LRD Booklets August 2009

Organising and bargaining in the downturn - a guide for unions

[page 2]


Although recession has a detrimental and sometimes dramatic effect on employment and on the conditions of union members’ jobs, it does not inevitably mean that unions are on the back foot or have no power at the negotiating table.

Over the coming year unions will inevitably need to focus on protecting jobs and securing terms and conditions. But they will also need to think positively about making the case for unions at a time when many workers are worried about their jobs and uncertain as to what the future holds. For example, they can introduce new elements to bargaining agendas, focus on wider structural issues, raise their profile, link up with other workplaces and, in the worst cases, at least trade layoffs and redundancies against improvements in other terms for their members.

This booklet gives examples of the different kinds of strategic responses unions have adopted in the face of recession. It gives examples of general bargaining strategies that can be used when terms and conditions are under threat, with a particular focus on wage freezes and pay cuts, layoffs and short-time working, redundancy and pensions. The legal position regarding these developments is also explained using case law examples where appropriate.

The chapter on Organising in the recession highlights the ways in which unions can use the current downturn as an opportunity to talk up trade unions and demonstrate how workers can and do benefit from the presence of a strong collective voice in their workplace and beyond.

The TUC and Citizens Advice (CAB) have produced a guide which can be used in conjuction with this booklet. Coping with the Economic Downturn tackles what to do if you are faced with redundancy; making sure you claim the right benefits; how to deal with debt and rising prices; accessing work, skills and training as well as a section on where to turn for further help and advice. This guide, together with other relevant advice, is available from the TUC’s world of work website workSMART at: