DOI link for Union organizing
Union organizing book
In 1998 aggregate trade union membership in Britain increased for the first time in almost twenty years. The rise of 51,000 was followed by a similar increase in 1999 – 46,000 – but heavy job losses in the following years contributed to renewed membership decline and by early 2002 total membership had fallen back below its 1997 level (Certification Office).1 This brief and modest recovery of membership was disappointing for trade unionists themselves but it was surprising for analysts of the union movement. A conventional way of thinking about union membership trends argues they are a function of five factors: the business cycle, workforce composition and the policies of the three main actors we identified in Chapter 1, unions themselves, employers and the state (Metcalf 1991). Both unions and the environment in which they operate have changed significantly in recent years in ways which arguably should have led to a more substantial increase in membership. Unemployment is lower in 2003 than in the 1990s; unions now devote more resources to organizing than in the early-mid-1990s; employer derecognition of unions began to abate from 1992-3 onwards; and the union recognition law came into effect in June 2000 (see Chapter 1). Why then was the recovery of membership in Britain so modest in the period 1998-2002? This is a difficult and complex question which embraces a range of issues, including the limitations of the recognition law identified above, the attitudes and behaviour of employers and the commitment of unions to organizing, to name only a few (Chapter 8 this volume; Gall 2003a, 2003b; Heery et al. 2000a, 2000b, 2003). This chapter explores one part of the answer to that question by examining problems that arose within a number of recent union organizing campaigns. Measured by the number of additional members recruited into the union and retained for a significant period, all three campaigns were fairly unsuccessful. By explaining where these campaigns went wrong from the union standpoint we may be able to enhance our understanding of the limited membership gains of recent years.