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The Surprising Retreat of Union Britain

  • John 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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w9564.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9564.

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Date of creation: Mar 2003
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Publication status: published as Card, David, Richard Blundell, and Richard B. Freeman (eds.) Seeking a premier economy: The economic effects of British economic reforms, 1980-2000 NBER Comparative Labor Markets Series. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9564
Note: LS
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  1. Towers, Brian, 1997. "The Representation Gap: Change and Reform in the British and American Workplace," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198289463, March.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Stephen Machin, 2000. "Union decline in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20191, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  5. Stewart, Mark B, 1986. "Collective Bargaining Arrangements Closed Shops and Relative Pay," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 273, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  6. 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.
  7. R Disney & A Gosling & Stephen Machin, 1993. "What has Happened to Union Recognition in Britain?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0130, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  8. Metcalf, David, 1991. "British Unions: Dissolution or Resurgence?," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 18-32, Spring.
  9. 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.
  10. repec:sae:niesru:v:97:y:1981:i:1:p:83-83 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. Machin, Stephen & Stewart, Mark, 1996. "Trade Unions and Financial Performance," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 48(2), pages 213-41, April.
  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. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. David Metcalf, 1999. "The British National Minimum Wage," CEP Discussion Papers dp0419, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  19. 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.
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