The statement, "the role of unions has declined inversely to the passage of social legislation," means that unions have filed to be as effective as before as the passage of social legislation fills in the need for them.
Employees' unions have traditionally sought fairer wages and working hours and more humane working conditions through the formal process called collective bargaining between a union and the employer. Under federal labor laws, most private sector workers have the right to collective bargaining (Malfaro 1998), but not to those who work for state governments and institutions. Policemen and firefighters are exceptions.
In recent years, however, public-sector employees slowly gained the right to collective bargaining by forming coalitions and only after quasi-collective bargaining "meet-and-confer" efforts with public employers for many years (Malfaro). Teachers' unions have tried engaging in non-binding negotiations with school board through the process called consultation, sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not. But even when fruitful, the grant of their demands is not a matter of legal right on their part but only a favor on the part of the officials. These teachers' unions, nevertheless, resort to consultation and "meet-and-confer" arrangements in coming to terms with their employers on wages, teaching hours and working conditions. All in all, these efforts by the public sectors' unions have managed to secure fair bargaining laws in recent years. Besides collective bargaining rights, workers' unions have also sought equal rights for part-timers, family and paternity leaves, limits on working hours and a national minimum wage (BBC News 2000).
The new Employment Relations Act allows trade unions the right to recognition in a workplace with more than 21 workers, if at least 40% of these workers vote to recognize them (BBC). They have also won the right to paid maternity and paternity leaves and part-timers have likewise been granted the same rights as full-time employees. The length of their working hours has been restricted, in addition. However, they still have to win in their fight for a national minimum wage and to being informed in advance of closures or redundancies (BBC).
But owner-employers of small businesses are not happy about these new rights and filed strong objections against them, on the ground that these rights would burden them very much. Furthermore, these small businesses are displeased about having to implement some government tax changes, such as the Working Families Tax Credit. One of these owner-employers said that these rights and taxes impose regulations and burden on them, thus "increasing (their) costs and lowering (their) flexibility to respond to fast-changing markets" (BBC).
In response, the government promised to limit its intervention in the labor market "for greater flexibility." The new position has since strained the partnership between the unions and their employers. It is now entirely the decision of the government to determine how far it can go helping the unions without losing the support of the business community (BBC).
The unions hope that the new Employment Relations Act will reverse the observed decline in their memberships into half since 1979. The observation has statistical evidence as well as a forecast. Eric Hobsbawm wrote, in Marxism Today, that what labor unionists and activities thought was their high success score in fatally injuring the labor government was turning into their very failure (Lloyd 1999).
For more than a decade now, membership with the Traders Union congress has decreased by almost half at 6.7 million (Lloyd), in which only 18% under the age of 30 are trade union members. This was confirmed by the International Labor Organization figures, which reveal a decrease in union memberships in 72 of 92 countries. This is the situation despite the passage of social legislation.
From the 70s, women have been entering the workforce, especially in the professional and managerial levels. Many of these have no traditional unions, these have worked separately, are irrelevant because these are small businesses, or unions are considered subversive (Lloyd). New educational levels have flourished and have produced specialists and managers who do not join, form or allow unions.
The middle class has swollen its ranks in the U.S. And Western Europe from 200 million to 500 million. The same trend has spread in the late 1980s in Southeast Asia. The increasing numbers bear out the message that employer-business owners have won over the working class - in power, income and number (Lloyd). New individuals in the workplace who are not within the middle class are broken down into new groups with no natural or known affinities or traditions. They take on new directions and lives, not inherent to those known by traditional unions (Lloyd).
Quite sadly, employers have been lobbying intensely for the draft legislation that will prevent them from taking action against employees for the first eight weeks of an unofficial strike. Similarly, they oppose the provision of a union official representing their workers in a dispute, and the bureaucracy's keeping time record of employees' working hours to conform with the directive on working time (Lloyd).
The prediction, years back, was that future crises would eliminate both capitalism and the working class, but it did not happen. Unions have decreased in power and number despite legislations, and unpredicted trends are responsible.
Meanwhile, the sacrifice of police officers, policemen and firefighters in the September 11 bombings paid off, according to an article published in The U.S.A. Today (Jones 2002) Their survivors received compensations from the federal government, New York City, their unions and charities specifically designated for them. These federal payments will be deducted from the overall fund payouts reserved for public safety officers killed in the line of duty, such as these martyrs. Counsel John McAusland for the Port Authority's Police Benevolent Association remarked that the victims compensation system was not too fair, because what is given to some is taken away from the rest. He further lamented that it was possible for their families to have nothing left when all the payouts are made (Jones).
But as Human Rights Watch would say it, law enforcers, like the 29,000-member Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) and similar police unions and fraternal organizations in New York City, are far from deprived of financial benefits and capabilities. In fact, these forces have not exactly been quite willing to enlist their strength to support reforms towards a more professional and less brutal police force (Human Rights Watch 1998), as their unions have themselves impeded the implementation of these reforms. For instance, the PBA was consistent against police accountability in its attempt "to protect the rights and interests of its members." This stance is viewed by outsiders as well as PBA insiders as a conflict of interest and an insincere gesture, because it goes against the wish of the majority of its members to see corrupt cops get prosecuted for their crimes and removed from the service (Human Rights Watch). According to information and feedback from prosecutors, corruption investigators and ranking police officials, it is these police unions that foster the characteristic insularity of police culture. PBA delegates and their lawyers also help reinforce the "code of silence" among their officers who have either committed or witnessed the performance of corrupt acts by their colleagues. Most interestingly, the PBA was charged with a federal corruption by a grand jury in February 1997 and its financial records for 10 years required for the investigation of union accounts of more than $100 million in assets. A legal defense fund was among these assets. According to reports, two of the major partners in the law firm handling the union money were indicted in January 1997 for racketeering, involving the erstwhile Transit Police Benevolent Association (Human Rights Watch).
In two articles, the Council of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) complains of "crushing workload" (CUPE 2001) and urges action on priority issues. A third article deplores teachers' unions as…