What is going in the world of labour relations now, and what can we learn from labour history?
Remember learning the significance of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike?
The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike saw 30,000 people, including telephone operators, postal workers, police, fire fighters, cooks, and contractors take to the streets. But how relevant is this historical event to labour relations today?
In the hundred years that have passed since 1919, business has changed, employers and employment laws have changed, and employment standards have improved markedly for workers in most developed countries. If standards and laws have improved so much, why are general strikes and civil protest still happening?
In 2015, 400,000 public sector employees went on strike in Quebec. In France, a quarter of a million employees went on strike in October 2017, and 10,000 civil servants and railway staff joined forces and went on strike in April 2018.
Let’s look at the most recent strike occurring in France.
This has moved beyond a typical single employer/employee labour dispute, and is turning into a social movement. It now includes railway workers, teachers, and air traffic controllers. It has become a general strike.
The question is, why in seemingly well-developed societies, like Canada or France, have we not found a better way to resolve labour disputes than taking to the streets in protest? Is it because workers or employers are unreasonable people with unreasonable demands? If so, who determines which side is unreasonable?
Is there a better way? According to Roger Fisher and William Ury from Harvard University, there is.
Getting to Yes talks about BATNA, an acronym coined by Fisher and Ury, which stands for the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Fisher and Ury emphasize that positional bargaining is not the most effective way to reach an agreement, and that it can actually do more harm than good. With positional bargaining one side must win and the other must lose. This is no way for employers and unions to treat each other in the 21st century.
Getting to Yes has been around for 40 years, yet employers and unions are still using positional bargaining. Why? Perhaps many unions and employers do not feel it meets their needs.
Does history repeat itself? It certainly seems to with Labour Relations. Where are we 100 years after the Winnipeg general strike? It looks like we’re in the very same place. Perhaps it is time to move past the adversarial model of Labour Relations. The question is, do employers and unions have the will to do that?
- Read this summary of the concepts in Getting to Yes.
- Discuss why unions and management might be against using Getting to Yes principles.
- Can you describe specific situations where it would be more beneficial to use Getting to Yes concepts, such as interest-based bargaining, rather than traditional positional bargaining?