People get confused about industrial action.
A few non-union members in a support department in an academic institution have remarked to me that as a workforce we should feel lucky to have jobs, and thankful for our relatively generous pay and conditions – and then almost in the same breath that they themselves would be better off in the private sector and if pay and conditions were to fall too far for their comfort they would simply leave the sector and get a job somewhere better.
This brain drain phenomenon is actively exploited by trade unions in making the case for better pay and conditions. So, being a disorganised labour movement – not being a trade union member, not participating in industrial action, but voting with one’s feet – ultimately strengthens the organised, trade unionised labour movement?
Unfortunately not. Non-union members commenting on the ingratitude and disloyalty of their striking colleagues while they themselves are poised to leave and work somewhere more lucrative on the jobs market are the uncommitted, conditional ones, the ones who don’t view the sector as something they should be involved in shaping, the ones who don’t view market forces as a threat to academic work.
So, trade unionists are the committed, loyal ones after all. They don’t dumbly and passively claim their salary and then suddenly leave. They care about retention and the conditions in which a workforce can reach its potential. They articulate a position, they negotiate and bargain, they feed back to employers. They sacrifice pay, opportunities and short-term goodwill for the health of their workplace.
Trade unions, flawed as the are, are the better partners.