Union membership in the UK increased last year for the first time in a decade, according to a recent statistical bulletin from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Membership is up by 59,000 to a total of 6.5 million.
For all the negative propaganda and spin they get in the Tory press, and for all that the heavily mythologised version of 1970’s industrial unrest is the foundation of thirty years of mainstream political consensus, indeed for all that union leaders may seem ineffective sell-outs to the political establishment; trade unions still represent the best collective bargaining structure for ordinary working people.
The median wage has been declining in value for thirty years. Employment conditions have also declined massively. Where once there were jobs-for-life and no involuntary redundancies, now there are zero-hour contracts and “self-employment” freelance scams. At the very least, union membership is an insurance policy. It is the simplest of steps towards rebalancing the power relationship between employer and employee – a relationship currently skewed massively in favour of the former.
This trend of increasing membership is a positive one. While I would rather it hadn’t just arisen out of worsening economic conditions, it is welcome nonetheless.
 – Unjust Rewards – Polly Toynbee & David Walker, 2008. Grant Books.