Poll: Would you see a Unionised Workforce as a good thing in Archaeology?
This poll is closed.
Yes (definately)
256 51.20%
Yes (with reservation)
193 38.60%
No (definately)
24 4.80%
No (but could be persuaded)
23 4.60%
I don't care
4 0.80%
Total 500 vote(s) 100%
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Would you see a Unionised Workforce as a good thing in Archaeology?
First post but a very very good one... highlighting all that is 'wron' just now.. the oversimplification of the 'problem' and the 'reasons'

So one to chew over... yes indeed .. the issues are complicated.. and archaeology is changing yet again... however.. rather than drive that change it seems that there is a flappuing confusion that results in change happening without any control of it.... AS an ex-Council Planning Arch I know only too well the issues from that side... and as a contractor the other... as an archaeologist however... I still remain true to what that word means... I am an archaeologist - I don't cut corners to save money.. I don't skimp on a specialist report to come in under budget... I don't put profit over archaeology... archaeology (as we continually preach to all and sundry ) is a finite resource... we tell others to preserve, to protect.. to cherish to take care... and then?? Before anyone gets huffy... I know that there are many many great projects... granted... BUT.. BUT... if you clear your mind and look carefully at the projects ... could you have done it better? if the answer is yes... then you have answered my question.

Perhaps the need to separate commercial archaeology - into a real construction industry sub discipline.. (my old fave... the Temporal Contamination Engineer) and leave archaeology... the active and long term research and careful search for answers in archaeology to archaeologists. This is not to say that a TCE and an arhcaeologist can't be the same, or a company can carry out both... however... do we guide our own destiny in separate little squalbbling groups... or shape it ?

Your post was most welcome
I think we definitely need a union in some form or another. The way we're treated is disgraceful and wouldn't be tolerated in most other fields.

Archaeological work must be done, so saying that paying us what we deserve will drive us all out of work is a bit silly. If everyone stops trying to undercut everyone else by cutting all costs to the bone, regardless of the sense it makes in the long run, then developers will get used to being charged more. As someone who spent a decade in the business world before getting into archaeology, I've always thought archaeology was long overdue to mature.
Quote:I've always thought archaeology was long overdue to mature.

And perhaps we should consider some bolder steps than the pussy-footing approach.
I wouldn't like to presume to tell a consultant how to do his or her business, since it's going to be their ability to bring in clients and profit that motivates the company employing him or her, not the rescue/recovery of archaeology per se. There's a tricky balancing act for those consultants who want a good job done all round. But - the profit probably wholly motivates the consultant who would prefer to use a company to do the job, as long as it's quick, and looks as if it was done to the best standards. Like when you hear of an estate agent representing a high net worth client who turns out to be running some racket, caveat emptor. Ie it's up to companies to consider carefully their choice of consultants! Would like to know how unions can deal with that, because there'll always be someone out there willing to do work for quick and easy cash, and not really care less whether the work's up to scratch. And since most work, even at supervisory level, is pretty short-term, there's no great incentive for staff to see the job all the way through to publication, is there? Are we stuck in the era of farming-out of piece-work to cottage industries who'll do it for less cash but have no control of their product - surely we have moved on?
Having listened to the IFA session at TAG last month, it is clear that the profession needs a union who know what their responsibilities are to their members, representing them for the improvement of working conditions while still being sympathetic to the needs of those paying for the archaeology. IFA came out of that sesson, in my mind, as a weak-willed institution making the attempt to pass the buck (briefly to EH which was interesting) but never really getting round to even passing it.

As someone trying to get into archaeology after completing a degree that has cost around ?20000 in loans it is dispiriting to see what the next 10 years currently hold- unemployment followed by badly paid archaeological nomadism.

Although it does mean i don't need to pay the loan back for quite a while. I'm not in archaeology for the money (luckily) but it would be good to have a union that pushes for more respect between the archaeological and building workers as from the few sites i have worked on, the (un-named water company) employers viewed us as irritating obstacles which had to be cleared, putting us in the same catagory as bank voles and badgers.

Infact our mammalian cousins got more respect from the company because any infringement of the law would have cost ?5000.

Unionise now and do it properly, either through Prospect/Unison or through our own. As others have pointed out through, the majority of archaeologists would need to join, which would naturally lead to an argument. It always seems to.:face-stir:
4 inch archaeologist\'s pointing troll- the next big thing for small find management
It is not just the archaeological contracting units which drive costs and wages down. There are some consultants and their clients wish to keep their costs as tlow as possible and archaeology IS seen as a waste of time and money. What are you going to do with them? They are a big factor for keeping costs low. If a company turns round as says that reduction in costs is laughable, the client will find someone else less scrupulous.

I perceive this as a real problem.

The costs of archaeology onced passed through a consultant's accounts plus percentage on costs is extraordinary high. Therefore our clients will often see the cost of archaeology at a high but false cost compared to contracting an archaeological unit without the middle man. Clearly there is enough money within budgets to pay some of these ridiculous consultant rates, so by cutting out the consultant and their entirely profit driven ethos, surely there would be enough money for units to increase their rates and thus the wages of their staff and profit.

Like employers, consultancies should also be held responsible for the low wage problem within archaeololgy.

Redben writes that archaeology is veiwed as 'irritating obstacles which had to be cleared, putting us in the same catagory as bank voles and badgers.' which is often the superficial case but most of the archaeology we deal with is much lower in the food chain owing to badgers and bank voles being protected by specific laws. Whereas, scheduled sites, listed buildings and human remains form our only protective legislation. So, archaeology often finds itself at the rear of priorities within consultancies favouring ecology and environmental concerns largely due to greater legal hurdles. In my experience within consultancy, I found that archaeology, when not a legal issue, was deemed as unnecessary and more inconvenient than voles and badgers. I was once asked by a landscape architect what archaeologists actually did...Hmmm.

