UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

How marginalised are trade unions in the UK?

Jerry Latter of Ipsos/MORI has written a short article on surprising opinion survey findings that the public view the public sector strikes as relatively unimportant in answering the question 'what are the most important issues facing Britain today?' Whilst the article doesn't give the alternative answers that the public gave, it does help us to reflect on the findings: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/newsevents/blogs/thepoliticswire/962/Igniting-the-squib-public-opinion-on-strikes-and-trade-unions.aspx

Trade Union membership is currently around 6.5 million - still a significant figure - which is, however, half what it was in 1979. During the time since then unions have lost influence massively as manufacturing collapsed and 'new' industries have still not been unionised.

Anti-Trade Union legislation broke the disruptive power of all but a few unions and the promotion of 'partnership' had an anaesthetic effect on activism. New Labour delivered an improved environment for trade union growth - massive public sector job increases and some secondary legislative improvements - but left untouched the core of the laws that Thatcher's government brought in.

Our unions however did not grow in that 13 year period. This may partly explain the MORI findings because....
- We have lost millions of members and the average age of the membership is getting higher each year

- No Government in the last 30 years has welcomed trade unions as a serious partner and treated us as vital to society - Our strategy of partnership was based on 'swapping favours' and not really on our collective strength and so has led to less focus on union mass membership

- The law still makes it difficult to operate decisively and so strike action becomes a massive bureaucratic challenge that sucks energy and resources out of campaigns

- We are facing a Government determined to put the last boot into the collective culture.

As activists we can deal with the above, after all we are on a bit of a roll from the Pensions Strike, we had a sudden 'spike' in membership applications, the public generally see the dispute as unfair to ordinary workers and UNISON has identified extra resources to deliver Organising.

Working with community groups and wider public campaigns can play its part - as it does in our Northern region with the Public Services alliance. After all MORI does identify one very encouraging factor - the public are increasingly believing that trade unions 'tell the truth'.