From the TUC

The union pint glass

13 Nov 2008, By

Today I spent the morning with this year’s TUC Academy Organisers talking about trends in union membership.


You can read union membership and density statistics in lots of different ways and depending on factors such as  what time-frame you use you can get them to say pretty much anything, proving the old line about ‘lies, damned lies’ and so on. One old chestnut (which usually accompanies any article about union membership) is that membership has been in decline for the last 25 or 30 years. Of course if you compare union membership to what it was in 1979 its pretty clear there has been a catastrophic decline, but the picture is not simple if you begin to disaggregate those 30 years. Between 1979 and 1998 unions in the UK lost the thick end of 5.5m members, but membership has been pretty stable since then. OK stability (particularly against the backdrop of, until recently, rising employment) is hardly cause for bringing out the party poppers and bunting, but it provides a different starting point for those of us trying to grapple with whether the proverbial pint pot is half full or half empty.



Half full?

Half full?

During the discussion today I asked the Academy Organisers to agree which of the statements best summed up or most misrepresented the state of unions today and why. Use the comments section to have a go at this as well (clue: there is no right or wrong answer, but some answers are more right than others!)


  1. Which ever way you look at it, union membership has been in decline for the best part of 30 years and there is little to suggest that we can expect growth in the coming period
  2. Unions have stabilised their membership over the last 10 years. If they invest more in organising they can build on this growth
  3. Unions have stabilised their membership over the last 10 years – they need to invest more in organising but this alone won’t increase membership significantly. So they need to do more…(what?)
  4. Unions have struggled to organise successfully in the private sector – we need new models of unionism if we are to make inroads into the private service sector
  5. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! 7 million people have decided unions are right for them, our job is to communicate the benefits of trade unionism to non-members, not ‘change the product’
  6. ‘Organising’ hasn’t worked. We’ve done it for 10 years and at best we’ve stabilised membership. Its time to do something new.