Until recently, unions were losing members and, seemingly, influence in companies and politics. Today, however, workers around the world are establishing new networks and groups to represent their interests. Manufacturers will need to prepare strategically and tactically to turn these new workforce dynamics to their advantage.

Despite increasing automation, people remain among the most important resources to any manufacturing operations. In previously non-unionized countries such as China, organized labor’s political and operational influence is growing. Even in Western economies, specialist unions that represent small groups are on the rise and are successfully exerting their influence.

So companies today have to interact not only with large unions, but with a new, more fragmented emerging landscape. On top of this, international union networks are emerging, and the shortage of skilled labor worldwide is forcing manufacturing executives to rethink their approach to labor relations.

A fresh assessment of exposure to labor issues can help companies to develop mitigation strategies and contingency plans and, ideally, to move toward a better model of cooperation with workers and workforce representatives—one that fosters a truly entrepreneurial spirit.

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