From the TUC

2011 trade union membership figures released

26 Apr 2012, By Guest

Yesterday, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released their annual report on trade union membership which is taken from the annual Labour Force Survey (LFS) in the final quarter of 2011.  Carl blogged about the 2010 release here.

So, what were the figures and what do they mean for trade unions?

Headline figures

  • Across the whole workforce, union membership fell by 143,000 despite an increase in private sector membership (up by 43,000), and now stands at 6.4 million.  Union density (the percentage of workers who are union members) fell by 0.6% to 26%.
  • 31.2 % of all employees were covered by a collective bargaining arrangement, up from 30.8% and unions are now present in 44.9% of workplaces , down from 46%.

Getting a bigger break down in terms of private/public sector, the figures look more like this:

  • In the public sector, despite a membership fall of 186,000, union denisty rose by 0.2% to 56.5%; bargaining coverage rose by 3.3% to 67.8% and the amount of public sector workplaces where there is a trade union presence rose to 87.1% from 85.8%.
  • In the private sector, membership rose by 43,000 but density fell by 0.1%; bargaining coverage has been maintained, staying steady at 16.9% and union presence in workplaces fell to 28.5% from 29.6%.
  • In the male/female split, density remains higher amongst women employees (28.7%) than amongst male employees (23.4%).


These figures represent a mixed picture of decline and increase from the figures for 2010.  And the points I’d raise on the initial analysis of the figures are:

  1. We are seeing a continued fall in total union membership.  While the rise in private sector membership is welcome, total union membership continues to fall.  However, unlike the 1980s and 1990s, this fall is much shallower and the differentials in decline are much less pronounced.  The large decrease in membership should also be taken into the wider context of an overall loss of public sector jobs (369,000) in the same period.
  2. Decline in presence should be of concern for unions. 
  3. The picture on union density is mixed.  In 2011, overall density fell by 0.6% which is the norm since 1995 (it fell in all but three years).  However, public sector density rose slightly which is the first increase since 2000 and even in the private sector, which saw a fall of 0.1%, saw its smallest decline since 2000.
  4. Collective bargaining has risen.  The area where we had a real concern, saw a slight reversal of trend with the first increase in workers covered by collective agreements since 1998.  This is great news but we need to keep this trend going up to have an impact on worker wages. 

A mixed picture for us then with some positives which we didn’t have in 2010, but still one that shows that we need to work hard to continue to organise and unionise.  Look out for postings over the next week from our union contributors to see what it means for their sectors and unions.

6 Responses to 2011 trade union membership figures released

  1. jim jepps
    Apr 26th 2012, 9:15 am

    I could ask you this in purpose as I’ll be seeing you in a minute, but while it’s in my head…

    If public sector density has gone up but actual membership has gone down does this mean that there is a direct correlation with job losses? If union membership is going down because employees in highly unionised areas are being laid off this may help explain some of these figures.

  2. Dave Plummer
    Apr 26th 2012, 9:55 am

    Given the perpetual casualisation of the workforce I think we’re doing pretty well. The reappearance of relatively high profile TU action in the private sector (Unilever, Ford, Balfour Beatty etc) helps but inaction (Unite’s shameful lack of action initially with Balfour Beatty etc, BECTU’s failure to do anything to defend their Tesco members’ pensions) could make us appear irrelevant.

    And as for the public sector pensions debacle….

    If the TU movement is going to grow (as it must) we need to make more of our wins and do a little less procrastination and capitulation.

  3. Sampson Low
    Apr 26th 2012, 11:45 am

    The TUPE transfer of workers between public and private sectors due to out sourcing (and occasional in-sourcing) can alter these figures and show private sector union growth and public sector decline without any members leaving or joining. Could this be significant?

  4. Martin Smith
    Apr 28th 2012, 3:57 pm

    The current economic and political climate provides no significant obstacles to building unions as working people face a new attack on their living standards and aspirations almost every week by organised employers and the Coalition Ministers they control. But new and existing union members see these attacks falling on their communities and workplaces and these are the places where effective union organising responses are best located. Much of the debate around trade union membership trends focusses on an analysis of sector, industry and national economic and industrial developments – and this makes little contribution to an understanding of what helps and what hinders union building where people work. Credible workplace campaigns on local issues that mobilise all those affected is succeeding in building union membership in 2012 in the public, private and the growing public-private hybrid sectors.

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