I'll add that there are some responsible archaeological consultants out there, some of whom read and post on this site...
Oh, and as for Who Guards the Guards, we already have county archaeologists, the IfA, EH, HS, Cadw, Bajr....
Quote:I'll add that there are some responsible archaeological consultants out there, some of whom read and post on this site...


and custodius... Wink love it!
I will, as ever, start by pointing out I ain't an archaeologist, nor, by the standards of the sector, am I badly paid. Even more out of kilter with this forum, I post with my common Internet ID. However, I do know something about economies, enterprise & organisations, and, maybe more relevant, the history of unions and the history of professions.

Note this. Archaeologists take the jobs in archaeology because they want to work in archaeology. The archaeological companies bid for work in a competitive, supply-side risk, market place, which they operate in because of a collective interest in archaeology. The marketplace exists because of a planning regulation.

Now a little history: unions came into being when low-skilled workers worked long hours, in dangerous and deeply unpleasant conditions, for insufficient money to live. In most cases the companies they worked for operated in industries with high, often government, demand and therefore profitable and had a price-elastic product. The end result was workers living with sizeable families in single rooms, in hunger, disease and despair. The managers were the owners (or relations thereof) and lived lives of comparative luxury with families often living lives of indolence. A stark contrast indeed.

That was the environment in which unions were born; when there was a real need to organise and be strong, to stand up for the weak and right these great injustices. Unions existed and operated so that these (low-skilled factory) workers could earn enough to keep them and their families fed, clothed and living in decent accommodation; a desire to see the wealth generated by these factories spread a little more fairly. The same environment inspired Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto, Elizabeth Gaskell to write Mary Barton, and much of the work of Dickens.

Nowadays our society protects the interests of poorest, working or not, as much as it protects the interests of the richest. Unions are primarily staffed by professional union workers, who, if they have ever worked in the job of the people they claim to represent, it was such long time ago they cannot no longer be seen as truly representing the members. Bob Crow of the RMT, for example, became a union officer in 1985... Many unions, have in effect evolved into something more relevant; they have become professional bodies, a collective grouping that seeks to raise the standards of the work being undertaken by its members and represent their general interests in areas such as informing relevant statutes and controlling the entry to the profession.

The time for unions has long since past. The working poor in our society are far richer than their Victorian equivalents (and archaeologists are not the working poor). The levels of injustice are orders of magnitude less; managers and "workers" are not (have not been for a very long time) on opposing sides, playing a zero sum game with the company coffers: all are employees of the organisation, they just have different job responsibilities which are rewarded at different levels, representative of their skills, experience and the rarity of those in our society.

What would a union do in archaeology? Down tools at each archaeological company following a vote to do so until such time as pay rates across the company were increased by 20%? With what leverage? A short strike of that nature would kill most archaeology companies; the likely reaction further up the chain would be cry foul and gain the affected construction project freedom to continue without regard to the archaeology. A likely end result of an extended country-wide strike would be the suspension of the planning regulations requiring the mitigation of archaeology. A union with no employed members has what power? Some of those previously employed as archaeologists may well find better paid employment in the generic graduate professions. Many would find only similarly paid work, but for employers with far less interesting and worthwhile activities. Some would join the ranks of the unemployed.

Archaeology does not need a union, it needs a strong professional body.

Examine the archaeological sector: archaeologists are skilled professionals, equivalent to a greater or lesser extent to doctors and lawyers, accountants and teachers, and, of course, academics. I pick on those examples because of the commonalities and differences between those on the list and archaeologists (used shorthand here for practitioners of commercial archaeology). Archaeology most closely aligns itself with academia, for obvious reasons, but maybe should instead study the success of the accountancy profession.

In academia, one stands or falls on one's own academic merit, mixed with a little skill in university politics and a bit of an eye for the available sources of finance. But in academia the employer is primarily publicly funded and provides a distinct and clear short term benefit to society, specifically the education of the next generation of lawyers, accountants and doctors. Academia is older than the written word and has long enjoyed a favoured place in society. Archaeology is not directly publicly funded; it does not provide a clear short term benefit to society (and its long term benefit, as currently practiced, is questionable, but a discussion on that topic belongs in another thread...). Its members primarily operate in a commercial market place, and one in which their employer *acts* very much as the junior player. It is a very young profession.

Accountancy on the other hand is a place governed by standards; legal requirements and professional body rules. It is a young profession (younger than the union movement, for example) yet has managed to become one of the best-paid. Accountancy arguably does not provide a clear short term benefit to society and it is not publicly funded.

So look closely at the rise of accountancy and see what lessons there are to learn. Or if accountancy is too high a target, look at the archives profession.

The only way archaeologists can get paid more is if the companies either get paid more or find a way to do the work at a lower cost. The companies bid the prices they do because it is what they have to bid to get the work. The only way to raise the price being paid is to raise the perceived value of the work and/or raise the required standards and therefore the skills needed to complete the work successfully. The latter needs someone to effectively police the quality of the archaeology being undertaken; all of it needs a strong professional body.
Strictly my views, which occasionally may also be those of my employer!
An interesting and considered take on the subject...

And once again highlights the issue of underbidding/undervaluing archaeology itself.. as well as the need for a strong professional body.

And the police force... are Planning Archaeologists resourced enough/capable of this?

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