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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Rebuilding the trade unions

When you mention trade unions to Joe public you’re either met with abuse or complete bemusement. Far fewer people are part of a union these days and we have to ask why. Of course the deindustrialisation played its part with far less manual labour jobs being about the highest density of union membership is in the public sector where you’re in the minority if you’re not in a union. It’s interesting to find out why this is. I think a lot of peoples jobs now are not seen as jobs for life and quite often you’re in and out of a job so joining a union even if you knew about what union is for you may not join simply as you don’t have the time or the funds to do so. I think unions must change and look to reach out to these workers. But as socialists I do think we could be doing more too. Instead of calling for 24 hour general strikes which may be the right thing at some point but doesn’t look likely anytime soon with the current leadership of our unions. I’d suggest focusing on rebuilding the trade union movement from the bottom up. For example we could be on the work gates at the start and end of the working day looking to recruit to the union explaining the benefits and that we are stronger together. This will not only boost the union membership but will also show we ourselves are serious about rebuilding the unions too. If we are actively getting involved in recruiting instead of raising slogans like a 24 hour general strike when some workers are not even involved in a union it’s difficult to link the two together. It’s quite a jump for some workers new to the movement. Not that many don’t want to fight back but we must be patient with some who may be coming into unions for the first time. I don’t see why we cannot have a due pronged attack with a rank and file level trying to raise the agitating and propaganda at a bottom up level and also having that appeal putting demands on the union leadership to struggle to improve things for the members. A 24 hour general strike with further action is totally necessary but the more I hear the slogan I do wonder if it’s being pitched in the right way. Are we explaining what we men when we say it? I think many are scared off by the slogan in some ways as they automatically think of a all out general strike which the last one in 1926 led to a huge defeat so workers are naturally wary of such terms. I think we must be explicit in explaining what we mean and what generalising all the fight backs would mean for the struggle we face. I do think we need a new rank and file movement the NSSN which we participate within is good but is not a proper rank and file body. It does support rank and file workers don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t at this point have representation in all unions with a commanding influence as yet. Workers do not see the NSSN as a genuie rank and file movement as yet maybe they will but certainly it’s a factor in the movement but not yet a decisive one. So far its been used by the socialist party and other leading union officials to put pressuer on the TUC. This can be one role of a organisation like the NSSN but it could also be building ral links in the bodies of theseunions generalising struggle linking disputes together and lending solidarity. In this day and age of workers being divided it must be for bodies like the NSSN to draw workers closer together from different sectors and try to destroy barriers tat are put up to divide us and look for common struggles to link workers together. Solidarity is key here too. Of course having a union which fights for you is member lead and does what it’s supposed to will have better success in recruiting to its union but even not so good unions can still recruit. Even during a time when most unions have abandoned the idea of struggle and some have even a no strike agreement with the labour party to save them any embarrassment before the next general election some unions have still seen a growth in membership. I know Unison has had a recruitment drive with television adverts and a big push in the media too which has given them a boost. Every so often this is necessary even for a right wing lead union like unison as the bureaucracy at the top fears a declining membership for its own selfish reasons as the members pay their highly inflated salaries so a falling membership is in their interests even if just to cement their own comfy positions at the top. There is positive news though out last week. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [BIS] says union membership in the private sector increased by 63,000 in 2012 to 2.6m, after falling sharply – by 450,000 – between 2007 and 2010. The proportion of female employees who were in a trade union was around 29% in 2012, compared with 23% for male employees. This marks a significant gender shift. In 1995, 35% of male workers were union members and 30% of female workers were in a trade union. The annual BIS report says in total around 6.5m people were trade union members in 2012, which is up by 59,000 from 2011. According to the report, the proportion of employees who were trade union members was highest among Black or Black British ethnic groups at 28% in 2012, compared with 26% for all employees. Officials say the rise in trade union membership follows four consecutive annual falls in membership of more than 100,000 following a period of broad stability between 1995 and 2007. The report also notes that the economic downturn has had an uneven effect on membership. The BIS says union membership levels have kept pace with an overall increase in the numbers of UK employees between 2011 and 2012, because the number of private sector employees who were members increased faster than the numbers who were non-members. Union members continue to enjoy a wage “premium”, according to the BIS. Of every £10,000 earned by a non-union member in the public sector, on average a union member earned around £1,690 more in 2012 and an additional £430 in the private sector. In the public sector, union membership levels were broadly stable in 2012, after falling sharply by 186,000 in 2011. A long-term decline in private sector membership had been blamed on the loss of jobs and union members in the UK manufacturing industry, where membership is now around one third of the level in the mid 1990s. In addition, around 0.5m members have gone from the construction, finance, transportation and storage industries. Historically, large proportions of workers in these sectors had been union members. The report also notes that the average age of union members is rising. About 36% of trade union member employees were aged over 50 in 2012, compared with 22% in 1995. People working in professional occupations were more likely to be trade union members last year than employees in other occupations. The BIS says employees in the professional occupations account for 49% of all union members, although only for 20% of all employees in the UK worked in this sector. With reference to union news Uk and the office for national statistics

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