Think-tank points to militant future for unions

Trade unions have little to gain from entering into partnership deals with employers, according to a new book from the government-funded Future of Work programme.

The five academic authors describe the partnership concept as a “blind alley” for unions, in which they are being used by employers to give legitimacy to a pro-business agenda.

Talk of “mutual gains” in “high commitment” workplaces is dismissed as “seductive rhetoric”. Instead, the authors suggest that a “militant” stance may be more appropriate.

Workers “possess collective interests and concerns that require robust representation from independent, democratic and, where the situation demands, militant forms of union organisation”, the authors claim.

The book was funded through the Economic and Social Research Council’s £4m Future of Work programme.

Five authors from the University of the West of England in Bristol examined partnership deals in the aerospace industry. Partnership has failed to reconcile the conflict of interests between workers and employers, and is ultimately untenable, the book argues.

It suggests that employees cannot have an “open-ended” commitment to the success of businesses – one of the TUC’s six principles of partnership agreed in 1999 – because their primary interest lies in maintaining labour standards.

Doing so may mean opposing flexibility and could lead to “arbitrary” management decisions. Too many accounts of partnership have viewed “the employee’s perspective through the lens of managerial assumptions”, the book claims.

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