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British Unions in Decline: An Examination of the 1980s Fall in Trade Union Recognition

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  • Richard Disney
  • Amanda Gosling
  • Stephen Machin

Abstract

The authors analyze establishment-level data from the three Workplace Industrial Relations Surveys of 1980, 1984 and 1990 to document and explain the sharp decline in unionization that occurred in Britain over the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1990 the proportion of British establishments which recognised manual or non-manual trade unions for collective bargaining over pay and conditions fell by almost 20 percent (from 0.67 to 0.54). The evidence reported demonstrates the importance of the interaction between the labour market, the product market, employer behaviour and the legislative framework in determining union recognition status in new establishments. The sharp fall in trade union recognition appears to be largely driven by a failure to achieve recognition status in establishments set up in the 1980s. These results, when taken in conjunction with recent changes in the nature of employment in the British labour market, seem to paint a bleak picture for unions and there appears to be no reason why the decline in union activity should not continue into the 1990s.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Disney & Amanda Gosling & Stephen Machin, 1994. "British Unions in Decline: An Examination of the 1980s Fall in Trade Union Recognition," NBER Working Papers 4733, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4733
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Machin, Stephen J & Wadhwani, Sushil, 1991. "The Effects of Unions on Organisational Change and Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 835-854, July.
    2. Richard B. Freeman & Morris M. Kleiner, 1990. "Employer Behavior in the Face of Union Organizing Drives," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 43(4), pages 351-365, July.
    3. Freeman, Richard B, 1986. "The Effect of the Union Wage Differential on Management Opposition and Union Organizing Success," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 92-96, May.
    4. Stewart, Mark B, 1990. "Union Wage Differentials, Product Market Influences and the Division of Rents," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(403), pages 1122-1137, December.
    5. Blanchflower, David G & Oswald, Andrew J & Garrett, Mario D, 1990. "Insider Power in Wage Determination," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 57(226), pages 143-170, May.
    6. David Metcalf, 1993. "Industrial Relations and Economic Performance," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 31(2), pages 255-283, June.
    7. Richard Freeman & Jeffrey Pelletier, 1990. "The Impact of Industrial Relations Legislation on British Union Density," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 28(2), pages 141-164, July.
    8. Paul Smith & Gary Morton, 1993. "Union Exclusion and the Decollectivization of Industrial Relations in Contemporary Britain," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 31(1), pages 97-114, March.
    9. Blanchflower, David G & Millward, Neil & Oswald, Andrew J, 1991. "Unionism and Employment Behaviour," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 815-834, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Machin, Stephen, 1997. "The decline of labour market institutions and the rise in wage inequality in Britain," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(3-5), pages 647-657, April.
    2. Stephen Machin, 2000. "Union Decline in Britain," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 38(4), pages 631-645, December.
    3. Haile, Getinet Astatike, 2012. "Union Decline in Britain: Is Chauvinism Also to Blame?," IZA Discussion Papers 6536, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Blanchflower, David G., 2006. "A Cross-Country Study of Union Membership," IZA Discussion Papers 2016, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J5 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining

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