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Unions and Why They Should Unite

by Sellick Partnership | 16 July 2014

The political left lost two prominent figures in the last few weeks - Bob Crow and Tony Benn were both political giants of their time and had a significant impact in the field of employment relations, Benn as a leading figure of the Labour party and Crow as General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT). Crow in particular fought relentlessly for the interests of his RMT members on the traditional grounds of pay and conditions and health and safety. 

Modern work and workplaces might make the concept of Unions outdated, but they are far from being an anachronism left over from our days of heavy industry. They can often provide a good starting point for debates around the workplace and the balance of interests between employers and employees.

Union membership has actually grown over the last few years and bodies such as the RMT, Unite and others are extremely active on behalf of their members. They can often be polarising and unpopular - as perhaps embodied by Crow - and industrial action can cause misery for thousands, as seen in the recent Tube strikes.

In an era where private employment is fast over taking the Union stronghold of the public sector, can they be still be said to be relevant?

Whilst their worst excesses can indeed stifle competition and productivity (when they work solely for their members' interests and forego irrelevant power plays), Unions and their principles are still of benefit to modern workers.

Crow demonstrated this admirably in his address to the Manchester CIPD conference of November 2013; his message to the professional body that represents over 130,000 HR professionals, can be summed up by these words

"We want good industrial relations and a good relationship with the employer.”

He echoed the ethos of the CIPD - "Championing better work and working lives” - who are a thoroughly modern body with an keen interest in strengthening the relationship between firms and their staff through HR and the role this can play in a firm, whether private or public.

This kind of forward thinking dialogue can only benefit both employers and employers; after all, happier people are more productive and motivated at work. HR and unions have often been at loggerheads over the decades, but if more from both sides of the debate reach out in this fashion, the results could be well worth the effort.