Nigel Flanagan, a senior organiser with UNI Global Union, led a workshop at Prospect's annual young professionals forum in Manchester in November, setting out what work will look like in the future.
The sectors that UNI organises in rely on young workers – often with untypical working patterns. “All the problems you can have at work exist in UNI sectors. UNI brings together experience from all over the world,” he said.
The trade union movement in the United States is “on its knees”. Union membership density is 11% across the economy and just 6% in the private sector. The biggest global companies are organised, controlled and run from the US, said Nigel.
The Right to Work legislation, which is enthusiastically supported by President-elect Trump, is the opposite of what it says and makes it very difficult for trade unions to operate.
“It’s not about right and left,” said Nigel. “But the impact of Trump’s policies could be very negative for trade unions and could trigger a second, world-wide recession.
“The future is deregulated, weak, disorganised workforces which will have a massive impact on equality.
Nigel pointed out that economic power is shifting to other parts of the globe. “Work is moving somewhere else and unless you can do your work online, you’ll have to move too,” he said.
Annual reports from global companies show that most are restructuring their businesses and moving to ‘mega-cities’. “Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Beijing have bigger economies than most countries. So we have to think about how we organise ourselves.
“Power and wealth are becoming more concentrated. There is a connection between inequality and the level of trade union organisation.”
Nigel outlined what work will look like in the future and stressed that no sector will be immune from these effects.
- Flattened company structures: companies want your intellectual skills to be used in lots of areas
- Artificial intelligence: AI will be used to diagnose patients and collect and analyse data
- The Human cloud: over the next two-three years, work will be allocated by a network (see Amazon’s mechanical turk). Taskers will bid for bits of work. Who do unions bargain with in these circumstances?
- Workplace monitoring: this covers everything about you – your heartbeat, how long you slept etc.
- Retirement: won’t exist. Income will be through the human cloud. How do you organise pensions?
He went on to outline UNI's 8-step strategy, ‘Breaking through’, which aims to show how people can achieve change in their own workplace:
- Draw up a strategy based on information, knowledge, intelligence and reality. Review, learn and develop your strategy.
- Mapping: Get a good idea of where everyone is eg how do we map the 12,000 people at Sellafield, where they work, what shifts they do?
- One to one conversations (listening, not talking) eg why everyone in that office refuses to join the union. How do we know?
- Find a workers’ issue and build a campaign around this
- Find new leaders, test them, train them, mentor them.
- Turn recruitment drives into organising campaigns.
- Resources: not just money but time, technology, helpers, ears and eyes on the ground.
He set the Prospect delegates to work on how they could apply the stragegy, encouraging them to think about what they would do if they could change one thing at work. "Find the issue most widely and deeply felt and build your organising campaign around that, he said.