Theories of Trade Unionism




There is no one theory of Trade Unionism, but many contributors to these theories are revolutionaries like Marx and Engels, Civil servants like Sydney Webb, academics like Common and Hoxie and labour leader like Mitchall. Important theories of trade unionism are as follows.

1. Political Revolutionary Theory of Labour Movement of Marx and Engels: This theory is based on Adam Smiths theory of labour value. Its short run purpose is to eliminate competition among labour, and the ultimate purpose is to overthrow capitalist businessman. Trade union is pure simple a class struggle, and proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains and they a world to win.

2. Webbs Theory of Industrial Democracy: Webb’s book ‘Industrial democracy’ is the Bible of trade unionism. According to Webb, trade unionism is an extension of democracy from political sphere to industrial sphere. Webb agreed with Marx that trade unionism is a class struggle and modern capitalist state is a transitional phase which will lead to democratic socialism. He considered collective bargaining as the process which strengthens labour.

3. Cole’s Theory of Union Control of Industry: Cole’s views are given in his book “World of Labour” 1913. His views are somewhere in between Webb and Marx. He agrees that unionism is class struggle and the ultimate is the control of industry by labour and not revolution as predicted by Marx.

4. Common’s Environment Theory:
He was skeptical of generalisations and believed only that which could be proved by evidence. He agreed that collective bargaining was an instrument of class struggle, but he summarised that ultimately there will be partnership between employers and employees.

5. Mitchell’s Economic Protection Theory of Trade Unionism:
Mitchell, a labour leader, completely rejected individual bargaining. According to him unions afford economic protection to.

6. Simons Theory of Monopolistic, anti-Democratic Trade Unionism: He denounced trade unionism as monopoly founded on violence. And he claimed monopoly power has no use save abuse.

7. Perlman’s Theory of the “Scarcity Consciousness” of Manual Workers: He rejected the idea of class consciousness as an explanation for the origin of the trade union movement but substituted it with what he called job consciousness.

According to him, ‘working people in reality felt an urge towards collective control of their employment opportunities, but hardly towards similar control of industry.’ Perlman observed that three dominant factors emerged from the rich historical data:
  1. the capacity or incapacity of the capitalist system to survive as a ruling group in the face of revolutionary attacks (e.g., failure in Russia).
  2. the source of the anti-capitalist influences being primarily from among the intellectuals in any society.
  3. the most vital factor in the labour situation was the trade union movement. Trade unionism, which is essentially pragmatic, struggles constantly not only against the employers for an enlarged opportunity measure in income, security and liberty in the shop and industry, but struggles also, whether consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, against the intellectual who would frame its programmes and shape its policies.
But Perlman also felt that a theory of the labour movement should include a theory of the psychology of the labouring man. For instance, there was a historical continuity between the guilds and trade unions, through their common fundamental psychology; the psychology of seeking a livelihood in the face of limited economic opportunity. It was when manual workers became aware of a scarcity of opportunity, that they banded together into unions for the purpose of protecting their jobs and distributing employment opportunities among themselves equitably, and to subordinate the interests of the individual to the whole labour organism. Unionism was ruled thus by this fundamental scarcity consciousness (Perlman, 1970).

7. Hoxies Functional Classification of Unionism: He classified Unionism on the basis of their functions. His classification were Business Unionism for protecting the interest of various craftmen, “Uplift unionism” for the purpose of contributing better life such as association of sales engineers etc. “Revolutionary Unionism” which is eager to replace existing social order, “Predatory Unionism” which rests on these support of others.

8. Tannenbaum’s Theory of Man Vs. Machine: According to him Union is formed in reaction to alienation and loss of community in an individualistic and unfeeling society. In his words, the union returns to the workers his society, which he left behind him when he migrated from a rural background to the anonymity of an urban industrial location. The union gives the worker a fellowship and a value system that he shares with others like him. Institutionally, the trade union movement is an unconscious effort to harness the drift of our time and reorganise it around the cohesive identity that men working together always achieve.