Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Which trade unions are in decline?

I blogged a little while ago about the disappointing official statistics which show the current decline in trade union membership. For some years I have been perplexed that the official leadership of the movement isn’t more alert to our plight. Perhaps it would be clearer if it were looked at from the perspective of each individual trade union.

The Guardian’s report of those trade union statistics quoted UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis as saying that his union had increased membership this year. However, UNISON’s return to the Certification Officer, received on 3 July 2017 reported that UNISON had 1,225,500 full paying members on 31 December 2016, compared to 1,239,750 in 2015. That’s not an increase – it is a decline of 1.1% (albeit it is 88,000 more full paying members than the “larger” union UNITE, whose full paying membership had fallen by 7.9% to 1,137,468 from 1,234,757 a year before). GMB members who think that their union is growing need to accept that 617,213 full paying members on 31 December 2016 is lower than 622,596 on 31 December 2015 (a decline of only 0.86% but a decline nonetheless).

With the exception of the teaching unions, all the large unions lost members. It is not just our largest unions which are declining. Community, the descendent of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, beloved of Blairites, and recently in the news for coming up with yet another “innovation” (the recruitment of freelance workers) had 23,475 members on 31 December last year, having fallen by 25% from  31,523 four years before.

As to those who look to the vociferous minnows of the movement outside the TUC who are laudably taking up issues for precarious and hard to organise workers, I fear they will need a magnifying glass. The Industrial Workers of the World had 1,121 members as at the end of 2015 – impressive growth from 437 members three years before (but still tiny). The breakaway from the IWW, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) doubled its membership between December 2014 and December 2015 – but since that was an increase from 405 to 810 that still leaves the entire union (even with any subsequent growth) the size of a UNISON branch. As for the innovatory “pop up union” which popped up at Sussex University – that ceased to function so quickly that it never left any official record. Another of the small unions, United Voices of the World, hasn’t yet submitted its return for 2016 but had just 124 members at the end of December 2015.

It would be nice to think that the TUC will address the decline in our movement at Congress 2017. Watch this space. But don’t hold your breath.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Part of the problem is that many branches think some of the member issues that they present are "trivial" and as a consequence do not attempt to address them.
If people are pleased with an organisation (I include unions in this) they tell two people,if unhappy eight people with a consequent effect on recruitment.
One of the best recruitment tools are active stewards (sorry workplace rep as I have now been instructed to call myself) in the workplace.
This was one of your better posts because you managed not to indulge in your usual hard left dogma! I thought about your idea of a "merger" between the greens and our party (Labour) and while it has some merits it would have caused a problem in Scotland when we had different views on the yes/no vote to maintain the UK.