chapter  1
20 Pages

Introduction: Trade Unions Facing the Future

Trade union movements in many countries face uncertain futures. After three decades of extensive economic restructuring at both national and international levels, often accompanied by major legislative reforms, the way forward for unions is unclear. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, in most developed economies, union membership has declined massively and union leaders and their members have lost their former prominence and place in the polity. Taken together, this amounts to a massive reversal of union fortunes and raises questions about the role, and indeed the future, of unions. For example, will trade unions be able to re-establish their past salience in both the bargaining arena and in the polity? Or, given the uncertainties of internationalized economies and states, will the first decade of this new century see further declines in union strength and power? This book examines these and related questions by exploring the background, current roles and prospects of trade unions in six predominantly Englishspeaking countries. We commence with some introductory remarks on the role and context of trade unionism, identify the extent of membership decline and justify our choice of both the comparative method and the range of countries studied.