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VOLUME 136, NUMBER 4 1997/4



Unions adding value: Addressing market and social failures in the advanced industrialized countries

Kirsten S. WEVER

A major challenge to unions is the difficulty of representing both the interests of their traditional membership and those of hitherto under-represented workers, especially women and contingent workers. Another is the need to address workplace concerns such as skill development and work reorganization. To reverse the current decline in their membership, Wever argues, unions need to meet both challenges and restore a balance between their social and economic functions. Examining union responses to pressures from outside the traditional framework of industrial relations, she highlights innovative organizing strategies whose success strongly suggests where the future of unions may lie.

Union strength in the United States: Lessons from the UPS strike


The August 1997 strike against the United Parcel Service ended in victory for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United States’ largest trade union. Examining the economic circumstances of the strike and the issues at stake – including part-time work and pensions – Rothstein shows that this victory did not signal a reversal of the secular decline in union influence in the United States, contrary to what was claimed at the time. He traces declining union membership to the ease with which employers can lawfully frustrate union organizing efforts, concluding that only new legislation could bring about a revival of union strength.

Introducing labour flexibility: The example of New Zealand


Economic and financial reforms in the mid-1980s were followed by labour market reforms which, particularly from 1991, dramatically altered the basis of labour relations in New Zealand. Unions lost their exclusive right to represent workers, and individual employees and employers became the primary decision makers, even as to whether bargaining should take place. The author examines this method of introducing labour market flexibility and then explains the extent to which it has been applied: not always to the maximum extent possible, given the advantages seen by employers as well as workers in achieving "quality" employment relationships.

The right to strike in southern Africa

Lovemore MADHUKU

This overview of the law of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe shows that while the right to strike is recognized by all, its exercise remains subject to many restrictions. Even where the right is provided for in the Constitution, statutory limitations include broadly defined essential services, prohibition of strikes over rights disputes and inhibitive procedural requirements. Madhuku attributes this restrictive regime to the perception that more liberal legislation might prove economically disruptive. What protection is accorded the right to strike in the region owes much to the standard-setting work of the ILO.

Global unionism: A potential player


Trade unions have little influence over the forces at work in the process of globalization. Their bargaining power remains largely circumscribed by national boundaries, whereas business and capital increasingly escape national regulation. How can the socio-economic balance of power be redressed? Breitenfellner’s answer is global unionism: unions need to operate and bargain internationally. His proposition is based inter alia on the traditions of labour internationalism, examples of union-instigated global or regional labour standards and evidence of the relative economic efficiency of higher-level wage bargaining. The real challenge to unions, he argues, is to take advantage of the opportunities of globalization.


Part-time work: Solution or trap?



Recent books

New ILO publications

Index for 1997



Book reviews


Updated by MCN. Approved by MFL. Last update: 9 November 1999.