From the TUC

Something in the water?

08 Jul 2009, By

For reasons far too mundane to explain, we’ve recently been pulling together union density figures by region and sub-region.

Merseyside comes top of the density league table – with more than 4 in 10 Scousers being union members. This is nearly 15% higher than the national average,and 6% ahead of other union strong holds like Tyne & Wear & Northern Ireland (35.1% and 35.6% respectively).


Notorious Brookie 'scab' Billy Corkhill
Notorious Brookie ‘scab’ Billy Corkhill 

While I would have expected Merseyside to have come near the top of the table, the figures are still something of a surprise. Anyone got a plausible explanation for this? Part of it must be to do with Liverpool’s history and the role of the docks & ship building; part of it must also be about relatively large numbers of (unionised) public sector jobs; relatively high unemployment is probably another factor – but there are lots of parts of the country where all these factors would come into play as well, and where union density is not noticeably higher.

So today’s starter question for 10 is: Why does living within (metaphorical ) sight of the Mersey make you more likely to be a union member? Most convincing answer in the comments section wins an Organising Academy polo-shirt, as does the funniest!

11 Responses to Something in the water?

  1. Carl Roper

    Carl Roper
    Jul 8th 2009, 3:42 pm

    No special reason – they just do doe dont de

  2. Tom Beattie
    Jul 8th 2009, 6:31 pm

    It’s the Irish factor innit? Close proximity to Ireland and large waves of immigration has led to the development of a rebel spirit. Liverpool has always been more of an Irish city than an English city.

  3. Charlie Marks
    Jul 8th 2009, 10:11 pm

    And the English have no repel spirit, Tom? ;-)

  4. Lawson Armstrong
    Jul 8th 2009, 10:19 pm

    Because Liverpool football club have 92 players registered on there official books, who must be in the PFA!!!!

  5. Paul Nowak

    Jul 8th 2009, 10:30 pm

    No that can’t be it Lawson – I think figures are only based on union members in gainful employment!

  6. John
    Jul 9th 2009, 11:50 am

    Only 4 in 10? I’d thought 4 in 10 Scousers were union general secretaries alone…

  7. Paul Nowak

    Jul 9th 2009, 1:43 pm

    Not sure Tom’s answer is entirely plausible – but its the only sensible one so that wins a polo shirt.

    Carl & John are disqualified under the (unwritten)terms of this competition, and so the 2nd shirt goes to Lawson.

    Let me know your sizes and where you want them sent!

  8. steve higginson
    Jul 10th 2009, 9:22 am

    All interesting comments but we tend to forget port cities that are on the edge of big seas and rivers,globally have high union membership,New York,Sydney, Marseilles etc.My theory is that it is do with the constant movement that accompanied Liverpool,ie, people coming and going etc,sothe city was and is constantly in flux, narky and dissatisfied!!
    Movements of labour will always be reflected in a healthy labour movement

  9. Paul Nowak

    Jul 10th 2009, 10:05 am

    Does that hold true over time though Steve? I can see that large port cities may have a tendency toward more volatile industrial relations (and possibly politics), but I suspect that if we went back say 50 years, union density would have been higher in Manchester – or say the Northern mill towns – than Liverpool?

  10. steve higginson
    Jul 10th 2009, 9:07 pm

    The mobilisation of the unskilled worker in Liverpool in 1911 when Liverpool had its own general strike was testimony to Liverpool being a “union city”. There has been a tendency in labour history that has concentrated on the skilled worker andforgetting Liverpool had a stretch of dockland north to south of the city that wasthe largest in Europe with a workforce to match,ie, dockersseafarers,etc. Such is the prevalence of those embedded traditions in Liverpool,could be the reason why union density is higher. Liverpool has kept its collective memoryand faith in collective organisations.

  11. Paul Nowak

    Jul 10th 2009, 10:20 pm

    Cheers Steve – some interesting learning points for contemporary unions come out of all this – particularly in relation to how we go about reaching out to migrant workers. History shows us these groups of workers are often actually more (rather than less as is sometimes thought) likely to organise and seek the protection and support of a union. We ‘just’ need to provide the opportunity and support for them to do it.

    You had two stabs at it, so by reckoning that merits a polo shirt as well – can you send me your details to [email protected] – best and thanks to everyone for their comments, Paul