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The Decline In Union Membership Has Helped To Improve Industrial Harmony

2332 words - 9 pages

The Decline in Union Membership has Helped to Improve Industrial Harmony

Assess whether the decline in Union membership has helped to improve
industrial harmony.

From 1979, the British labour market has experienced an era of
de-unionisation that is still occurring at present. In 1979, 53% of
workers were union members (Machin, 2000) and by 2004 only 27% of all
workers were affiliated to a union. In the 10 year period between 1991
and 2001, there has been a fall in membership of 15% (Labour Market
Trends, 2001)

Trade Union Memberships, Britain, 1989-2003

Source: office of national statistics

The historically low figures seem to indicate continually improving
industrial relations in the United Kingdom but these figures are
possibly misleading. Is the sharp decline in union membership and
strikes truly attributed to more peaceful industrial relations of
recent years, or instead, might less positive alternative factors such
as unions being outdated, a lack of union organisation, employer
opposition or restrictive barriers formed by contemporary laws ruin
the notion that striking is the traditional tool used to gauge poor
workplace relations? Withdrawing one’s labour from the market is no
longer the ultimate demonstration of individual discontent. The
association of a union decline with fewer strike occurrences is
possibly not indicative of more peaceful attitudes at work. In fact, a
strike might be seen as a less conventional route to display
disgruntlement at work when many alternative measures can be enforced
that avoid the negative externalities of foregone wages and legal
implications. Employees now hold more bargaining power, where the
Marshallian conditions lie often in their favour. The question to pose
is, is the observed decline in strike activity simply just associated
with an improvement in perceptions of workplace industrial relations
and not it’s’ actual recovery?

Why would a worker belong to a trade union? Trade Union’s use their
collective identity to help individuals receive the best treatment
from their employers; in working conditions, and matters of pay and
entitlements. Unions work for their members to ensure wage mark-ups
are in-line with the changes in the economy and in harmony with
expectations of the workers. A by product of a trade unions work is to
influence a more equitable dispersion of wages in the economy. All the
outlined objectives appear only to be positive, making it questionable
as to why union membership would decline for any reason other than the
opinion that working conditions are good and a union’s interference is
considered unnecessary. In fact, there are several reasons for the
decline in trade union membership that are not directly due to
improved relations at work. The composition of the labour force has

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