National officer Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union

But surely most of us have moved on since the 1970s. Most employers are capable of understanding that not every union is the same. Some unions have track records of voluntary recognition demonstrating real bottom line benefits. Some have such competence, paid for out of their own resources, in safety, training, stakeholder pensions and representation skills from the factory floor to the European Parliament. Others do not have this partnership of equals, but employers are capable of taking a view as to what suits employees and them as the best “voice” for the workforce.

I would be upset, though, if any company’s judgement of these issues is distorted by a lack of understanding of the their own HR/IR environment. None of us are sure yet how the processes of recognition will work, and we have all been frustrated by the late arrival of the guidance documentation after D-Day on 6 June. But that’s a detail, frankly, if companies have been wise enough to think about a voluntary approach before the legislation kicks in.

More serious is the need for companies to address the intelligence they have about modern unions. Some HR managers have never dealt with a competent regional official of a union who has several years’ experience of the local labour market. Some other managers still see Arthur Scargill’s balmy army piling out of coaches at someone else’s factory and think he’ll be outside theirs the minute any union is recognised. Other managers have no idea exactly how hard one or two unions are working to leave the victim culture behind.

They should relax. There is no company more American than Coca-Cola. No other US company has such corporate experience of every type of HR culture around the world. No-one forces them to do anything. In Wakefield in Yorkshire, they have signed this month the third five-year deal in a row with the AEEU. The stability this ensures for the plant is obvious. The workers get 5 per cent up front, giving the shopfloor technicians salaries ranging from £20,450 to £31,000. There will be regular reviews throughout the agreement. No one should be frightened of this type of relationship. We all get a drink out of it and we all deserve one, too.

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