UK: Editorial - Old adversaries, new partners.

UK: Editorial - Old adversaries, new partners. - In this, an issue peppered with optimism, no subject offers more room for hope than the changing relationship between management and the unions.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In this, an issue peppered with optimism, no subject offers more room for hope than the changing relationship between management and the unions.

Everyone is familiar with the bitter battles between the bosses and the workers during the 1970s and 1980s. Their combative and confrontational relationship caused rifts in government, havoc in industry and damage to the economy and reputation of Britain.

Now, as Alan Mitchell reports (p28), there is growing evidence of a partnership emerging between employers and the union leaders. While the adversarial nature of their roles will never disappear entirely, influential players on both sides have started to agree that an involved and motivated workforce is a more productive one.

Modern managers are split on how to produce the most from their people.

Some are offering a friendly hand to union leaders. They argue they need the unions to involve their employees and maximise the potential of their business. Others, such as Unipart's John Neill, have built a company that listens to its workforce at the same time as remaining resolutely non-union.

So where does the Government, which has made much of its commitment to building links with business, stand on the issue? The evidence suggests it is treading a careful path, encouraging co-operation and avoiding prescriptive solutions. Margaret Beckett, president of the Board of Trade, says collaboration in the workplace is the main aim of the Fairness at Work initiative.

In this environment the pressure has shifted to the unions to justify their relevance. Industrial action no longer carries with it the force or breadth of support it once did. And many leaders, keen to halt their declining memberships, recognise that. As TUC general secretary John Monks says, 'scrapping didn't do us much good'. Partnership is the only way.

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