How has trade union membership changed in recent years?
In 2003, union membership in Britain, estimated from the Labour Force Survey, was 7.42 million. The proportion of all employees who were union members was 29.1%. These are the overall figures but union membership varies enormously by industry and by the types of jobs that people do.
Trade union membership has declined over the last two decades. In 1979 13.3 million people were members of trade unions and the proportion of employees who were union members stood at 55%. A comparison of membership data for the period 1992-2003 can be seen on the ONS Web site.
Trade unions negotiate pay and conditions for people in a wide range of occupations. © Photolibrary Group
There are several reasons for this fall in membership, including:
- a dramatic fall in the number of jobs in manufacturing industries where union membership was traditionally high
- larger numbers of unemployed people
- a fall in traditional full time employment and an increase in part time and temporary workers who are less likely to join unions
- an increase in the proportion of the workforce employed by small companies where it is often difficult for unions to organise
- hostile legislation - the previous Conservative government introduced laws which make it more difficult for unions to operate and keep their members.
However, trade union membership is still quite high and many people are employed in workplaces where unions are recognised by management for negotiating pay and conditions of employment.
There is also evidence that the decline in union membership is beginning to slow up. The TUC has launched a major recruitment drive called 'New Unionism - Organising for Growth' and many unions are stepping up their efforts to recruit in new industries and jobs. More and more people are turning to trade unions because they want the protection they can provide.