Saturday, December 28, 2013

Not dead yet!

I've been taking a break from blogging for the holidays, but as another year approaches the thoughts of trade union activists inevitably turn to the state of our movement and our fitness to face the challenges ahead of us.

The link above puts the most important indicator of trade union strength (our "density"; the proportion of employees who are union members) in both (recent) historical and international perspective.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) UK union density has fallen from 30.2% at the turn of the century to 25.8% in 2012. This isn't good. The large majority of UK employees are now outside our ranks, whereas at our peak in 1979, almost half of all workers were union members.

At the same time however, the OECD average trade union density has fallen from 20.2% to 17%. This is a slightly faster fall from a lower starting point. Among the nations for which the OECD publishes data, only Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian nations have higher levels of union density than the UK.

We have higher union density than France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the USA.

Our movement may not welcome 2014 at the peak of strength and fitness, but we are certainly not dead. Indeed, measured by union density, we are in a stronger position than the unions in the larger capitalist economies.

Our trade unions also retain the particular strength of a single trade union centre (rather than a trade union movement divided by politics) and we are (just about) clinging on to an organic political relationship with a (still just barely) social democratic political party which could credibly form a Government.

We face a continuing assault upon our living standards, our jobs and our collective and individual rights from a Government which is going further faster in reversing the social gains of the past two generations. However, we face this assault from a position relatively stronger than that of our counterparts in most other comparable capitalist economies.

Which does suggest we could perhaps be doing better at resisting redundancies and maintaining the union wage differential.

It may be time to stop battening down the hatches and showing purely symbolic opposition. 

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