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Trade Unions Shoot Themselves in the Foot!

26 May 2014, 06:45
The history of Trade Unions is a sad, long history of a waste of time on meetings, a waste of energy on strikes and even more important, a waste of money in terms of the millions, possibly billions that have been paid into unions by union members the world over. 


In 1922 my Great Grandfather was a ring leader in the strikes on the mines in the Witwatersrand. In those days General Jan Smuts sent in the air force and bombed Jeppe. How many people remember those days or even that Jeppe actually got bombed?

For all my Great Grandfather's fervour and passion and for all that the strikes did manage to achieve some measure of improvement for miners, he did not really achieve much on two scores. 


Firstly, he was identified and singled out along with a number of others and after the strikes he soon lost his job and could never get work on any mine in the country again. Secondly, from a financial point of view, which is the main driving force behind all unions, strikes and union fees paid, he certainly did not benefit at all and spent the rest of his life eking out a living on a small plot in the middle of nowhere in a place call Oogies.

In those days Oogies consisted on a main road, a railway station and not much else, besides his pandokkie on his plot. 


If I look at the history of unions worldwide and especially in South Africa and I look back at all the union fees miners have paid in order to fight for better wages and better working conditions and then take a good hard look at what really has been achieved in terms of worker's conditions in almost 100 years, it is very clear that little to nothing has been achieved at all and the concept is a total failure.

Time to re-think the system. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So I have to ask the question. In almost 100 years has no union come up with a crowd funding scheme where the miners themselves buy shares in the mine that they work on instead of paying union fees into a bottomless pit that has in real financial terms shown little to no return for almost a century? 

As it stands at the moment, management and the share holders get the most benefit in financial terms when times are good . The miners by comparison, see very little benefit. However, when times are tough management and the shareholders also take all the risk, often losing billions and often as a result the mine has to shut down and everyone suffers. But that is the nature of things and trade and commerce is not a charity organisation.


If the miners, instead of wasting their hard earned wages on union fees all these many years had rather invested in the mine, they would not have wasted so much time, energy and more importantly, money . Basically, putting their money where their toy-toy  is. 

Using union fees to buy shares in the mine no matter how large or small those shares may be, means that the workers have a vested interest and what is more also a responsibility towards the mine on which they work.

If the fortunes of the mine go up then so do the fortunes of the miners. If the fortunes of the mine goes down, then so does the fortune of the miners. In this way, both management and the work force all take the risk, all have responsibility.

It costs billions to establish a mine and those who do so take an enormous amount of risk. They also take an enormous leap of faith that they are going to see a return  on their investment. 


By using all or at least a percentage of union fees to buy shares  in a crowd funded share portfolio, the miners take equal part and equal responsibility. What is more, as shareholders with a vested interest they too are effected by profit and loss margins. A strike lasting weeks and losing the mine billions will not be to their benefit.  


My Great Grandfather sacrificed his time, his energy and his money to fight for a better deal for mine workers in 1922. He did manage to improve working conditions and an increase in wages but he ended up with nothing, on a plot in Oogies and a marked man who could not get employment on any mine in this country. 


If he, and all the workers who went on strike with him in 1922, had instead created a crowd funded share portfolio for mine workers on the mine, they would have seen a far better return on their time, energy and union fees. As shareholders they would have had  a voice in mine management and achieved better results. 


They would have also taken equal responsibility in the risk.... but hey... that's how it rolls. There are no free lunches.

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