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The Social Construction Of Workers’ Collectivism

1704 words - 7 pages

Union renewal depends largely on increased member participation, generating and maintaining strong collective identities and mobilization of union resources. It was further contended that collective identities are not given, but constructed and sustained through narrative framing and engagement of individuals. These processes highlighted the importance of trade union leaders’ ability to construct and sustain workers’ collective identity and interest via strategies which seek to broaden the relevancy of trade unionism. In a time when worker collectivism is in a decline, the relevant question is to what extent is this possible? According to Muckenberger (1995), the decline of trade unionism in terms of density and the importance of trade unions as socio-political actors are often interpreted as representing the decline of worker collectivism. The underlying assumption that were put forth of the decline from literature has been the ascendancy of individualization over collectivism. There has a socio-cultural transformation whereby working class values of collectivism have given way to more individualistic orientations (Hyman 1999). Trade unions were formerly built on pre-existing solidarities such as the principle of collective identity that predated capitalist employment relationships. Collective experience at work was complemented by domestic life in nearby shared recreational, cultural and religious pursuits. In a nutshell, trade union was an institution embedded in an encompassing social landscape (Hyman 2002). The shift from collectivism to individualism was the result of the growth in affluence, skills level and geographical mobility, which enable acquisitive individualism overriding collective interests (Brown 1990). It was further argued that since the collapse of communism, traditional calls to worker collectivism and working class solidarity have become less salient as mobilizing discourses (Hyman 1994).

Yet, it was argued that the analyses of the decline in worker collectivism and the rejection of unionism tend to overlook several factors. Traditionally, trade unions have been defending the interests of the dominant demographic group – male with industrial muscle, white with relatively secure position in normal employment relationship in a highly unionized sector of the labour market (Hyman 2002). Employment has since been declining in these sectors leading to membership losses. In contrast, the labour market has been demographically highly diversified since with more heterogeneous spectrum of interest and is underrepresented by trade unions. Hence, the loss of membership is the result of structural shift in the labour market rather than the outright rejection of trade unionism. It was stated that trade unions have always faced the difficult task of harmonizing and reconciling a multiplicity of particularistic interests and that the generation of solidarity has always been a project at best incompletely realized (Hyman 1994, p....

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