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The Surprising Retreat of Union Britain

In: Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000

  • John H. Pencavel

After expanding in the 1970s, unionism in Britain contracted substantially over the next two decades. This paper argues that the statutory reforms in the 1980s and 1990s were of less consequence in accounting for the decline of unionism than the withdrawal of the state's indirect support for collective bargaining. The principal goal of the reforms was to boost productivity so the paper examines the link between unions and productivity finding only a small association by the end of the 1990s. Private sector unionism has become highly decentralized which renders it vulnerable to the vagaries of market forces.

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This chapter was published in:
  • David Card & Richard Blundell & Richard B. Freeman, 2004. "Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number card04-1, 07.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 6748.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:6748
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. repec:sae:niesru:v:97:y:1981:i:1:p:83-83 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Stephen Machin, 2000. "Union decline in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20191, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Haskel, Jonathan, 1991. "Imperfect Competition, Work Practices and Productivity Growth," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 53(3), pages 265-79, August.
    4. Metcalf, David, 1991. "British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence?," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 18-32, Spring.
    5. Stewart, M.B., 1989. "Union Wage Differentials, Product Market Influences And The Division Of Rents," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 323, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    6. Stewart, Mark B, 1987. "Collective Bargaining Arrangements, Closed Shops and Relative Pay," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(385), pages 140-56, March.
    7. Towers, Brian, 1997. "The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198289463, March.
    8. Andrews, Martyn J. & Stewart, Mark B. & Swaffield, Joanna K. & Upward, Richard, 1998. "The estimation of union wage differentials and the impact of methodological choices," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 449-474, December.
    9. Stephen Machin & M Stewart, 1995. "Trade Unions and Financial Performance," CEP Discussion Papers dp0242, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    10. Stewart, Mark B, 1991. "Union Wage Differentials in the Face of Changes in the Economic and Legal Environment," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 58(230), pages 155-72, May.
    11. David Metcalf, 1999. "The British National Minimum Wage," CEP Discussion Papers dp0419, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    12. David Metcalf, 1999. "The British national minimum wage," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20229, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    13. Disney, Richard & Gosling, Amanda & Machin, Stephen, 1996. "What Has Happened to Union Recognition in Britain?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 63(249), pages 1-18, February.
    14. Parker, David & Martin, Stephen, 1995. "The Impact of UK Privatisation on Labour and Total Factor Productivity," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 42(2), pages 201-20, May.
    15. Metcalf, David & Stewart, Mark, 1992. "Closed Shops and Relative Pay: Institutional Arrangements or High Density?," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 54(4), pages 503-16, November.
    16. Jonathan Aylen, 1982. "Plant Size and Efficiency in the Steel Industry: an International Comparison," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 100(1), pages 65-76, May.
    17. Richard Freeman & Jeffrey Pelletier, 1989. "The Impact of Industrial Relations Legislation on British Union Density," NBER Working Papers 3167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Andrews, Martyn J & Bell, David N F & Upward, Richard, 1998. "Union Coverage Differentials. Some Estimates for Britain Using the New Earnings Survey Panel Dataset," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 60(1), pages 47-77, February.
    19. Stewart, Mark B, 1995. "Union Wage Differentials in an Era of Declining Unionization," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(2), pages 143-66, May.
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