Trade union bashing

The term ‘trade union bashing’ is used to describe the practice of criticizing or opposing the work of a trade union or trade unions. Trade union bashing is a common phenomenon throughout the world. It is a matter of interest as to why this is so, given that trade unions are considered to be a crucial component of civil society. Apart from offering worker representation and membership services such as health insurance, the trade union remains the voice of working class people.

The theory stands that trade unions are defensive organizations of the working class. As such, there is the school of thought that trade unions will be called upon to fearlessly and vigorously represent the interests of their membership. The bilateral interface of labour with capital and/or government as an employer respectively, suggests that trade unions are often likely to run into conflict with the capitalist agenda which it is believed to have its genesis in the exploitation of labour.

It can therefore be expected that trade unions will come in for some bashing, especially when there is intended industrial protest inclusive of strike action. The intention of trade union bashing by those who hold political power and/or partisan political or business interest, is primarily that of reducing the momentum of trade union campaigns and/or reducing, removing or suppressing trade unions’ rights.

There is a view that some governments consider trade unions to be obstructive, destructive and a hindrance to productive and efficient workplaces. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that some government officials, inclusive of elected Members of Parliament and other political and public officials, are guilty of making public condemnatory comments about the actions and/or policies of trade unions. It is fair to say that in some instances, there are those parliamentarians who get ahead of themselves, and make the cardinal error of making rash, insensitive and deplorable comments.

Those who commit such acts tend to wax warm on their emotionalism, and seemingly often forget that the trade union organization which they are attacking, is a representative body of workers. Given that trade unions are generally the largest membership associations in most countries, politicians should be aware that any brash and hasty comments which they make, are basically being directed at workers, who themselves are their political constituents. This is not to be taken to mean that politicians are not to be critical of trade unions. As a matter of fact, there is nothing wrong in offering criticism, particularly where there is justification to do so. However, caution ought to be taken against making overt criticism, which can be construed as demeaning, degrading and generally offensive.

Whilst it may appear that trade union bashing comes from external sources, it would be a grave oversight if the internal behaviour is not questioned. The expression of trade union solidarity suggests that the unification of the movement is the ideal. The fight for turf, prominence and prestige calls this into question, as unions use some tactical measures which create unfortunate and unnecessary tensions within the movement. Where there is evidence of this, it is manifested in alienation, division and rancour.

Public unsavory comments attributed to trade union leaders about the leadership of a sister trade union, public criticism of the policy pronouncements of another trade union and/or of decisions taken, are all tantamount to the bashing of one trade union by another.  In this regard, trade unions can be their biggest enemies. If they were to proceed on this path without recognizing that the internal bashing will do more harm than good, then it means that there is a level of apparent rather than perceived ignorance that is envisaged.

External bashing has the potential of galvanizing the support of the membership of trade unions, and so strengthen collective bargaining positions. On the other hand, internal bashing will have the negative effect of creating a disenchanted and divided membership, which can lead to the erosion of confidence and interest of current and potential members.

Where there is evidence of internal trade union bashing, political and other interests can feel justified in executing their actions, since those in the labour movement who are guilty as charged, have no moral authority to condemn their apparent adversaries.

Source: (Dennis De Peiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services

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