Trade unions which are also called labor unions are organizations that represent the employees at the work. Representation in this sense may include the protection of employees from any harm that might be faced at the work or any condition that is not favorable for the employees to work in. Improving working conditions of employees together with their pay in general so as to make the employees comfortable at their work (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). The trade unions go to the extent of negotiating on behalf of the employees’ laws and policies that will eventually benefit the workers at the working place. Individual workers may not be able to wrestle with the organization on individual basis, this is because the employee has got limited power to face the organization over some other critical matters like, for example, matters pertaining salary increment, working conditions among other pertinent issues. Due to this, unions were formed where employees combine efforts that enable them to have reasonable representation in the organization (McIlroy, 1995). It is by this basis that this paper is going to illustrate the history and development of the trade unions, their role and effects on employee relations assessing the influence of the European Union on industrial democracy and elucidating its role in the United Kingdom.
The history of trade unions can be back dated to the 19th century with its origin in Europe specifically in Britain and the United States of America. In several countries, trade unions are well identified with the term labor unions or labor movements. With specific attention to the history of the trade unions, it is very important to note that by the 18th century, workers started organizing themselves in small associations specifically in Britain who never had enough strength in dealing with the employee problems (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). These associations never lived for a long time just because of the difficult encounters that they faced during the 18th century. It is at this time that the associations faced serious challenges from both the government and the employers; many people were prosecuted in the United States of America and Britain because of the very associations. As the hostility for the associations continued, the founders did not give up their effort continued silently. Because Britain never had any trouble with political activists, these associations followed this line and by 1906; they successfully formed the labor party which pursued the interest of workers in Britain (Klev & Levin, 2012). The Americans on the other hand, progressed with the collective bargaining in order to achieve their workers’ economic gains.
The trade unions have undergone serious development from the time of their invention. Despite the many challenges that they have faced over time, they did not stop pressing on for better times (McIlroy, 1995). Having realized that several governments never wanted the trade unions to come into existence, the industrial revolution that occurred in the 18th century did not give the government and employers easy time. Instead, it prompted a movement of new trade disputes that prompted the government to come up with better measures to bring the unions to a halt. Several acts were passed especially during the Napoleonic wars that made strikes illegal whereby if anybody was found violating this acts, he or she was liable for up to three months imprisonment (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). It did not make the employees stop agitating for better working conditions and pay, they pressed on giving rise to serious trade unions by the 19th century in London. After very serious actions by employees, the government through the parliament decided to rescind the two acts that had been passed during the Napoleonic wars in as much as the employers were not ready to treat the unions as equal to them.
The trade unions have a variety of roles in the organizations especially within the employees of the organization. These roles include; the political role (Klev & Levin, 2012). The trade unions since their founding have played a political role in that; they have been very instrumental in agitating for a changed workers environment in the political arena (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). Trade unions can, therefore, use their influence to impact political decisions of the country. They also assume a marketing role; this includes the active part that is played by the trade unions in the collective bargaining by ensuring that the spending power of their members increased. In addition, they also assume the regulatory role (McIlroy, 1995). The trade unions have for a long time been so instrumental in the determination and establishment of job standards in the work place. It also happens to be one of the very important roles of the trade unions. Trade unions also have the welfare role; they have actively for a long time engaged in raising the welfare services of their members in organizations. The welfare of members for a long time has been actively represented by the trade unions especially the equal employment of people with disability among others.
The trade unions have greatly been impacted by the changing external environment of the business in a number of ways. The membership of trade unions has greatly been affected by the changing external environment to the organization. The hard economic times have always made the unions keep on pressing for better pay which has become very hard hence the decrease in the membership of trade unions (MacCartin, 1997). Politically, most governments have always seen the trade unions as traitors to the government making their conditions even harder to attain its member’s needs. It has, therefore, brought lack of trust amongst union leaders which have seen the collapse of very many unions (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). Very many inions operating nationally have failed to meet the interest of many of their members, bearing in mind that different places have different social needs; the union may not go to an extent of meeting every individual’s personal needs. The trade unions have faced a big loss of members because of these social conditions that it cannot meet.
