This is a paper on the comparative labor relations. The paper involves a comparison of labor unions of three different countries, which are: the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and China. The paper presents a comparison of the unions in these three countries by first outlining on the union and development in each country and then comparing them in order to establish their differences and similarities, especially on how they present the grievances of their members.
Labor union and trade union are two terms used interchangeably to mean the same thing depending whether it is used in American English or British English. In American English it is used as labor union, while in British English it is trade union. Trade union or labor union is an organization consisting of workers, who have come together to achieve a common goal like having the protection of integrity of its trade, ensuring that they achieve a higher pay as well as pushing for employees increment and provision of better working conditions. The trade unions through their leadership are able to approach the employers and bargain on a number of issues concerning the employees. A comparative review in respect to the labor unions of US, UK and China will be reviewed in this paper in order to establish their relationship (Jensen, 2004).
Labor Union in the United States. In United States, labor unions have a legal recognition as workers’ representatives in a number of the United States’ industries. Their main duty is focused on a wide collective bargaining on the issues related to wages, benefits as well as the favorable working conditions, especially for their members (Brook, 2002). These labor unions have their members, when they face with disputes with their management, especially when dealing with the violation in respect to their contract provision. The larger union does usually have an engagement, especially in the engagement in a number of lobbying activities for their members at the state and the federal level (Carter 2001).
In the United States, we have two organizations, in which all other labor unions are aligned to. These are: AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation. AFL-CIO was created back in the year 1955 and has been the main body till the year 2005. Change to Win Federation was formed in the year 2005 after it spilt from the main body then AFL-CIO. These two organizations are widely involved in advocating of policies together with legislation issues on behalf of both the United States and Canada workers. Both organizations have an active role in politics with AFL-CIO, especially bearing more concerns on the global trade issues (Carter, 2001).
Although the union membership in the United States is not as strong as it used to be in the 1950s, the American unions remain to be an important political icon. This is achieved through a strong focused mobilization of their members, as well as through enactment of coalitions with other like-minded organizations on a number of issues, especially regarding the rights of immigrants, trade policy, and the health care issues together with the wages issues. In order to be effective, especially in dealing either issue regarding anti-union programs by the employers, the unions in the United States advocate for the establishment of a ‘card check’. This is a federal legislation requiring employers to come into a sought of bargain in the event 50% and more of their workers have signed card or even forms, which express their interest to be represented by the particular union (Clawson & Clawson, 1999).
In the United States, private sector union members have a tight regulation, which is enacted by the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA), which was passed back in the year 1935. This law is overseen by an independent federal agency, which is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The public sector unions have their regulation exercised on one hard by federal and thither hard by the state laws. These unions have registered a significant impact, especially on the issues of wages and working conditions of their members. This impact has been affected through a series of negotiations involving local, as well as the elected state leaders. From this action, the union is able to exercise its political power, the local government or any foreign competitor is not able to threaten (Clawson & Clawson, 1999).
In order for workers to join a public union in the United States, they are expected to have a voluntary recognition, which is granted by their employer or have majority of workers in a bargaining unit voting for a union representation. In both cases, the government needs to provide a certification of the newly formed union. These unions are considered to be traditional labor union. In the event that a particular union has secured support by the majority of bargaining units and finally gains a certification in the place work, it is, therefore, bestowed with authority of being able to negotiate the conditions in respect to the employment status of its members. At this point, the employer together with the union come together and draft their terms and conditions in respect to the employment, which in turns legalizes the contract (Gershenfeld, Power, & McCabe-Power, 1996).
Trade Unions in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, trade unions were not allowed at first but in the year 1867, following the recommendation by royal commission, they were decriminalized on the basis that their existence was advantageous to both the employers, as well as the employees. These unions were then fully legalized in the year 1871, and their main agenda was to improve the working condition of their working men found in the British industries through seeking for reforms, especially in their socio economic conditions. The search for improving socio-economic conditions for the British workers led to a creation of a labor representation committee, which steered the establishment of today’s labor party. This has established a very strong links between the labor party and the trade union movement in the whole part of Britain (Ebbinghaus & Waddington, 2000).
A number of actions have been put in place in an effort to block the work of these trade unions in the United Kingdom. For instance, the government of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s put a number of mechanisms, which were focused on weakening the powers, which were bestowed on the unions. One of the way, in which he enacted this was, was ensuring that striking was made more difficult to take place legally. Tony Blair was criticized with his labor government by a number of people within the British labor union, when he failed to reverse some of the changes, which were effected by Thatcher (Hyman, 2001).
