Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Thinking globally about trade union density



I realise I can be a bit downbeat about the state of our trade union movement sometimes, so will post this evening some comparative international information which demonstrates that, whilst things are bad, they could be worse. Remember this is a niche blog about trade unionism, so if membership density data doesn’t do it for you look away now.
Here is a table of data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) showing trends in trade union density this century;
Unit
Percentage
Time
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Country

















Australia

25.4
25.7
24.5
23.2
23.0
22.3
22.3
20.2
18.5
18.6
19.3
18.4
18.5
18.2
17.0
15.5
Austria

38.2
37.4
36.6
35.7
34.7
34.9
33.9
31.6
30.5
29.7
29.4
29.0
28.4
28.0
27.8
..
Belgium

54.3
56.2
56.3
55.6
54.1
54.0
53.7
54.8
54.7
54.4
54.9
53.8
55.1
55.0
55.1
..
Canada

28.0
28.2
28.4
28.3
28.2
27.8
27.7
27.4
27.3
27.0
27.3
27.2
26.9
27.2
27.1
26.4
Chile

12.7
12.6
12.5
12.8
13.7
13.7
13.3
13.0
13.1
14.1
15.0
15.0
14.9
15.3
15.0
15.5
Czech Republic

30.0
27.2
23.6
22.2
22.3
21.0
19.7
18.7
17.9
17.4
17.2
16.6
15.8
14.3
12.7
..
Denmark

74.0
73.9
73.3
71.6
71.6
70.4
70.7
68.4
67.9
66.3
67.7
67.0
66.4
67.2
66.8
..
Estonia

16.3
14.5
14.0
13.5
11.7
11.0
9.7
8.4
7.6
6.2
7.6
8.2
7.0
6.1
5.7
..
Finland

76.3
75.0
74.5
73.5
72.9
71.5
70.6
70.4
70.5
69.8
69.2
68.6
69.6
69.8
69.0
..
France

8.1
8.0
7.9
8.1
7.9
7.7
7.7
7.6
7.5
7.6
7.7
7.7
7.7
7.7
7.7
..
Germany

25.3
24.6
23.7
23.5
23.0
22.2
21.7
20.7
19.9
19.1
18.9
18.6
18.5
18.3
18.1
..
Greece

26.8
26.5
24.9
24.8
24.6
24.0
24.1
24.1
24.0
23.5
22.6
22.1
22.7
22.8
21.5
..
Hungary

24.5
22.0
20.0
19.0
17.9
17.9
17.5
16.1
15.1
14.6
13.9
12.9
11.8
10.7
10.5
..
Iceland

87.4
89.4
88.1
92.5
86.5
84.0
84.0
85.1
84.8
84.6
85.1
85.4
85.2
85.2
85.5
86.4
Ireland

38.7
38.0
37.8
36.1
37.4
35.5
34.0
32.4
31.5
31.9
33.1
32.7
32.6
31.2
29.6
27.4
Israel

41.3
37.9
36.9
36.5
35.8
34.4
33.1
32.0
30.5
28.6
27.3
25.7
24.2
22.8
..
..
Italy

35.4
34.8
34.2
33.8
33.7
34.1
33.8
33.6
34.0
33.9
35.2
36.0
36.3
36.9
37.3
..
Japan

22.2
21.5
20.9
20.3
19.7
19.3
18.8
18.3
18.3
18.2
18.5
18.4
19.0
18.0
17.8
17.6
Korea

11.7
11.4
11.5
10.8
10.8
10.3
9.9
10.0
10.6
10.3
10.0
9.7
9.9
10.1
..
..
Luxembourg

43.3
42.5
41.8
42.1
42.8
42.3
41.4
40.1
38.7
36.5
35.9
35.1
33.9
32.8
..
..
Mexico

15.8
15.6
15.9
15.9
16.9
17.5
16.9
16.3
16.8
15.7
15.3
14.4
14.5
13.6
13.6
13.5
Netherlands

24.7
22.9
21.2
21.0
20.5
20.8
20.6
20.0
19.3
18.8
19.1
18.6
18.4
17.9
17.8
..
New Zealand

21.7
22.4
22.3
22.3
21.2
20.8
20.9
21.3
21.4
20.8
21.6
21.0
21.1
20.9
19.8
18.7
Norway

54.8
54.4
53.9
54.5
55.1
55.0
54.9
54.2
53.0
52.6
53.6
53.7
53.5
53.3
52.1
..
Poland

20.5
17.5
15.5
14.1
18.8
19.0
18.1
16.3
15.6
15.1
14.6
14.6
13.6
12.7
..
..
Portugal

22.4
21.6
22.4
20.7
21.3
21.7
21.6
21.2
21.2
20.9
20.6
19.8
18.8
18.9
..
..
Slovak Republic

34.2
32.3
30.5
27.4
26.1
23.6
22.8
20.6
18.8
17.2
16.0
15.2
14.1
13.6
13.3
..
Slovenia

40.4
41.6
40.8
44.7
43.7
40.1
37.1
31.4
29.0
26.6
26.3
25.0
23.1
22.0
21.2
..
Spain

16.8
16.6
16.4
16.1
15.9
15.4
14.6
14.3
15.5
17.2
17.6
17.3
16.9
17.1
16.9
..
Sweden

80.6
79.1
78.0
78.0
78.0
78.1
76.5
75.1
70.8
68.3
68.4
68.2
67.5
67.5
67.7
67.3
Switzerland

20.9
20.2
19.7
19.9
19.9
19.5
19.3
18.9
18.5
17.5
17.3
17.1
16.7
16.2
16.2
15.7
Turkey

29.3
28.2
29.3
25.1
22.3
20.0
16.8
14.3
12.3
10.7
10.2
8.9
7.8
7.0
6.3
..
United Kingdom

30.1
30.2
29.6
29.3
29.6
29.0
28.6
28.2
28.1
27.3
27.3
26.6
25.8
26.0
25.8
25.1
United States

13.4
12.8
12.9
12.6
12.4
12.0
12.0
11.5
11.6
11.9
11.8
11.4
11.3
10.8
10.8
10.7
OECD countries

21.0
20.4
20.0
19.7
19.6
19.2
18.9
18.3
18.1
18.0
18.1
17.7
17.6
17.2
17.0
16.7

Across the OECD union density has fallen from a point at the turn of the century where just over one in five workers were trade unionists to a point now where it is around one in six. This masks some quite significant differences between nation states. In some West European countries (Spain, Italy and Belgium for example) density has remained steady or even inched up. At the other extreme in some East European countries (the Hungary and the Czech and Slovak republics for example) density has fallen to less than half what it was at the turn of the century (there appears to have been an even more catastrophic decline in Turkey).

The “meaning” of trade union density figures for trade union power and influence clearly varies between different national settings. The French trade unions have very low membership density but are not proportionately less influential than their counterparts in many other countries.

The decline in trade union density in the United Kingdom has been slightly less severe than the OECD average and remain comfortably in the second quartile of national density figures, so our dilemma is no greater than that faced by trade unionists in most advanced economies.

If there is anything to be learned from this data it is perhaps that we should spend a bit more time and effort finding out what it is that trade unionists have been doing in (for example) Belgium or Italy to sustain their membership density and resist the decline which is being experienced here, and in many other countries.

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