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Union membership rises for third year running to 6.4 million

Published date
Female membership now highest since 1995.
Graph: Trade union membership and density 1995 - 2019
Graph: Trade union membership and density 1995 - 2019

Over the last year union membership increased by 91,000 - meaning union membership has increased by over 200,000 since 2017.

This year’s increase was driven by an incredible rise in union membership amongst women workers, of 170,000. There are now more women carrying a union card than at any time since 1995. There are now 6.44 million union members in the UK. It means that unions have now largely recovered from the significant drop in membership of 216,000 in the year to 2016.

Union membership increased in both the public and private sector by 74,000 and 17,000 respectively and the proportion of all workers who are union members increased to 23.5 per cent.

The proportion of workers covered by union collective agreements increased and these workers continue to be better paid than workers who aren't. Over the year this union wage premium increased in the private sector to 3.6 per cent.

Graph: increase in membership in both private sector and public sector
Graph: increase in membership in both private sector and public sector

This increase in membership confirms evidence from several TUC affiliate unions, particularly those representing workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, of a surge in membership since the start of the pandemic.

These are very encouraging figures for a movement that, if it were ever in doubt, has restated its importance and relevance over the last few months. Unions were at the forefront in protecting jobs and livelihoods by persuading the Government to introduce the Job Protection Scheme and are now leading the way in making sure that workers return to safe workplaces.

They should also give unions, their members and activists, confidence in addressing the challenges that remain. Still too high a proportion of union members are in the public sector when most people are employed in private sector jobs and too many union members are near the end than the beginning of their working lives. Whilst less than one quarter of current union members are aged under 34, more than 40 per cent are aged 50 and over.

For today, trade union members should take pride that our movement continues to grow, now in numbers as well as importance and relevance to the lives of millions of working people.

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