Most of the unions in Britain are under TUC, which is the Trade Union Congress, which was established in the year 1867. The countries have two principal national union centers. These are the Irish congress of Trade Unions or the Scottish Trades Union congress. Unions until 1824 were seen as subject to severe repression but despite this, they spread widely across the cities, such as London. During the year 1830s and the year 1840s, the unions were very much overshadowed in a big way by the political activities (Hyman, 2001).
A number of permanent unions have been established in the United Kingdom since the year 1850. In the year 1860, London Trades Council was established, whereby in 1868, Trade Union congress was established. Unions in the United Kingdom have played a number of significant roles, especially in the creation of a number of labor representation committee. This committee has been advancing well, especially and one notable key thing was the establishment of what is today’s labor party. This labor party has some extensive links with a number of trade unions movements across the country (Visser, 2002).
The membership into the trade union in the United Kingdom had a great shortfall, especially from the election of the conservative government in the year 1979, which was led by Margaret Thatcher. This was after passing by Thatcher of a new union legislation. During this particular point, the participation in respect to matters of union in the United Kingdom was seen to be around 80% of the entire workforce found in United Kingdom. The involved has since decline to 30%, where a big part has been seen in public sector with its participation in the private sector being around 12%of the total workforce (Whyman, 2002).
China Trade Unions. Trade unions in China as stabilizers of the Chinese government have been trying in their effort to be able to have a consolidation of monopolies in regard to labor issues, as well as the representations of the interests of workers, especially through formation of unions, formulation of legislation and resolving labor disputes. These trade unions, however, have failed in a number of ways to represent interests of their workers due to large institution’s over-dependence in respect to matters pertaining the government. Recently, there has been a workers’ strike across China, which has demonstrated a great range of dilemma, especially in Chinese trade unions’ failure to deal effectively with serous labor issues (Williamson, 1994).
China has one legally recognized trade union, which is All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). This union has a total of 212 million members, which make a union density of about 73.7% making it one of the world’s largest with a substantial membership than a number of trade unions altogether. In a number of occasions, Chinese together with a number of foreign activists on the matters regarding labor has been criticizing the ACFTU due to it being unable to protect the right of Chinese workers. Chinese trade unions operate differently comparing with a number of western unions, which includes the United States and the United Kingdom unions (Kuwahara, 1996).
The trade unions in China are not autonomous organizations being concerned with the matters representing the interest of workers but instead serve in the interests of the government. In collaboration with Youth League and also the All-China Women’s Federation, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) considers the ACFTU as one of important pillar in the social matters, especially in matters regarding its regime stability. Even though ACFTU is considered as an arm of the state and a close associate of CCP, it still holds its mandate of protecting the interest of Chinese workers with full motivation, opportunity, as well as the power. The ACFTU involvement has been evidenced by its involvement in unionization, legislation, as well as taking part in a number of disputes resolution associated with labor (Kuwahara, 1996). ACFTU has succeeded in protecting labor rights only at a certain extent allowed by the government. The major role of ACFTU together with a number of its local branches is to steer the government in accelerating an achievement of economic goals, especially in ensuring that stable labor relations are established.
In China, workers have not been fully protected, this has been brought about by the overdependence of the Chinese trade union on government manipulation together with the work place management. Since the year 1980s, independent trade unions have been emerging although they have been labeled illegal and faced a number of persecutions. They have been able to challenge the monopoly created by ACFTU in the labor movement. This has led to the forwarding of a number of issues, which had been ignored by the ACFTU (Kuruvilla & Erickson, 2002).
In spite of the fact that ACFTU achieved some visible progress in regard to unionization, legislation as well as resolving of some disputes involving labor, it still has a long process in its mandate of protecting workers and their interest. The progress made by ACFTU has not been substantially enough to be able to have a significant improvement on the labor conditions of the China’s workers. In some cases, having a higher density of the union members do not mean that the workers are hundred percent protected, especially if they are not lined on the side of the workers. There has been a consistent increase in the amount of labor disputes together with unrest from 1995 to 2006. Following the effecting of the Chinese labor nationwide, there has been a considerable increase in the number of disputes (Kleiner, Morris, & Lee, 1997).