Technology, on the other hand, has greatly impacted the trade unions and its membership. There has been a great decline in the membership of union members because of the increase in technology that has rendered many unemployed and, as a result, very many trade unions have experienced mass decrease in the number of their members (McIlroy, 1995). The trade unions have faced a big problem due to the technological advancement where employers want to use capital intensive methods of production in order to cut down the costs of production. It has direct effects on the trade union. Very many countries trade unions have fought endless wars due to such innovations that want to do away with labor intensive techniques which have direct impacts on the trade union membership (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). The many legal requirements have also not spared the trade unions. Very many legal requirements have been set to govern the trade unions and their operation in various countries. In many cases, this is slowly doing away with strikes that have been a good way of seeking for attention. These among other legal requirements that have made very many members to avoid joining trade unions since there seems to be no difference between those that belong to trade unions and those that do not.
Industrial democracy con be defined as the rule of the workers. Democracy itself means the rule of the people, and when it comes now the industry, industrial democracy is used to mean the ability of workers in the organization to be able to influence the decisions made in the organization. It is very hard for any organization to accept this form of rule since; it has always been the task of employers to make decisions affecting the organization (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). A very important point, however, is that worker’s involvement in decision making is of great importance in the organization. The EU has had quite a number, of influence on the industrial democracy, from a period where the employer alone was the only one who would determine what was done and what should not, to the point where the workers are seriously involved in the decisions of their organization.
Through the EU, the workers were given the ability to participate in the organizations in the UK through ownership of organizations. Workers were made more participative when they own the organization this is a role that the EU performed in the UK, and most of the employees enjoy ownership of organizations (McIlroy, 1995). Employees through the influence of the EU have also had the opportunity to participate through joint councils and committee within the organization. Before the active influence of the EU, employees would not sit with employers to discuss matters that pertains the wellbeing of the organization; this is, therefore, another very important role that the EU has performed in the UK. Most organizations through the influence of the EU have decided to involve the employees in job enrichment and enlargement something that never used to happen in the past in UK, employees have had many benefits that emerge from the active involvement of the EU in the UK.
The European works council is the different bodies that represent workers or employees of the organization that is operating across Europe. Each member state has got a representative in the council the council has got much work within the member countries in Europe that include anticipating and managing the social dimensions and the changes that keep on taking place within Europe (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). In addition, the council contributes to upgrading corporate leadership in order to ensure that competitiveness can maintained in organizations around Europe. The main objective of the council is to act as a medium of transfer of information to the representatives of the employees while consulting with the management of the organization about the changes in the organization. The council has also taken an active role in the solving of employee differences that originate from a particular interest. The council is also concerned with the safety of employees and the improvement of their position at the workplace (Gardner & Palmer, 1997). It helps to shape the working environment so that it can be conducive for the employees as well as managing the work procedures in organizations. In addition, the council also deals with the personal issues of employees such as employee dismissal, transfer among other issues.
Under the social dimension of the EU, it is important to note that there are four main social partners to the EU (McIlroy, 1995). These include; the European trade union’s confederation which was formed by 1973 and has grown to the point of having 82 national trade unions. It has got three decision making bodies in its policy making which include the congress, the executive committee and the steering committee. The other partner is the business Europe, which got established in 1958. It is made up of 40 members that are from the 34 countries including the European member states among others. It was headed by a president and its employment relations issues are handled by a working group under the leadership of social affairs committee. It is governed by the council of presidents who include all heads of federations that are members of the association. We also have the European center of enterprises with public participation and of enterprises of general economic interests which are well-known as the European center of employers providing public services (McIlroy, 1995). It begun in the year 1961; it always tries to create regular consultation with the European Union officials in order to curb problems related to communication. It was made up of enterprises, public employer’s organizations and groups of enterprises. Lastly, it is formation include the European association of craft, small and medium-sized enterprises which represents the interests of crafts small and medium enterprises because it was a nonprofit making organization.
In conclusion, the history of trade unions dates back to the 19th century originating specifically in Europe precisely Britain. Worth noting also is the fact that trade unions had undergone very many challenges from the time they started to exist until when they finally became stable. Their members were imprisoned in order to be silenced; others were even assassinated for being too vocal and for organizing very many strikes that never pleased the country and the employers. The union members had also for a long time threatened to quit, something that would have made the unions to collapse but on the centrally, they even became stronger than they were before. They affected several organizations in Europe and impacted many employees positively, very many employees who were paid poorly before had a chance to smile since their pay increased, those who were working in very poor conditions had also all reasons to be happy because all these were straightened by the trade unions.
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