What is Wrong with the Trade Unions?
TO begin with, is anything wrong? If the only purpose of a Trade Union is to strike the best possible bargain on its members' behalf in the matters of wages, working hours, and physical conditions of employment, I do not think there is much amiss The present leaders of the Trade Unions, by and large, are competent negotiators and honest men who have found themselves during the past sixteen years-that is, since 1940,— in a position of unprecedented bargaining strength, but also in one of very considerable difficulty It has been within their power at any time, thanks to full employment, to exact higher wages and a shorter working week than they have actually attempted to secure, but in practice what they have secured has amounted to a quite considerable improvement in real as well as in money wages, a moderate reduction in the length of the standard working week, and therewith an improvement in overtime earnings
Earnings Rise As compared with October 1938, the last pre-war year, average weekly
earnings in the industries covered by the Ministry of Labour returns had risen by 242 per cent in April 1955, and wage-rates exclusive of overtime and piecework payments by about 145 per cent Actual hours worked had increased over the same period by rather under half-an-hour a week, but average hourly earnings had increased by 240 per cent-almost as much as weekly earningsmainly because men, who are more highly paid, work more overtime than women or juveniles
Of course, these increases in money wages have been largely cancelled by higher costs of living According to the official indices, the cost of living rose by about 30 per cent between 1938 and 1947 and, on a new basis of calculation, by about 50 per cent between 1947 and 1955-that is to say by about 95 percent in all These figures, I know, are seriously misleading, especially for the period 1938-1947 But even if the actual rise from 1938 to 1955 is put at well over 150 per cent, which I hold to be a fairer estimate, the increase in money earnings is still a long way ahead, and that in wage-rates only a little way behind.