Fear not: bigger unions will be better for you

Trade union mergers are good for you. The personnel community will be helped
in their work by the increasing size and capabilities of large British unions.
Organisations in the public and private sectors alike now recognise that there
is a real advantage in engaging the commitment of the workforce. Greater
managerial effort is being deployed everywhere to consult employees.

The quality of consultation, however, is variable: sometimes, the motivation
to consult is not genuine; sometimes, organisations are so stretched
managerially that they do not have the time to expand the sheer number of
meetings that go towards communicating company policy. But often, the real
block to genuine consultation is the lack of confidence on the employee side of
the consultation relationship. This is where improving trade union resources
comes in.

There is no doubt that the strength of British unions lies in its
essentially voluntary nature. Tens of thousands of volunteers help represent
their fellow workers in good times and bad, on personal matters and hugely strategic
change issues. But they need help. The union’s full time officers and
specialists have to be on hand to help the lay representatives and their
members grapple with an increasingly complex world. For us, trade union mergers
reduce the costs of administration as a share of expenditure. They help us to
reduce inter-union competition and allow unions to alter their structure and
culture to parallel more closely both their members’ expectations of work life
and the constant change in companies and public services.

There is no doubt that size matters. The global economy demands an entirely
different level of competence from trade union representatives, both at
full-time and local volunteer levels.

Our union has been involved in two huge mergers in nine years, and still the
challenges continue. Our members demand that we help them as individuals in
ways we have never done before. Taking part in skills expansion is crucial to
our members and their companies. Our insistence on uprating our members’ safety
awareness through safety reps is vital for workplace development. The fortune
we spend on industrial law training is well spent with its emphasis on avoiding
costly litigation.

Representing workers’ feelings accurately, non-ideologically and
competently, is the key to companies enjoying stimulating and worthwhile
consultation. Only that provides the best base for effective decision-making.

No one must shudder as they hear of us getting bigger, richer and better
resourced. Modern unions need that to be of help to their members and their
companies.

By John Lloyd, National officer, Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical
Union

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