Why organisations need trades unions: what they don’t teach you on the MBA

Negotiation, collective bargaining, and the changing world of work

Opening with a reference to recent research from the US and Denmark that finds, discouragingly, that CEOs with business degrees are associated with declining workers’ pay, this event in the Future of Business series concentrates on a particular aspect of business life that is neglected in the typical MBA curriculum: the role of trades unions.

Sam Gurney, regional policy officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for London, the South East and East, and formally head of equality and strategy, describes the work of unions, not only in achieving better pay and working conditions for their members, but also in facilitating change in organisations through negotiation and engagement with both employees and leaders.

UK membership of trades unions is still much lower than the 1980s high of 50% of all workers, but it is growing again, particularly since the pandemic. Across the world collective action and collective bargaining are improving working conditions for employees in a wide variety of sectors. Sam Gurney’s presentation looks at what unions are doing now, and what they can do in the future, to help employees and employers adapt to the current environment.

  • Union membership tends to be concentrated in the public sector and in very large private sector organisations. But the world of work is changing: how are unions trying to reflect the realities of current employment – in smaller companies and in the gig economy?
  • How are unions engaging with governments on wider issues such as tackling the cost-of-living crisis and the associated economic doom loop, and maintaining existing worker protections? And what do they think of the prospect of accelerating the greening of the economy and tackling climate change?
  • What adaptations do unions need to make to their own systems, for example, to gain the right to digital access to workplace networks?


Why organisations need trades unions