The halving of trade union membership in Britain – and how the unions are fighting back

I was a national trade union official – with what is now the Communication Workers Union – for 24 years (1978-2002) but, in my working life, I have witnessed a sharp decline in trade union membership from a record of around 13 million in the mid 1970s to 6.4 million in 2014.

It is not that working people no longer need the support of trade unions. It is partly the relentless legislative attacks from Conservative Governments. It is mainly the profound changes in the structure of work: from manufacturing to services, from factories to offices, shops and homes, from long-term, stable work patters to flexible work arrangements including outsourcing, agency work, part-time work and zero-hours contracts.

Trade unions need to reinvent how they organise and service their members and how they work with other community groups. So I was pleased to see an interview with the appealing and effective General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Frances O’Grady and the news of a new campaign which she calls “citizen bargaining”.

She states:

“We need to create new models of trade unionism, because there’s one thing about representing people in BT or BMW or the NHS, and there’s something else about organising baristas and cinema workers and shopworkers.”


“Imagine if we could win systematic broad support from families, communities and the public. Collective bargaining almost becomes ‘citizen bargaining’ with the employer, to win fair treatment for workers.”


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