The Dwindling Importance of Workers Unions

The Perils of Ignoring Workers’ Unions

The dwindling importance of workers’ unions around the world is a worrying trend because it portends many issues that concern the workers that are being neglected. While it is the not the contention here that workers’ unions must hold the corporations to ransom, a healthy workplace can only be actualized when there is a balance between the interests of the corporations and those of the workers. This means that an operative and effectual workers’ union is essential for a productive and efficient workplace. The alternatives are very dangerous as can be seen in the way the workers in the Manesar Plant of the Maruti Suzuki resorted to violence when their needs for redressal and better working conditions were not met. Further, as the incidents in the recent months in the Apple manufacturing units in China show, lack of a proper workers union and means for grievance redressal lead to incidents of workplace violence that are not good omens for the future of the industrialized world. Therefore, the key theme that is being discussed in this article is that a workers’ union that has bargaining and negotiating power on behalf of the workers is essential for a healthy and productive workplace.

The Reasons for the Decline in the Importance of Workers’ Unions

The reason why workers unions have been losing ground in the West is mainly due to the onslaught of the neoliberal paradigm, which holds that unfettered free markets and capitalism are the answers to the kind of economic system one should have. Under this paradigm, the power of the workers was marginalized and they were left without any real bargaining and negotiating power. Further, as most of the manufacturing jobs were outsourced to China, the workers were left without employment and even where they were employed, the threat of outsourcing meant that they had to surrender their rights instead of demanding for more as was the case earlier. As mentioned earlier, we do not propose that workers’ unions must be more powerful than the managers must and the corporations as this would take us back in time to the days when workers used to hold the entire company hostage to their demands. Rather, the point that is being put across here is that without workers becoming militant or outright powerless, there is a middle ground to be had where both the management and the workers engage in dialogue and discussion and arrive at a consensual style of decision making as far as the issues concerning them are addressed.

The Rise of the Services Sector and the White Collar Workforce

The other reason why workers’ unions have been declining in importance is the rise of the services sector where the concept of a union is nonexistent. For instance, one never hears of a union in the IT (Information Technology) or a Financial Institution and one never comes across a union in a Biotechnology or Hardware Chip making units. This means that with the growing proportion of employees in these services sectors, there is little scope for unions and the unions that already exist in the manufacturing sector often have little to offer for the employees in the services sector. Though from time to time, we hear noises made about the need for the services sector to unionize, they are drowned in the larger interest of the services sector where the argument is that the employees are performing white-collar jobs and hence, they do not need to unionize. This is the reason why many workers’ unions are now a pale shadow of what they were as the intersecting trends discussed here mean that workers and their rights have become secondary to the larger goals of profits and revenues.

Concluding Thoughts

Finally, workers’ unions must have some bargaining and negotiating power from a corporate social responsibility perspective. Corporations cannot claim to be responsible towards the external stakeholders when their internal stakeholders i.e. the employees are left without a voice. In conclusion, the dwindling importance of unions is indeed a worrying trend and it is hoped that this trend would be reversed.


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