Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

No sign of recovery in union membership

Here is the news about union membership I was anticipating yesterday;

It's not good news. A fractional (0.3%) increase in overall membership (of 19,000 members) was exceeded by rising employment generally. Therefore union density (the proportion of employees in unions) continues to fall (from 23.5% to 23.2%).

Private sector membership - and density - increased while both fell in the public sector. This continues a trend which has seen an increase of over 200,000 in private sector union membership since 2010 - and a decline of over 560,000 in the public sector (some part of which may be due to outsourcing or recategorisation between public and private sectors).

Whilst these figures seem to correspond with data about which I blogged yesterday (which show that the bulk of the very low level of strike action still taking place is in the private sector) - the private sector saw a slight drop in the modest wage premium for union members while the public sector saw an increase. It would be interesting to see further analysis of this finding.

Union membership is higher among older and longer serving workers - but this is less likely to be due to the wisdom that allegedly comes with age than to a cohort effect.

Those of us who entered the workforce in earlier decades joined a world of work in which unions were stronger and more visible. As a combination of sectoral shifts and industrial and political setbacks have weakened our unions so new entrants to the workforce have been less likely to join.

In fourteen years on the UNISON NEC I saw much complacency - from all the largest unions - and little sign of anything that would reverse trade union decline. 

National strike action had the most noticeable positive impact on recruitment in my time - but compliance with the 2016 Trade Union Act makes that much less likely (even if union members in health and local government wanted it).

I wish my successors on the UNISON NEC good luck in addressing this continuing decline.

It will be needed!

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