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British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence Revisited

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  • David Metcalf

Abstract

Union membership rose by 100,000 in 1999 ending two decades of sustained membership losses û the longest, deepest decline in British labour history yielding a cumulative fall of over 5 million members. This paper analyses that haemorrhage in membership and asks whether or not the recent increase augurs a resurgence in unions' fortunes. Membership data and voice arrangements are described first. Then the decline in membership in the 1980s and 1990s is analysed, emphasising both the failure of unions to achieve recognition in newly established workplaces and plummeting density where unions remain recognised. The health of unions turns, in part, on their appeal to potential members, so their ''sword of justice'' impact is set out next showing how unions have an egalitarian effect on the distribution of pay, cut accidents and promote both family friendly and equal opportunity policies in the workplace. It is unlikely that employment will grow disproportionately in unionised sectors of the economy. So any revival of unions depends on organising activity among both individuals and firms. The pivotal importance of new recognitions is discussed by analysing three forms of marriage between capital and labour û true love, convenience and shotgun. The paper concludes that a twin track organising strategy would help unions partially reverse their membership losses û signing up new employers but also focusing on the 3 million plus free riders who are covered by collective agreements but not members.

Suggested Citation

  • David Metcalf, 2001. "British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence Revisited," CEP Discussion Papers dp0493, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0493
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sandy, Robert & Elliott, Robert F, 1996. "Unions and Risk: Their Impact on the Level of Compensation for Fatal Risk," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 63(250), pages 291-309, May.
    2. David Metcalf, 1993. "Industrial Relations and Economic Performance," CEP Discussion Papers dp0129, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    3. Metcalf, David, 1991. "British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence?," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 18-32, Spring.
    4. Towers, Brian, 1997. "The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198289463.
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    Cited by:

    1. A Charlwood, 2005. "The De-Collectivisation of Pay Setting in Britain 1990-1998: Incidence, Determinants and Impact," CEP Discussion Papers dp0705, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    2. Vassilis Monastiriotis, 2003. "Union Retreat and Regional Economic Performance: the UK in the 1990s," Urban/Regional 0302006, EconWPA.
    3. John M. Krieg & Charles S. Wassell Jr. & David W. Hedrick & Steven E. Henson, 2013. "Collective Bargaining and Faculty Job Satisfaction," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(3), pages 619-644, July.
    4. A Charlwood, 2003. "The Anatomy of Union Decline in Britain: 1990-1998," CEP Discussion Papers dp0601, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    5. A Charlwood, 2001. "Why Do Non-Union Employees Want To Unionise? Evidence from Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0498, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    6. Vassilis Monastiriotis, 2007. "Union Retreat and Regional Economic Performance: The UK Experience," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(2), pages 143-156.
    7. Charlwood, Andy, 2003. "The anatomy of union decline in Britain: 1990-1998," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20006, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    8. Panagiotopoulos, Miltiadis, 2005. "The Evolution of Trade Unions in Britain," MPRA Paper 4290, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2007.

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