Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is the TUC General Council meeting the challenges it faces?

The annual report of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has been published. The picture above may not be of the most recent General Council… ;)

In his introduction, the General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, says;

“Despite the efforts of unions and some genuine improvements in employment legislation over the past nine years, not least the introduction and uprating of the minimum wage, too many workers in Britain today are vulnerable to exploitation by rogue employers. Many are migrant workers, new to this country with little knowledge of their rights. Many are young - often students trying to work their way through college. A considerable number are employed by agencies with more limited legal rights than those on permanent contracts who often work alongside them.

These workers need better rights. They need trade union support. Above all they need their voice to be heard. And that is why, at this Congress, we are launching a new 'vulnerable workers campaign', bringing together the different work currently being done by unions and the TUC into a campaign which we hope will have a major impact; striking a chord with both the public and government; and leading to genuine improvements in the workplace.”

These are laudable sentiments – and the trade union movement certainly needs to reach out and organise the unorganised. I worry that the top of the trade union movement is a bit complacent about the current state of our movement. The recently published report of the findings from the 2004 Workplace Employee Relations Survey shows that only a third of workers are in trade unions and that almost two-thirds of workplaces (64 per cent) had no union members, and that union members made up a majority of the workforce in only one-sixth (18 per cent) of all workplaces.

In 1998, 57 per cent of workplaces had no union members and union members made up the majority of the workforce in 22 per cent of workplaces. Compared to the 1998 survey overall union density (the proportion of workers who are union members) has fallen, slightly, from 36% to 34% during the period of (New) Labour Government. These figures aren’t necessarily accurate – other recent research suggests current union density could be as low as 29% (in 2005) – although that research suggests an increase of 0.2% from 2004.

What is clear is that we have not experienced the sort of recovery in union membership we were hoping for over recent years. So the TUC does need to reach out to vulnerable workers. I read somewhere that it would help if the TUC would back an amnesty for undocumented migrant workers. Anyone reading this who is not already a trade union member should join. UNISON members should sign up to recruit new members as part of the Union’s Challenge X campaign.

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