British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence Revisited


Union membership rose by 100,000 in 1999 ending two decades of sustained membership losses û the longest, deepest decline in British labour history yielding a cumulative fall of over 5 million members. This paper analyses that haemorrhage in membership and asks whether or not the recent increase augurs a resurgence in unions' fortunes. Membership data and voice arrangements are described first. Then the decline in membership in the 1980s and 1990s is analysed, emphasising both the failure of unions to achieve recognition in newly established workplaces and plummeting density where unions remain recognised. The health of unions turns, in part, on their appeal to potential members, so their ''sword of justice'' impact is set out next showing how unions have an egalitarian effect on the distribution of pay, cut accidents and promote both family friendly and equal opportunity policies in the workplace. It is unlikely that employment will grow disproportionately in unionised sectors of the economy. So any revival of unions depends on organising activity among both individuals and firms. The pivotal importance of new recognitions is discussed by analysing three forms of marriage between capital and labour û true love, convenience and shotgun. The paper concludes that a twin track organising strategy would help unions partially reverse their membership losses û signing up new employers but also focusing on the 3 million plus free riders who are covered by collective agreements but not members.

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