As an organised movement, trade unionism (also called organised labour) originated in the 19th Century in Great Britain, continental Europe and the United States. In many countries, trade unionism is synonymous with the labour movement. Labour unionism took root in Kenya in the early 1930s, driven by the rising trend of violation of Kenyan workers’ rights.
A union’s clout is a compelling factor when considering results such as empowerment of its membership. One of the most crucial goals is to achieve elevated equity of influence between the labour and management classes. Consequently, union strength is a feat of this fundamental aim.
A trade unions call to industrial action is usually a gigantic cause of anguish for any employer. But unions only pursue industrial action as a last resort, even with the right to strike being a vital democratic freedom that ensures a fair balance of power at the workplace.
The freedom of workers to join a union and negotiate with employers in a process known as collective bargaining is widely recognised as a fundamental human right across the globe.
One of the biggest challenges for unions in developing countries is splinter groups representing workers in the same organisation. This has a consequence of eroding of worker bargaining power and collective bargaining, wage suppression and deterioration of the union’s share of income. More importantly, it reduces the ability of the organ to voice and push labour and professional concerns.
Union strength is in membership density and bargaining coordination. A union is most robust when it represents many members and least consequential when its bargaining rights and revenues are restricted. With the world of work changing very rapidly, strong trade unions can make contributions to societies with robust policy frameworks.
The decline of the union movement is not an option as it can contribute to imbalance of power in the economy and increase in inequality.
Dr Kapkiai is a lecturer at Kisii University. [email protected]