Collective Industrial Relations

Development economics for the global north – Published on Dissident Voice, by New Unionism, March 29, 2014.

This week sees yet another make or break conference for the interminable Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, writes network member Conor Cradden. This time it’s in Bali, and on the agenda (yet again) is breaking the deadlock about multilateral trade regulation (for a quick guide to what’s going on see this piece on the Guardian website).  

But, frankly, who really gives a damn? And, more to the point, is export-led development really the only way to a bright future for poorer countries, or is it mostly just a convenient way for a very small number of people in these countries and in the global north to make a lot of money? More yet to the point, is the significantly more socially and economically advantageous strategy of focusing on expanding domestic demand being kept off the agenda because it implies involving workers directly in decisions about pay and conditions?

UNCTAD’s answers: … //

… Upsetting the economists:

This is the sort of idea that makes neoliberal economists go puce with rage. They are so caught up in the marvellous abstract elegance of their model that they are unable to see that the alternative to rational discussion and agreement is not some magically objective market rate that appears out of nowhere, but simply unilateral decision by managers. Economists tend to forget that prices don’t just happen. Somebody has to agree them. In fact, the very idea of a market is a nonsense if the agreement of both buyer and seller to a price is not freely given. It’s very boring to have to repeat it, but repeat it we must: the agreement of individual workers to their pay and working conditions is virtually never truly free. Unless the circumstances are exceptional, they have to take what they are given. This means that the economic model that treats workers as if they had the same market power as enterprises is simply wrong. This desperate attachment to an inaccurate model in the face of decades of accumulated evidence would be funny if it were not so damaging. The self-righteous rage of economists is rather too convenient for corporate executives everywhere who are desperate to find respectable arguments to justify their ability to pay workers whatever best suits them and their shareholders, which oddly enough is usually – admittedly not always, but usually – only just enough to allow workers and their families to keep body and soul together. It is also convenient for those who want to ensure that there is no good reason to involve workers and their unions in public policy-making at any level.

Cutting workers out of decision-making about wages – deregulating the labour market and limiting workers’ ability to unionize and to take industrial action to press wage claims – has not led to increased wealth creation and the trickling down of that wealth to ordinary workers. It has simply meant productivity growth outstripping growth in real wages, which leads to excessive profits and increasing inequality. The UNCTAD report makes a very convincing case that this can change and that change would be good for everyone, but change is only possible if we let workers back into the argument. The experience of the last 30 years has shown – as if any more evidence was really needed – that employers will not voluntarily increase their employees’ real wages to match productivity. They need to be encouraged to take that economically and socially responsible step – and who better to encourage them than workers themselves?

Not collective industrial relations again? That’s sooo 1970s: … //

… (full text).

(New Unionism is an approach being developed by unions who want to make change and set agendas, rather than just reacting to them. The New Unionism network brings together supporters of these principles and seeks to encourage wider involvement in the change process. The network has no formal structure, no officers, no policies or meetings. New Unionism can be reached at: Read other articles by New Unionism, or visit New Unionism’s websiteNew Unionism’s Blog).


The UK – even a flexible labour market still is a LABOUR market, on Real-World Economics Review Blog, by merjinknibbe, March 29, 2014;

There were increasing calls for the reform of the Arab League at this year’s Arab Summit, on Real-World Economics Review Blog, by Dean Baker, March 27, 2014;

Ukraine, “Colored Revolutions”, Swastikas and the Threat of World War III, on Global Research.cs, by Felicity Arbuthnot, March 20, 2014.

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