Union numbers hold up, thanks to women
Trade union membership is growing during these tough times and it’s thanks to women. That’s the headline that leaps out at me from the latest government stats on trade union membership.
Union membership has grown by 59,000 since 2011 to 6.455 million. Women make up 40,000 of that growth. This is part of a longer term trend that has seen women grow from being 45 percent of the union movement in 1995 to 54.7 percent today.
Part of this is due to the increasing concentration of union members in the public sector where about 66 percent of employees are women. But this doesn’t explain everything. After all, union density in the private sector has increased slightly over the past twelve months and this is almost entirely to do with an extra 61,000 women signing up. And yes, that means that the number of women trade unionists in the public sector have declined as cuts have thrown hundreds of thousands out of work.
What is the picture like on other equalities grounds?
It’s mixed on race. Trade unionists are more likely to be “White” or “Black or Black British”, than the general population. But the reverse is the case for “Asian or Asian British”, and the strangely broad “Chinese or other ethnic group” category. More generally, workers born overseas or without a British passport are also less likely to be union members than the general population. As our Black Workers’ Conference said, we need to put race back on the agenda.
Disabled workers overwhelmingly call the trade union movement home. They are about 23 percent more likely to be in a union than a worker who isn’t disabled.
We continue to be an old lot. 77 percent of union members are over 35, compared to 62.3 percent for the labour market as a whole. This is mostly reflective of the problem unions have in organising workers aged between 16 and 24 who constitute just 4.1 percent of union members. But on a quick google search I see that we are a lot younger than some other voluntary organisations.
And what about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans workers? While unions are increasing collecting data on LGBT status, unsurprisingly the government still doesn’t.
This mix of successes and challenges has a range of causes, but it only underlines a key solution for unions: having organising and bargaining strategies that make us welcoming to all workers.