as either to revert to militancy or to embrace the perceived growing individualism through the expansion of services to members, constituted as consumers29. In his study of ‘Adoption of the Organising Model in British Trade Unions30’, Carter use example of MSF to explain how the union successfully adopt US model. While MSF firstly attempt to accommodate the individualisation of employment relations through the adoption of ‘MSF into the 21st Century’ failed, the abandonment of this attempt was the recognition of the orientation was ultimately unsustainable.

And they later introduced the policy of organising works, which is differed from the previous stance and was summarised by a document as: “.. we can learn much from the techniques of selling and marketing and from recognising the need to give good service to our members. … They see the union as a ‘servicing’ organisation, the members as clients and the ‘product’ as industrial relations services”31. The intellectual and practical roots of the organising model are in the United States.

However, many changes have been made for the model better suitable for MSF. For example, the new orientation emerged not as a separate policy but as part of the rationalisation resulting from the financial crisis of the union, this means the move tend to be a more managerial approach. And because of the model was adopted, there was lack of sustained and documented debate and policy development, it is difficult to separate the aims, objectives and practices of the strategy.

The Organising Works appeared more like a part of a work intensification programme, but adding more responsibilities with even fewer resources. Further more, to better adopted in the new changing environment, Carter suggested there are number of strategies trade union should consider to employ, including adoption of the organising model32, mergers, links with international bodies, coalition building, social partnership with employers and relations with government.