Comparison of Trade Unions. From the keen look of trade unions in the three countries, USA, UK and China, there has been a decline in trade union density over the years. A number of things has been associated with these changes. One of the factors, which have caused this reduction, is the change towards the structure in respect to production, which has seen its movement from industrialization all the way to the post-industrialization. An increase in the rate of unemployment across the three countries might also be a contributing factor to decease in the union membership. When employees become unemployed, they consequently leave their trade unions (Kim & Kim, 2003).
In respect to comparing the organizational structure among the trade unions in USA, UK and China, they have a big difference, especially when it comes to the structure of the organizations and the trade unions. In a number of cases both the horizontal together with the vertical relation in respect to a number of trading unions are considered to be generally strong. The United Kingdom trade unions in comparison to the other unions and despite being formed under industrial line or education line, they are considered very strong ties compared to the trade unions of US and China (Wad, 1996).
It is one abstract, as well as the generating level possibility to be able to identify some differences presented in a number of social institutions basing the trade unions in the United Kingdom, the USA and China. The European trade unions are formed under the basis of the Europe and are regarded as the class society. This happens when the unions bear a lot of their focus on pay, as well as the working condition of their workers, but also, when it lays more of its focus toward the political, as well as the social rights, which are related to the working class. The social base has provided a central role, especially in the United Kingdom trade unions. The USA trade unions have also generally been having the social base, especially in the American working class. The same case as in the UK, the USA trade unions have been greatly focusing on the narrow interest of its members. On the broader part, political initiative together with the interest has only had secondary influence on the American trade unionism (Wad, 1996).
In China, trade unionism has played an important role in the process of Nation building. Similarly, in China, just like the other countries, and despite the influence exercised by the government on matters regarding its operation, it has succeed in dealing with the workers’ pay rise, as well as improving the working conditions of the workers. The policies relating to the general interest of the nation have been hindering the effectiveness of the trade unions in China. This means that China’s trade unions are basically nation based trade unions. For instance, in China, the government based and legally accepted union, ACFTU deals clearly with the interest of the employees depending on the general interest of the nation (Sey, 2000).
In all the cases of trade unions in UK, USA and China, unions face great challenge of globalization. Employers based in the three countries have argued that there has been an intensification in respect to global competition, which has led to demand of a more flexible as well as a more individualized together with instituting a more market based system of dealing with the workers’ pay and the working conditions of the workers (Carsten Stroby Jensen, 2004). Decentralized and collective agreements have been able to spread across the three countries and most importantly to the United Kingdom. When comparing the USA, the UK and China, it is evidenced that the challenges in respect to globalization is greatly felt in UK and China, as opposed to USA. This is due to the fact that the American economy is mostly an internal, as well as the national economy; hence the exchange of goods between America and other countries is still very low in comparison with the UK and China. Despite this globalization, internalization stands to be one of the biggest challenges faced by the trade unions in the 21st Century (Korczynski & Ritson, 2000).
Since 1980s, there has been a great decline in union movements in a number of countries. This has been indicated by a constant decline in the amount of union density in each country, this is given by the number of employees, who were actively involved and belonged to particular unions. The union density in the UK, as well as the US, has seen a dramatic decrease by a range of 22.7% and a range of 10.7% respectively from the year of 1980 all the way to 2007. On the contrary, China has seen a significant increase in the past ten years (Korczynski & Ritson, 2000.
Labor unions have been facing a number of challenges in their efforts to plead for the workers good working conditions, as well as on the matters concerning their wages. Starting form the 20th century, government has not been advocating for their existence, but with all the storms they have managed to find their way and even push on some critical issues involving the right of the workers. A number of countries have manifested a great number of resistances in respect to their beginning up to the point of being accepted by the employers. These have been seen from the three countries, which have been compared, that is the US, the UK and China.
In the US, a number of individuals have tried to push forward for the labor unions aiming at putting forward the issues of the workers in respect to wages, working conditions and their individual working. The same has been manifested in the UK, whereby in spite of a number of restrictions from the government, the unions have been able to present a number of issues relating to employees. In spite of having one labor union, which has seen support of the government in China, a number of other organizations have come up to protect employees although they have been termed as illegal.
Labor unions are important organizations, especially on the part of the workers sine they are able to air the grievance of the workers, therefore, they should be taken with the necessary respect and obtain approval from both the employers and the government since through them the working conditions of the workers were dramatically improved, as well as their wages were improved together with their working conditions, hence improving their work out put at the end. Therefore, the efforts seen in the US, the UK and China should continue in all other countries.