Trade Unions exist fundamentally to improve the pay and conditions of their members. There are many other things they can entertain themselves in doing, but this is their core purpose.
Thirty five years ago at the height of trade union membership and income equality around 80% of all jobs were subject to collective bargaining with pay and conditions negotiated by trade unions. Now it is around 20% and as low as 16% across the private sector.
While trade union membership has halved collective bargaining coverage has dropped by three quarters.
Collective bargaining, along with public services, nationalised industries and utilities, a commitment to full employment and a manufacturing base, were key features of the post war social democratic consensus. This has long gone.
There can be no return to the past. Yet labour cannot be priced according to the chaos of the market. If this is so we get zero hour contracts.
Workers will seek collectively established terms and conditions of employment however small the bargaining unit. One is a number too small, two or more provides a basis for collective bargaining. Workers in their workplaces large and small will rebuild collective bargaining. It will only re-emerge from struggle, and any alternative will be phoney and dangerous.
It will be the patricians of the movement who will argue that wages councils, wage regulation and glorified minimum and living wage agreements must be enshrined in law and new institutions.
The full incorporation of workers’ organisations in the neoliberal state would be best achieved from the employers’ point if new non-negotiated forms of wage determination were introduced.
Britain needs a pay rise as the TUC rightly says, but it needs organised workers in the workplace to determine this, not the professors and economists and do-gooders on some new quangos and wages boards.
Wage restraint by government diktat was once seen as the cutting edge of a form of social fascism. The idea of drawing up a social contract with government to trade wage increases for jobs (ha ha) was booted out by the unions and led to the death of both Keynesianism as a viable alternative and the Labour Party as an ally of the Unions.
Some thirty five years late the employers and government found a new solution; no pay rise for years for public sector workers, non-negotiated impositions for the rest and the bedroom tax for those without a wage. The humiliation is profound. The death wish of the unions in not fighting for pay is worrying. Strange when every penny in the vaults in the banks is created by labour.