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Why Has Trade Union Density Declined In So Many Countries Since The Early 1980s?

2465 words - 10 pages

The purpose of this paper is to look at the explanations behind the decline in trade union density in so many countries. For the purpose of this essay it will mainly focus on members the OECD countries. As well as looking at some countries outside of the OECD nations.
According to the OECD; “Trade Union density corresponds to the ratio of wage and salary earners that are trade union members, divided by the total number of wage and salary earners.” (OECD, 2014) Trade unionism density is also defined as “the proportion of workers who are union members.” (Machin, 2000) .
Why are we interested in the density of Trade Union membership? The density of trade union members – “both ...view middle of the document...

Only a third of the 28 % decline in private sector union recognition between 1980 and 2004 is attributable to changes in workplace characteristics, such as the decline of heavy industry. (Bryson, 2008) One of the key areas that affects OECD countries is the change in manufacturing and other primary industries towards service industries and their use of Human Resources Management (HRM).

The introduction of HRM has had a direct effect on Trade Union Density. HRM work practices in non-unionised work forces such as in the US began to spread in the early 1980’s to Europe and beyond. These practices are now commonplace in the services industry, including performance appraisal, a focus on health and safety, practicing equal opportunities, worker participation as an individual to be part of the company’s culture as well as fair pay and benefits neutralised the need for union representation. Indeed the Trade Unions viewed HRM as “encroachment in to their territory, as well as representing a direct challenge to the traditional structures and procedures” as already established by the Trade Unions (Blyton and Turnbull, 1992)

Competition in the global market can mean that prolonged strike action or other industrial action can see job destroyed or relocated. This fact has not been lost on UK employees. About 20 years ago, according to the CIPD, the percentage of the work force that had not been in a union was 1 in four, which has dramatically fallen to 1 in 2 today. Younger people and those in highly skilled jobs are unlikely to belong to trade unions, many saying that they don’t see the point, or relevance. Employers themselves have generally adopted a pragmatic attitude to trade unions, with no large-scale de-recognition and little or none of the aggressive anti-union activities adopted by some employers in the United States.
In the USA the decline in trade union density decline stems further back to the immediate post war period and the introduction of the Taft-Hartley act, which deliberately targeted union practices that were deemed as not being good for business, such as the closed shop and union hiring halls that discriminated against non-union members.” (Wagner, 2002) Also in the USA some companies have an openly hostile attitude to Unions, two examples are McDonald’s and WalMart; McDonald’s has a long and well publicised history of litigation and anti-union activity. WalMart with their Manger’s Tool Box to remaining Union Free is a concerted effort to prevent unions entering their work places. (Wal Mart, n.d.) Also in America the continued contraction of Union density in the private sector appears to be affected by union activity on wages. “The substantial wage premia associated with unions in the US, which have exceeded those of unions overseas, is likely to have driven employer opposition.” (Blanchflower, 1996)

In Germany where the overall decline in Union numbers has coincided with the reunification of Germany. The Confederation of German...

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