The Decline of Unions Essay

The Decline of Unions Essay

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Trade unions around the world are falling on hard times in the organized workplace. The phrase ‘union live and die at the workplace’ is becoming a reality sooner than later. The likely obituary of trade unions world-wide are declining membership, density collapse, weaken bargaining power, and the lost of prominence and place in polity. Analyses of trade unionism in the literature for some 20 years now have commonly referring to a crisis of trade unionism. Most authors puts it ‘unions under siege’, ‘stagnant and declining’, and ‘experiencing near death’. Touraine (1986, p. 157) for one has argued that ‘movements such as unionism have a life history: infancy, youth, maturity, old age and death.’ Whereas, Metcalf (2005, p. 28) in his analysis of British trade unions pessimistically stated that the future for trade unions is ‘bleak’ and that ‘perdition is more likely than resurgence.’ What holds for trade unions or whether they still have a future is increasingly becoming an uncertainty. Do they still hold the capacity to shape their own future? Trade union is said to possess powerful traditions and inherited structure that so often being seen as barrier but potentially can provide a resource for renewal. Ironically the analyses of the decline of trade unionism in the literature go hand in hand with a growing body of scholarship on union renewal. This is a paradox in social science in recent years as there were growing scholarly interest in the labour movement despite of the retreat of trade unions as a global force (Phelan 2007; Burawoy 2008; Heery 2009). These scholarly endeavours recognized the many innovations in trade unions circles that counterweigh the deterministic and fatalistic vision of the death of trade unionism and thei...


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...etween unions. In term of governance and administration, trade unions members were more comfortable with maintaining the status quo and concerned about being disenfranchised, leaders who are more worried about losing political base and staff who are unsure of where they will fit in the new organization if there any structural change (Fletcher and Hurd 2001).

In summary, international union decline can be attributed to socio-economic and modernization, changing role of the state and unions’ entrenched structures and policies that compounded the diverse effects of the changing environment. Narrative of union decline occupies a growing portion of the industrial relation literature but it does not dominate it completely. Empirical evidences suggests of unions’ innovations in the face of decline and the prospects and conditions for trade union renewal.


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