Unions: Still here and needed more than ever
Reading the tributes to the late Baroness Thatcher, it doesn’t take long to get to what her supporters clearly regard as one of her main achievements; standing up to and ‘defeating’ the trades unions.
If you were unbiased and went purely on the statistics you might agree that’s exactly what she did. Union membership in 1979 stood at around 12 million and more than half of the workforce was in a union. Today, there are half the number of unions members that there were when Mrs Thatcher moved into Number 10, and union density is now around 26%.
But if you took a broader view and asked if she succeeded in creating a country where unions no long existed or were even needed then you might come to a different conclusion.
The trade union movement remains the largest voluntary organisation in the country, which still every day, makes work – and life beyond the workplace – better for millions of people.
The paradox of Margaret Thatchers policies is that whilst proclaiming the illegitimacy and irrelevance of unions they actually reinforced the need for collective representation of working people. As our General Secretary Frances O’Grady has pointed out, the attack on unions was in effect an attack by proxy on equality and social justice. It made Britain a much more unequal nation. A legacy that we have still to address.
The more reflective commentators on the political Left have observed that despite Margaret Thatcher’s passing, the political creed to which she gave her name remains with us. They’re correct; Thatcherism is unfortunately alive and well, but so – thankfully – is trade unionism.