Social Partnership' and the Implications for Trade Term Paper

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Social Partnership' And

The Implications for Trade Unions

This report attempts to explain what is meant by the term social partnership and it also evaluates some implications of social partnerships on trade unions. Social Partnerships have been elevated to be more of the foundation of industrial relations policies. Industrialized nations in these highly global, competitive and technologically advanced economic situations have all new social demands and issues. Labor parties and management teams today have come to realize and understand that if there are going to be economic success stories in their future, then both sides will be required to put emphasis on the importance of partnerships in the workplace. These partnerships entail new methods for problem solving, quality control and productivity. Today, both sides must understand that partnership agreements will help produce more socially adept workers who are well trained, prepared and competitive. Labor and management must come to a social understanding and an eventual full fledged agreement that will in turn strengthen corporate and social policies so that these new partners in the work place can address any and all inherent labor related problems.

Trade unions still provide a say for the overall organizational output but they have certainly been weakened in recent decades. "Estimating the impact of union presence on profitability is partly handicapped by differences in measuring profits? Yet, however measured, the bulk of the research suggests a negative effect, although again this effect may be reflected in the positive benefits of higher wages and may be justified on 'distributive justice' arguments." (Towers, 1997, p. 137) Thus, this new line of reasoning towards a more partnership oriented approach to employment has provided a new opportunity for trade unions to regain some of their political power that has slowly been usurped by business through the likes lobby and legal action, declining trade union memberships and other social changes such as globalization and technological advances. At first it appears that labor and trade unions should see social partnerships as winning situations for each of their overall strengths but there may be some unforeseen concerns for trade union leaders to consider. This report will try to examine the situation from that perspective.

Social Partnership

Since 1794, trade and labor unions were major contributors to the economic and business successes of the industrialized nations all over the world. "Explanations of this diverging and converging experience are of course to be found among those factors, and changes in those factors, which impact upon trade unions and their members. The factors, or determinants, are not difficult to identify and useful conclusions are possible through examining the association between individual determinants (or apparently closely related pairs or groups of determinants, such as public policy and legislation) and trade union membership." (Towers, 1997, p. 77)

The combined strength of a trade union comes from the combined strength of a group of united workers and it has far reaching social implications. It never mattered if a union was built on craft, industrial or federation foundations, the true objectives of these entities have remained constant.

The social and economic needs of the members come first. Thus, when a trade union is in the midst of a tough negotiation for a contract, they are trying to install the social setting that would best meet their member's needs. This entails the implementation of one or all of the union's responsibilities. "Most important for public sector industrial relations has been privatization and the restructuring of the public sector. There has been very little explicit derecognition of trade unions in privatized firms, not least because unions tend to be well entrenched with large memberships, though there have been exceptions, such as some of the regional water companies, the electricity supply companies, and British Telecom, primarily through the replacement of collective bargaining by personal contracts among managers. In practically every case -- British Steel, British Telecom, and the water companies being particularly good examples -privatization has ended national bargaining, decentralizing it to either regional centers or different business groups." (Baccaro et al., 1999, p. 36)

Today however, trade unions around the world are facing new problems as union enrollment continues to decline and fewer industries can tout trade labor union growth. The public opinion of the trade unions have been brutalized over time as union leaders, politicians, and employers have been taking advantage of their members in the form of dues, strikes and failed negotiations. "Voluntarism is now effectively dead, as the TUC has endorsed embedding a wide range of individual and collective rights at work in legislation. In part this was driven by external political events. Conservative hostility and Labour coolness forced unions to recognize that they need a protective legal environment that is independent of whichever party is in power." Baccaro et al. (1999, p. 46)

The twenty first century social order seemed to no longer consider that trade unions were capable of improving the lives of their members. Unions were in a position as of late where they needed to reevaluate their stance on the social order of things. If they were not careful, eventually they would become extinct.

Trade Unions that have remained viable options for employees have historically committed themselves to social partnership. "What the idea of 'social partners', first a societal recognition of the different interests of workers and employers; second an acceptance - indeed encouragement of the collective representation of these interests; and third an aspiration that their organized accommodation may provide an effective basis for the regularization of work and the labor market. Implicit also is the notion that encompassing organizations and centralized regulations are the optimal features of an industrial relations system." (Ferner and Hyman, 1998 p. xv-xvi)


The global economy has brought new forms of competition to the market place in the form of organizations that are multi-national entities. It was argued that long before the global economy became a reality that trade unions and management each needed to coordinate coalitions with trade unions leading the way to incorporating the help of external civic groups who were capable of working with both the trade unions and the management representatives for the betterment of the whole. This new global threat has awakened both the trade unions and the private sector organizations that used to be union antagonists.

Historically unions and management have had complex relationships where at times they were very close and at other times two worlds apart. Globalization has forced the both the trade unions and management teams to link their needs in an attempt to impact the social and political events in a unified front. "Many analysts have depicted labor's problems worldwide as principally the product of "globalization" against which unions and individual firms can only react." (Baccaro et al., 1999, p. 117) This new merged effort is an attempt to salvage both business and social success. This social partnership will have long reaching effects on how business and society will look in the future.

Trade unions and management are in a position to shape society. "Thus British legislation regulating trade unions and institutionalizing free collective bargaining fostered a fragmented trade union structure and decentralized local bargaining in both the U.K. And Ireland. (Boucher & Collins, 2003)

They each have a goal of improving society but from different spectrums. For example, trade unions propose to better society by protecting their members and through a unified front hope to change the business spectrum in regard to safety, environment and the other issues inherent in commerce. Trade unions also have a long-term commitment to alter the legal and political aspects of society by demanding civil and democratic rights for their members and the ability to accumulate some wealth and equality.

These ambitious objectives are certainly meant tot better life and society as a whole. But the management spectrum also feels that their role is to improve society. Through commerce and manufacturing, the business aspects of societal change include new technologies and longer healthier lives. The output from the business sectors of the world are acting in the sense improvement of mankind and the human condition.

With that being said, globalization has been a catalyst for both the managerial and the trade union leadership to come together in a unified approach. Both the business and the trade unions have both gained and suffered by the multi-national competition as well as new trade deficits and the first world's dependence on oil.

New social partnerships between the community, management and the trade unions have become a top priority so as to fend of the ever expanding multi-national competition. Because they now are in a position where they will have to work together, any conflicts must now take into consideration the affects on the entire social spectrum.


In many parts of the world, the social partnership approach of negotiation and business has brought many legal statutes to the forefront of the social order. Multi-national organizations may not see the process of protecting an employee's rights in one part of the world in the…[continue]

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