TUC should reach out to non-union members with new web services

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date: August 29 2001

embargo: 00:01 hours Friday September 7 2001

Attention: industrial, political, business correspondents

The TUC Congress is to be presented with a report recommending the TUC uses the internet to develop new services for people at work who are not members of existing unions.

This is a key conclusion in Reaching the missing millions - the report of the TUC’s Promoting Trade Unionism Task Group - which also sets out a series of recommendations aimed to help existing unions recruit as many as eight million non-members who it identifies as recruitment targets.

The report’s recommendations are based on extensive research including:

  • analysis of official figures showing that despite recent growth in union membership, unions are increasingly concentrated in the public sector and face long term trends in employment - such as the growth of private services and the decline of manufacturing - that work against traditional unions. Young people and graduates are less likely to join unions.
  • a major new poll conducted by the LSE showing that unions are popular among members and non-members alike, but that many have never been asked to join a union. It suggests there are 5 million working in non-union workplaces who would like a union to represent them, and a further 3 million who work in unionised workplaces that unions have not yet recruited.
  • Focus group research showing unions suffer image problems, and that outdated and inaccurate 1970s attitudes about unions are still hindering recruitment efforts. Today’s workforce want ‘modern unions to speak softly and reasonably but carry a big stick’. They often think that unions are a good thing, but for ‘other people’.

But the report says that the TUC itself should consider launching new initiatives to reach three groups that are unlikely to be reached by existing unions:

  • a new web based service and community offering advice, information and a range of paid for services aimed at employees in the non-unionised growth sectors of recent years. The emphasis would be as much about helping people advance at work, as helping them with problems.
  • a new web based service and community, run in conjunction with the National Union of Students, aiming to help college leavers make a successful transition from college to work.
  • a new advice service for people in insecure and casual employment who often face real exploitation but whose workplaces unions find difficult to organise.
  • The report will be presented to this year’s Congress by TUC General Secretary, John Monks, in his key note address (likely to be Tuesday morning Sep 11). The TUC General Council will consider its recommendations at a special session in October.

Commenting on the report, John Monks, said:

'This is a challenging document for the movement. Few other institutions would have the courage to produce this warts and all account of their strengths and weaknesses.

'It has two great strengths. First it provides insights into how existing unions can reach their full membership potential. Secondly it sets out an exciting new set of initiatives that add up to a new model of unionism for the employees we cannot currently reach. It’s as much about getting on, as getting even.'


Key findings and recommendations

  • Union membership currently stands at 7.3 million and has risen for the last two years.
  • Union density stands at 30 per cent of the workforce - 60 per cent in the public sector and 19 per cent in the private sector.
  • The stereotype of union members as full-time blue-collar men is inaccurate. Professional workers are the most unionised group in the workforce and density is the same among white and blue collar workers.
  • Union density is higher in the UK than in Netherlands, Portugal, Australia, Spain, US, Greece and France.
  • Employment will decline in ‘union sectors’ like manufacturing and utilities, and grow in largely non-union business services as well as the public sector.
  • The key reasons for union decline are, most importantly, the failure to organise in new workplaces and secondarily, a fall in employment and membership in existing union workplaces.

The report identifies target audiences for unions:

  • Membership retention - between 500,000 and one million people leave unions every year. While most leave because their job situation changes such as a new employer or retirement 25% leave because of some dissatisfaction with their union.
  • Union workplace infill - 55% of non-union members in unionised workplaces had never been asked to join.
  • Sectoral infill - or workplaces that are similar to already unionised workplaces. Surveys of new recognition agreements suggest that these are the workplaces where unions are getting new voluntary recognition deals.

It also identifies target audiences that existing unions will find hard to reach, so should be targeted by new TUC initiatives:

  • Young people and graduates - young people do join unions in union workplaces, but tend to get jobs in non-union workplaces. Graduates are a particular problem, and the government intends to increase access to higher education.
  • Workers in the ‘new economy’ - business and other private services are largely un-unionised and there are few union traditions in this sector.
  • The ‘vulnerable’ ­ - a significant group in the workforce who are among the most exploited but work in jobs and workplaces that unions find hard to organise.

The report shows that unions suffer from an outdated image. Non-members are worried that unions want to stir up trouble , rather than solve problems. They want help in advancing at work as well as with problems. The consultancy, Butterfield8, engaged by the TUC suggest that the modern union appeal should be based on:

'Subscribing to a union is well worth doing. Unions are your strong defender. They are listened to. They get things done (quietly). And it’s a service. Unions work for you, not the other way round. You pay the union. They service you. They don’t envelop you. We can do this because we understand today’s working people.'

The TUC should consider launching the three initiatives to reach the target groups that unions cannot easily now recruit outlined above.

Notes to Editors:

Copies of the report are available from the TUC.

All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Please include in any story:

Reaching the Missing Millions is available for £5 from TUC publications 0207 467 1294 or you can read it online here


Media enquiries: Stephanie Power on 020 7467 1248 or 07699 744115 (pager) or email spowertuc.org.uk

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