Collective Bargaining

Collective Bargaining: A Great Social Invention? =

"There\'s strength in numbers" This is a cliché, or could even be called a proverb that most of us have heard at some stage in our lives. It also lies at the heart of collective bargaining, and it provides a reasonable, although simplistic reason for the use of collective bargaining, and also gives us an indication of where and for whom it is most useful.

Collective bargaining\'s origins lie in one of man\'s primary instincts; defence. In an industrial relations context this is defence of proper working conditions, secure employment and proper pay. Collective bargaining allowed this by gaining pay increases through the increased power of the workers as a joint force. In this context I see collective bargaining as more of an economic and political invention which has had an influence on the social aspects of employment and living. Because of this I would have to say that collective bargaining is not a great social invention simply because it was not a social invention. But it does have social benefits, by providing more economic stability for those who partake in it among other things which I will discuss in this essay. Collective bargaining also has its disadvantages which I will also discuss. These advantages and disadvantages fall on both sides of the collective bargaining fence; the employees and employers.

But what exactly is collective bargaining? The answer to that depends on ones viewpoint. What are the social benefits of collective bargaining? And who do these benefits affect? These are but a few of the questions I intend to answer in the course of the next 2000 or so words.

To put this essay in context I must say what I feel collective bargaining is and what its purposes are.

I see collective bargaining, in its most basic form, as the process by which an organised group of employees, in the form of trade unions, negotiate with employers, their representatives or their associations in relation to any aspect of employment within the employers organisation. The reason that collective bargaining and trade unions are used is the reason cited in the first paragraph; "There\'s strength in numbers". The individual threat by a single employee to withhold labour is not very great. But when the majority of a workforce in an organisation threaten to strike, or threaten any other form of industrial action this threat becomes altogether more substantial. Collective bargaining gives redress to the imbalance of power between individual workers and employers (Gunnigle et al, 1995). This is the main purpose that collective bargaining is used in industrial relations, and essentially gives collective bargaining a political purpose; the equalisation of power. Once this extra power is attained, collective bargaining is then used for primarily economic purposes. It is only in recent times that social issues have been included in the negotiations in collective bargaining. As this process tends to lead to equal pay for all workers doing the same work, there is as a consequence a social benefit; equality amongst the workforce. While this can have its downside, namely complacency among the employees as there is little incentive to do better in work, this disadvantage has been partly eroded in recent times with the advent of productivity deals, which I will discuss in more detail later in this essay.

Collective bargaining is also a political institution in that it regulates and defines the interaction between trade unions and management. In a social context, the consequences of this is a system for regulating industrial conflict. This can help ensure that any industrial conflict is kept within reasonable bounds, and that in most cases the more militant elements in trade unions are kept under control by virtue of the fact that the majority of the workforce see an alternative avenue of dealing with disputes. I believe that this consequence of collective bargaining contradicts the optimistic Marxist view that trade unions and collective bargaining are a school for socialism and a potential revolutionary force. It does confirm the pessimistic view that it ensures that trade unions will never be any more than trade unions, and that collective bargaining oils the wheels of capitalism. But that\'s not a bad thing at all, and is one of the great social benefits of collective bargaining. So how exactly