U.S. Anti-Union Consultants: A Threat to the Rights of British Workers

Source: John Logan, Trades Union Congress, 2008

Over the past three decades, U.S. employers have conducted what Business Week has called “one of the most successful anti-union wars ever” with spectacular results – private sector union membership now stands at just 7.5 percent, and there are now between 50 million and 60 million Americans who say that they want union representation but are unable to get it. But employers have not conducted this offensive alone — so-called “union avoidance consultants” have been at the epicentre of the sustained assault of unions and collective bargaining. They have conducted thousands of no-holds-barred counter-organizing campaigns – which have frequently been marred by allegations of unfair management practices – and have encouraged American employers to view attempts by their employees to organize as a “declaration of war” or an “attack on your company.” The overwhelmingly majority of US employers recruit outside consultants when confronted by a union organizing campaigns. Many firms have internalized the extreme anti-union attitudes of the consultants and adopted as their own the consultants’ tactics and strategies, while large anti-union firms have developed sophisticated in-house union avoidance programs. Anti-union consultants are the perfect poster children for a system that encourages American employers to treat with disdain their employees’ right to form unions and bargain collectively, and they are now seeking to export their attitudes and activities to several other countries, including the United Kingdom.

This report provides an overview of the impact of union avoidance consultants in the US and discusses their recent activities in the UK. The first section of this report summarizes the development of the union avoidance industry in the US in the past few decades, describes the activities of consultants during counter organizing campaigns, provides brief details of two anti-union campaigns, and discusses the negative impact that consultants have had on the character of labor management relations in the United States. The second section discusses the extent of anti-union activity in the UK and describes some recent UK organizing campaigns orchestrated by US consultants. It concludes with an analysis of why of how to stop this unwanted US import from flourishing in the UK. While recent consultant activity in the UK pales in comparison with the scale and intensity of consultant activity in the US, it nonetheless represents a development that should concern anyone who believes in workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively.

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