Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Standing still to stand still?

The neither-good-nor-bad news is that UK trade union membership has been broadly static in the last year, according to the official data issued today.

Most of the movements, in absolute numbers and proportions, are not statistically significant although - worryingly - there is a small, but noticeable decline in union density (the proportion of employees in trade unions) in the public sector.

Although, as in the past few years, there was a modest increase in the total number of trade union members in the private sector (not quite offsetting the loss of members in the shrinking public sector), as private sector union membership increased more slowly than private sector employment so union density in the private sector also fell.

‎The number of trade unionists is now 6.4 Million and 25% of all employees in the UK are trade union members. (So for every trade unionist there are three workers who should be, but are not, trade unionists).

The detail of the official data published today will repay further study, and Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie mentioned some of the key points to today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) whilst promising to circulate further information.

However, the headline really should be precisely that this is neither good not bad news. We are not witnessing a resurgence of trade unionism, as workers tired of constant austerity rally to collective action to transform their lives. Neither are we in the midst of a catastrophic collapse of the working class movement, as atomised individuals respond to the failure (hitherto) of our resistance to austerity with a wholesale retreat from collectivism.

We are in a position more complicated and more challenging than either of those extremes. 

As to how today's meeting of our NEC met the challenge of that complexity, well that is another blog post.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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