24 April 1987 - 25 April 1987

The Contemporary Role of Trade Unions in the Advanced Industrialised Countries

Chair: Professor A H Halsey

After the excursion to Atlanta in early April, the conference series at Ditchley Park resumed on the weekend 24-26 April with a conference on 'The contemporary role of trade unions in the advanced, industrialised countries'. Professor A H Halsey of Nuffield College, Oxford, was in the chair, taking the place of the late Lord Crowther-Hunt, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, whose untimely death occurred shortly after the planning of the conference had been agreed with him. The recruitment of participants for the conference was not easy, as many leading trade unionists and business chairmen or managers had other engagements on the weekend in question and refused invitations while acknowledging the importance and interest of the subject matter. During the conference there was a high incidence of late arrivals, early departures and fairly casual coming and going. The conference was British/American with an admixture of French and one German. It consisted predominantly of trade unionists, academic students of trade unionism and two or three government officials concerned with employment questions.

The relative absence of managers was deplored once or twice, but the conference developed a character of its own as an assembly where trade unionists felt able to discuss their problems with a degree of openness and frankness which would have been impossible in a more public or more critical atmosphere. There were occasional polemics which looked as though they might render the conference sterile if they developed further, but fortunately they subsided and the trade unionists got back to their self-analysis and self-criticism, helped along by sympathetic colleagues from neighbouring countries.

The conference felt its way to some frank discussion of the choice between adversarial and participatory approaches in industrial relations. It was accepted that both elements would always be present, and the mixture between them would vary with time and circumstances. It was said that in Britain and America the unions had had to wrestle their way to participation. Some argued that they were still having to do so, while others tended to suggest that participation and somewhat less struggle would be the mode of the future. The German and French participants were able to cast different lights on this issue, because participation is very much the style of industrial relations in Germany, and the French were able to point out that collective bargaining, which is adversarial in the UK and US, becomes to an extent participatory in France because of the existence of works councils set up by law.

There seemed to be general agreement that union membership had been falling in western industrialised countries in general, due to the spread of unemployment and part-time employment, the growth of service industries, the introduction of high technology, etc, and that the union image (in the UK, male, middle-aged, and white) was wrong for modern times. Women were playing an increasing role in the work-force, and the unions needed to cater for and recruit women and bring them into positions of leadership. The unions should seek to win and hold the young by playing a greater part in training and education, and union leaders must listen more to their members. There was much complaint about the hostility to trade unionism of the US and British governments and of American employers (less so of British employers). The American trade unionists insisted that the environment in which they had to work was more adverse than any other. This adversity seemed to have tempered their spirit, as they gave the impression of having thought their problems through more thoroughly than their British colleagues and to be more confident of making up on the participatory roundabouts much that they had lost on the adversarial swings.

There was some discussion of the legal framework within which trade unions operated. The British trade unionists showed a new interest in perhaps working towards a positive legal framework instead of the old immunities from sanctions under the common law, any new, positive legal framework being seen as part of a wider scheme for protecting individual rights. The Americans wanted improvements in the legal framework within which they operated. The French and German attitudes assumed that the shape of union activities would be extensively determined by the legal frameworks in which they operated.

There was a good deal of talk of trade union crisis, although the British trade unionists were reluctant to use the term and preferred to talk about their own efforts to re-vamp their strategy, drawing attention to the TUC's consultative document on the subject published in March 1984. No-one used the term "new look", but it was difficult to listen to the discussion without deriving the impression that "new look" was what it was all about. The trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be looking very actively for ways to make themselves more popular by playing a bigger, constructive role in relation to a wide range of economic and social issues important to their own members and the population at large. Their central interest in the bread and butter issues of wages and working conditions will continue, and they hope to retain their ideological loyalties and, where they exist, their party affiliations; but, if the discussions at Ditchley are any guide, there will be much less mention of 'class' and 'class warfare' and a good deal more insistence on trade unions as constituents of democracy. Trade union democracy was touched on only lightly at the conference; but when the accent is on the democratic role of trade unions, an internal democratic vocation seems to be implied.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Professor A H Halsey
Professor of Social and Administrative Studies, University of Oxford


