This fear is the direct result of legislative changes over the past decade and a half. What were regarded as basic democratic rights (the right to withdraw one's labour as freely as one might sell one's shares) were simply outlawed by a government that had declared war on "the enemy within".
Most people would share your view that we should be paid "according to our talents and negotiating tenacity" but this is likely to be weak indeed when new graduates take work in un-unionised, pittance-paid burger bars.
The prime raison d'etre for trade unions is what it always has been when the worst excesses of grasping capitalism go mad (as they surely have in recent years). The only economic clout available to vulnerable wage- earners is unified solidarity, and as a last resort the withdrawal of labour.
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