Labor Unions for the 21st Century

Introduction

Union organizations were created as a result of a mediocre environment. The product of a diverse society and multiculturalism had made a significant negative effect on society in the past. Racism and unfair labor had brought workers within an industry to become closer to each other sharing a common feeling of remorse against their employers. Starting from small companies, the organizations had spread establishing contacts from the laborers of other companies who share the same ideals with them. Labor workers had gained assurance and security in their positions in the companies they are working with through union organizations. They have been able to covet more demands from their employers their demands balancing their needs with the services they provide the industry. Through participation in union organizations, paid labor workers were able to have fair labor benefits. As a result, there were even benefits that were provided only for union members, thus more and more workers were joining the organization.

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Furthermore, union organizations were not concentrated within one industry alone. Trade unions from various places were linked to each other creating a powerful and stronger power for union organizations. The associations of these various union organizations produced a more influential and more powerful organization against obnoxious employers.

One of the most important aspects of the rise of union organizations in the past that is yet as important even to the present is social cohesion. It has maintained social solidarity among members from different parts of the globe towards the achievement of their goals. It had been, since the first union was established, yet the most significant traditional mandate that has attracted workers in joining the organizations. Labor unions had been able to sustain social cohesion that guarantees a secure income for all concerned workers under the conditions of freedom and dignity. Labor unions have determined their utmost needs in the industry and fought for it since. Unions have strived for that mandate through developing an agenda based on workers’ rights, employment creation, and social protection. The union initiatives for ensuring income security, safe working conditions, and skill mobility for workers, especially for those at the lower end of the skill hierarchy, will remain important for many years to come. Strategies for realizing those goals will continue to figure prominently in the agenda of unions (Somavia, 1999). Equity among members of the working society was strengthened such that nobody was perceived as a high-ranking official in a company. Each member was treated with utmost care in accordance with the policies that the organizations have based on a fair and just judgment among one another.

Main body

Labor unions have their own unique organizational structure. This structure is based on the most crucial requirement for building the political base of unions. In fact, unions are comfortably placed to handle this task. They are the biggest single instrument of organization of citizens in the world today. They have the capacity and the organizational structure to build on. They could have the least number of members in an organization within the industry, however, their influences are great such that they were feared by the institutions who recognize this power. That also implies moving into new terrain, identifying new constituents, addressing the needs of the new target groups, and developing new structures and strategies in search of solutions. In particular, unions need to stretch their arms towards those who are excluded from traditional forms of work – the unskilled, the unemployed, the migrants, and the minorities (Somavia, 1999).

Partnership with other organizations and an alliance with other concerned minorities are two of the best weapons of the labor unions in order to attain their goals. This is another new environment for unions. They have found the time for their pursuit of common interests and shared values to get into partnerships or strategic alliances with other actors in civil society, including gender groups; cooperatives; community associations; and human rights bodies, consumers, and environmental groups. Often they require trade unions to transcend the boundaries of the workplace and to address concerns embedded in communities, minority groups, religious organizations, and neighborhood associations. I trust this debate will highlight the potential for action in this field and bring fresh insights into a methodology for building partnerships and alliances (Somavia, 1999).

Indeed, studies regarding labor unions have been as important in society at present. Probably, it’s because labor forces are afraid that it might soon lose its touch its power in influencing the trade and industry where it exercises its power.

In our changing economy, negotiating pay, benefits, and basic working rights is not enough to sustain or grow a union, and many recognize this (Lazes & Savage, 2000).

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Unions are experimenting with specific strategies to ensure their place in the 21st century. These strategies are those that involve a) education and retraining, b) research and development, c) a voice in strategic management decision making and ownership, d) capital investment and pension funds, and finally e) an industrial sector approach (Lazes & Savage, 2000).

Various issues concerning the labor industry had been addressed through labor unions. Unfair labor costs and neglected benefits, particularly of medical benefits or health care benefits, were some of the problems of trade and industry that had been solved by different union organizations. Strikes had been the most obvious actions where every member of the union’s principles is set out to its employers and heard. Thus, the right of every working individual, member or non-member of the union, to have a desirable and reasonable wage and employee benefits were properly dealt with.

Unions had not died over the centuries and the battle towards attaining fair labor management is yet the continuing issue that the organization has taken in hand. Consequently, at present, there had been lesser labor movements in the society where the employees’ ideas are heard. Does this mean that the rise of technology in society had made a parallel decline in the strength of unions at present? Or management strategies from the 1980s which is the peak of union membership (Wallace, 2003) should be reviewed according to its relevance to the technologically advanced society that there is today?

The demands and the needs of every member of the union have not changed. The reasons for membership are still focused on equal opportunities in return for their honest services to the company they are working with.

A relative decrease in union membership has been observed for decades. In the United States, only one in eight American workers is a member of a union organization. Furthermore, one for every twelve Americans in the private sector belongs to a union  (Chaison and Bigelow, 2005).

The decline in union membership for more than 20 to 30 years now has become so obvious though the reasons for such were not specified. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Surveys indicates that between 1961 and 1984, a significant number of employees in unions declined to 51% from 73%. This decline was among production employees within metropolitan areas and curved into 12% from 17% for non-supervisory clerical workers (Mosca & Pressman, 1995).

In a more recent analysis of the US union membership scenario, union density has progressively declined from a historical high of 35% in the immediate post-war period to just 14% today without any sign of an increase in the near future. Considering this continued decline in union membership, opinions stating that the decrease in membership with the unions is not brought about by a different situation or position than that of union membership in the past. American trade unions have suffered at the same time as they adapted their own policies to those of capital – embracing business unionism – a strategy which in no way lessened the hostility of American employers. There might be at some point in the past where management of trade unions has failed to address this decline (Wallace, 2003).

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The role of unions in society cannot be measured at par, its contribution to the workers all over the world is more than just significant. In his speech delivered in 1999’s conference entitled “Trade Unions in the 21st Century,” Juan Somavia of the International Labor Organization (ILO) stated his high commendations on union organizations.

“In my opinion, unions have grown out of labor movements and in the process have emerged as the most organized actors and the most articulate voices in society. Unions are built on values, ideals, and a vision of society in which workers’ rights are recognized, and where there is stability, equilibrium and justice for everyone. Unions have been important institutions of industrial society. The mobilizing capacity of unions has been a unique asset; it is the backbone of their political influence which has helped deliver successful outcomes in terms of equity and justice to workers all over the world” (Somavia, 1999).

Conclusion

To sum up, every organization faces a unique and exceptional challenge that would put things into difficult pursuit. Labor unions are just one of these organizations that face a tough battle of holding their position and maintaining their power and influence in the 21st century. Based on the different kinds of literature reviewed regarding labor unions, their significance in the past and even up to the present, there is no solid evidence that it will eventually lose its meaning and relevance to society. Concerning the trend in the decline in membership or density of the labor unions, there may be a continuous decrease though it does not necessarily mean that its influence over the industry and trade is no longer as dominant. For the last decades, they may have lessened the labor movements, but this could probably be yet another strategy that these unions have been opting for in order to adapt to the new society.

References

  1. Chaison, G. & Bigelow 2005. Unions for the 21st Century. Chicago Tribune. NY, and London
  2. Lazes, P. & Savage, L. 2000. Embracing the future: Union strategies for the 21st century. Journal for Quality and Participation. The Fall 2000.
  3. Mosca, J. and Pressman, S 1995. Unions in the 21st century. Public Personnel Management.
  4. Somavia, J. 1999. Trade Unions in the 21st Century. Web.
  5. Wallace, J. 2003. Unions in 21st Century Ireland – Entering the Ice Age?
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