In many industries, unions play an important role in maintaining fair wages, promoting good working conditions and supporting members through the provision of professional development and other services.The drivers' union Aslef is currently trying to improve the train cabs for its drivers.The BBC reports:
“Drivers are complaining the cabs lack air conditioning and proper seating and are noisy and unhealthy” (BBC, 30th April 2007).
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, representing civil servants, is also currently in clashes with employers (in this case the government) over pay and job cuts.In this dispute the BBC reports that:
“The union is angry at government plans to cut 100,000 civil service jobs, privatise services and keep pay rises below the rate of inflation” (BBC, 1st May 2007).
The Times 100 provides a case study describing how Britain's biggest union, Unison – the public service union, promotes effective communication amongst its members nationwide.This allows Unison to sort out issues and disputes and control campaigns calling for improvements within the workplace.
The role of unions is particularly important in industries dominated by large employers, where workers would have little power is individual negotiations with their employers.In the US, Wal-Mart has overtaken oil company ExxonMobil as the largest company in terms of annual sales (BBC, 16th April 2007).This provides them with considerable market power, both in the US retail market and also in the labour market.
However, according to the organisation Human Rights Watch, Wal-Mart has used aggressive tactics (some of which are allegedly illegal) to stop its US workers forming trade unions (BBC, 1st May 2007).Wal-Mart is denying the claims.It will be interesting to watch and see whether the allegations made by Human Rights Watch result in any formal charges being made.
Potential Study Questions:
How else might the size of a firm be measured other than by annual sales?
For Economists Studying Labour Economics: Why might the operation of trade unions be significant in industries dominated by large firms?
How does Unison achieve effective communication within its own organisation?