From the TUC

Unions: Still here and needed more than ever

10 Apr 2013, By

Union members march in Cheltenham in 1989 during an annual protest at removal of union rights from government intelligence workers at GCHQ.

Union members march in Cheltenham in 1989 in protest at the union ban for  workers at GCHQ.

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.

2 Responses to Unions: Still here and needed more than ever

  1. Mark Hughes
    Apr 11th 2013, 1:20 pm

    Well if you look at what the present government is doing, the ghost of Thatcher is alive and kicking. The impact of austerity is falling mainly on working people and the atomisation of society by Thatcher has enabled Cameron to attack such collective institutions as the NHS partly due to the disempowerment of people within society.

    At a time when many of the answers to today’s difficulties such as climate change and the diminishing of our finite resources, will require a collective response. The trade unions are perfectly placed to re-engage with their communities and to show the effectiveness of collectivism. Thus people will come to know that empowerment comes from a collective response not by relying on a central government, who stopped representing working people when they decided to beat them up with truncheons in 1984.

  2. Peter Middleman
    Apr 15th 2013, 1:44 pm

    Ironically, those figures on collective bargaining – which she and her supporters would claim represent their “victory” over unions – are chiefly responsible for the absence of recovery and triple-dip recession. Workers share of GDP fell from 65% to barely 50% of GDP in the 30 years after Thatcher came to power. A drop almost directly proportional to the fall in collective bargaining coverage according to the TUC Touchstone publication: Where have all the wages gone?

    If wages had kept pace with production at mid-1070’s levels, the average worker would be £7,000 a year better off. Across the piece that would be billions of pounds being spent by ordinary people and stimulating demand rather than being accumulated (off-shore) by the wealthiest 1%.