Drawing non-union members into disputes

Bob Crow, of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Trade Union, and others seem keen to draw non-union members into any future disputes over pay, pensions or cuts.

It is a disturbing suggestion. In the 1970s I joined a Trade Union, not to protect myself from my employer but to protect myself from the Trade Union. Had I not done so then I would have lost my job as the Trade Union was pressing for, and succeeded in getting a “closed shop”. This latter term meant that the employer agreed it would not employ anyone in that workplace unless the employee was a member of the Trade Union. For those who needed a job it was game, set and match.

In those days Trade Unions were not particularly democratic either, nor was strike action. The vote for the only strike in which I have participated took place in a large field with literally thousands of Glaswegian Steelworkers addressed by a handful of “activists”. Once worked up the crowd was asked to vote for a strike by a show of hands. Guess which way I voted and, for my shame, I was working in the Industrial Relations department!

Time has moved on and Trade Unions today are essentially democratic. Individuals are entirely free to join or not join a Trade Union and they have rights even if merely put under pressure. It is still possible to work up a crowd but the vote itself has to take place in less emotional circumstances.

But the key to avoiding your employees getting caught up in wider disputes is good communication. One of the reasons that we now offer Employee Surveys is to help employers understand how effective their communications are in practice.

Where employees identify with you as an employer, your aims and your integrity they are unlikely to be drawn into disputes that are not their own; whether they are trade union members or not.

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