The state of membership in the private sector, as revealed in the latest Trade Union membership statistics released earlier this year demands a new and innovative approach to how unions reach out to the majority of workers who aren’t in a union.
There’s a feeling that says unionised sectors of the economy can’t remain islands of decent pay and conditions in a sea of declining standards. If we wanted proof that this is true then we need only look at the way in which the paucity of decent occupational pension schemes in the overwhelmingly non-unionised private sector has been used to undermine public service pension provision.
The scale of this challenge is significant. Density in the private sector is now just 14% – barely 1 in 7 private sector workers now belong to a union. Unions are present in less than a third of private sector workplaces and less than one fifth of private sector employees are covered by collective agreements. Since 2000 density in the private sector has fallen by 3.7% and membership by 840,000. And since the late 90s the number of workers who have never been members of a union has steady increased. Now, over half of all employees have never been in a union and in the private sector, three fifths of employees have never held a union card.
This is not to dismiss the efforts made by a number of unions in attempting to organise in the private sector but we have to be realistic and accept that the scale of the challenges means that we aren’t going to organise every workplace in the traditional way in enough time (the average size of a bargaining unit as reported by the CAC in 2010 was just 87 almost half the figure recorded in 2006).
Some may say that workers know where we are if they want to join us but the fact is that actually lots of workers don’t even know WHAT we are let alone WHERE we are.
In these tough times of a economic downturn a union will be what many workers of the past would instantly turn to. With the role of trade unions being pushed to the back burner for a good while many workers are unclear what joining a union can do for them. We need to change this perception and get ou and explain the benifits of being within a union.
The steady decline in private sector unionisation has lead to the government feeling they can get away with pitching public sector workers who have always traditionally been better organised into unions against the private sector workers who are very poorly represented by theunions.
This i feel is mainly down to the fact that trade unions in the private sector have been hammered over the years with very few success's. It is very hard to stand up in a workplace and speak out against compulsory redundancies. To take a lead on a issue and organise workers is harder than ever with us all leading very individual lives we see our pay as a matter of embarrassment and something which still should not be spoke of. In Britain we still feel shame in saying how much we earn. But being open about this we would realise what other workers around us are earning and that we are not all as well off as we were lead to believe.
We need to unite and uniting private and public sector unions is a must. Last wednesday on November the 30th i noticed a number of private sector workers taking the day off in support of their comrades in the public sector. This needs to grow and improve.
Organising in the private sector isnt easy and i dont claim to have all the answers but a debate certainly needs to be held there and where a union can become recognised and provide a fighting programme it will naturally attract workers.
As the old saying goes people are drawn to a union that has a fighting tradition. Hense why the PCS and the NUT have increased their membership this year by backing strikes and being honest to their members and backing their demands. A similar programme in the private sector where if a union rep stands up to fight and take on the boss's the trade union backs him or her up all the way. Workers must feel that they can be supported and trusted to take on the boss's and support if needed will be forthcoming.
There’s evidence showing that we can find a way of making union membership more easily available to the millions who don’t currently have it, there’s a receptive audience waiting to hear from us. Polling work for the TUC has shown that unions retain broad support from the British public – with 60% of the public agreeing that ‘unions provide vital protection for many groups of workers’ and in 2005 over 40% of workers in non-unionised workplaces said that if asked they would be likely to join a union.
A continued decline in membership and density in the private sector, particularly should it fall below 10%, will not only give our enemies a reason to question our legitimacy as voice for working people in the private sector, where most people in the UK work, but will increase the pressure on the terms and conditions of workers in unionised sectors of the economy. It’s in the long term interests of both unions and workers this is not allowed to happen.
extracts taken from stronger unions and on behalf of the TUC