According to Stephen Machin (2000), “the overwhelming factor underpinning falling unionization was a failure to organize new establishments set up in the last twenty years or so”, (Stephen Machin 2000, pg 631). The organisation of new establishments is one of the factors why trade unions are in decline and have been since the 1970’s. When analysing the decline of trade union membership and the strategic options available to them, understanding how they went about their partnership with employers is a vital aspect in trying to find a possible solution and indeed any changes that could reverse the decline. According to John Goodman (1984), he describes collective bargaining as “a process through which representatives of employers and employee organisations act as the joint creators of the substantive and procedural rules regulating employment”, (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 226). Legislation has also taken its toll on the decline of trade unions as there are limitations to what they can do and how they can implement their ways. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), “evidence suggests that, recent legislation notwithstanding (Employment Relations Act 1999), it has become harder than ever for unions to gain recognition in new companies, new sites, or in those industries where recognition has always been difficult to achieve”, (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 228).
Collective bargaining and piecework bargaining is a major part of the social partnership, it is a method used in employee participation, whereby it regulates the employment relationship in the process of negotiation between the representatives of management and employees. Through collective bargaining employees might be more participative as they are not involved on an individual basis and as a result might increase their contribution. This could be of benefit to the organisation in terms of employee contributions based on their level of knowledge and experience. According to Daniels (2006), “employees will be more comfortable with the collectivism approach because it directs the spotlight away from them as individuals and onto the group, where they are likely to feel less exposed”, (Daniels, 2006, Pg 16).
The social partnership is a term that has been used for many years and describes and explains the relationship between both trade unions and employers. This partnership plays an extremely important role in trade union organisations’, having this partnership means that there will always be business for them and like any relationship it has to be worked at and looked after from both parties. According to Heery (2002), he states that the term social partnership can be divided into four levels, European, state, economy and company. Each level explains how social partnership has an influence on employee relations and trade unions. Both political and economic situations are reasons for the decline in trade unions. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), “for unions to embrace both organising and partnership, either separately (organise the ‘bad’ employers and offer partnership to the ‘good’ employers) or sequentially (start with an organising campaign and then develop a partnership over time) is problematic”, (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 137).
The social partnership and organising strategies are two aspects which are highly important when identifying strategic options available for trade unions. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), “a Labour government was elected promising a statutory union recognition procedure and a ‘new partnership’ approach to employee relations. This presented unions with something of a dilemma as the case for organising is the ‘opposite’ of partnership”, (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 136). In trying to uplift the decline in trade union membership the TUC has been trying to produce new organising strategies, organisation is highly important as it makes way for new establishments. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), “organising is based on union militancy, partnership is based on union moderation”, (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 136).
When studying the topic of trade unions and their decline, we can implement different theoretical perspectives in order to provide answers about their influence in the business environment and their relationship with organisations and employers. The first framework is the Unitarist perspective, this framework states that both management and employees share common interest in terms of how the organisation is run and managed. There is only one source of authority and that is the management. In terms of workplace conflict, it is caused by poor management and poor communication; it has to be avoided in order to not disrupt the relationship. With trade unions this perspective sees them as an unwanted disruption and intrusion within the workplace, they create conflict where none would otherwise exist, and lastly in terms of collective bargaining, they produce a division of interest and they serve to create workplace conflict rather then resolve it. The management style is paternalistic (which is a softer approach) and authoritarian,
The second framework is the Pluralist perspective, this framework states that managers and employees have different objectives and views, and there is a multiple source of authority. Conflict within the workplace is inevitable and caused by different opinions and values. With trade unions in this perspective they are not the cause of conflict within the partnership and are a legitimate part of the workplace. The role of collective bargaining deals with problems on a collective basis, the most efficient means for institutionalising employment rules and there are fairer outcomes by balancing employee and management power. The third framework is the Marxist perspective; this framework identifies a wider class of conflict between capital and labour. Conflict is inevitable as capital seeks to reduce costs and workers seek fairer prices for labour, trade unions are encouraged to raise the awareness of strikes. Also known as the radical perspective, it opens up areas of power and can be extremely useful, Marx went into producing the idea of Capitalism, where an organisation needs money invested in it so it can succeed.