Dr Colin Crouch

Tutor in Politics, and University Lecturer in Sociology, University of Oxford; Fellow, Trinity College, Oxford
Mr Dudley Fishburn
Executive Editor, The Economist; Member, Board of Alumni Directors, Harvard University; Treasurer, British American Arts Association; a Trustee, the Open University Foundation; Member, Royal Institute of International Affairs, and International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Mr Derek Gladwin, CBE
Regional Secretary (Southern Region), General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union (GMBATU); Member, Post Office Board; Director, British Aerospace; Chairman, Labour Party’s Conference Arrangements Committee; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management of the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Kenneth Graham, OBE
Deputy General Secretary, Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Mr Roy Grantham
General Secretary, Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical & Computer Staff (APEX); Member, General Council, Trades Union Congress; Governor, Henley Management College, the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Ralph Howell, MP
(Conservative), North Norfolk; Member, Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee; Farmer; Chairman, Conservative Parliamentary Employment Committee; Member, Executive, 1922 Committee.
Mr Fred Jarvis
General Secretary, National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Mr Nicholas Jones
Labour Correspondent, BBC Radio.
Mr David Lea, OBE
Assistant General Secretary, Trades Union Congress (TUC); Chairman, TUC Working Group on Employment and Technology; Member, Retail Prices Index Advisory Committee, Committee on Finance for Investment, National Economic Development Council; Expert Adviser, UN Commission on Transnational Corporations, Kreisky Commission on Unemployment in Europe; Governor, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
Miss Ada Maddocks OBE
National Organising Officer, Health Section, National and Local Government Officers Association (NALGO); Member, General Council, and Chairman, Health Services Committee, and Women’s Advisory Committee, Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Mr Ivor Manley CB
Deputy Secretary, Department of Employment
Mr John Prescott MP
(Labour), Hull East; Opposition Front Bench Spokesman on Employment, and Member, Shadow Cabinet
Mr Richard Price
Director of Employment Affairs, Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Mr Roger Undy
Fellow in Industrial Relations, Templeton College (The Oxford Centre for Management Studies), and Joint Director, the Oxford Institute for Employee Relations, Templeton College.
Mr Norman Willis
General Secretary, Trades Union Congress (TUC); Member, National Economic Development Council; Member, Council, Overseas Development Institute; Chairman, National Pensioners’ Convention Steering Committee; Vice-President, Institute of Management Services, European Trade Union Confederation, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Monsieur Christophe Boulay

Editor, La Lettre Sociale, Paris.
Monsieur Yves Delamotte
President, Association Française des Relations Professionelles; Professor of Labour Law, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris.
Monsieur Hubert Martin, MVO
In charge of the Sous-Direction of Collective Bargaining, Industrial Relations Department. Ministère pour les Affaires Sociales et l’Emploi
Professeur Dimitri Weiss
Professor of Management and Industrial Relations, Postgraduate Institute of Business Administration, University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne; Honorary President. Postgraduate School of Industrial and Labour Relations, University of Bologna, Italy.

Dr Hermann Borghorst

Economic Adviser, Berlin Branch of the German Trade Union Federation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund).

Dr David P Taylor

Deputy Director-General, ILO

Mr James Baker

Director, Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO, Paris, France.
Mr Wilbur Daniels
Executive Vice President, ILGWU (AFL-CIO) (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union)
Mr Thomas R Donahue
Vice President, AFL-CIO, Washington, DC
Mr Larry Dugan, Jr
General President, International Union of Operating Engineers.
Mr Donald Ephlin
United Auto Workers of America, Detroit, Michigan.
Mr Victor Gotbaum
Special Adviser, District Council 37, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO; President, Public Services International; Vice-President, AFSCEME, AFL-CIO; Vice-President, New York State AFL-CIO; Member, Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr Randolph M Hale
Vice President and Manager, Industrial Relations Department, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Washington, DC; President, National Centre on Occupational Readjustment, Washington, DC
Mr John Harris
Special Assistant to the National President, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Washington, DC.
The Hon Ray Marshall
Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin
Ms Karen Nussbaum
Executive Director of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women; President, District 925, Service Employees International Union, and Member, International Executive Board, Services Employees Union.
Mr Jerome M Rosow
President, Work in America Institute Inc, Scarsdale, NY
Mr Stephen I Schlossberg
Deputy Under Secretary for Labor-Management Relations and Cooperation Programs, Department of Labor, Washington, DC; Member, Executive Advisory Committee, Industrial Relations and Labor Studies Center, University of Maryland.
Mr John J Sweeney
President, Service Employees International Union, Washington, DC.