As the most up-to-date figures on trade union membership in the UK show (below), collective employment representation in the private sector appears to be in terminal decline:
"There is a stark contrast between the private and public sectors, with only 17.2 per cent trade union membership in the private sector compared with 58.8 per cent in the public sector. The percentage of union membership in the workforce has fallen in both, although the number of members has risen in the public sector, reflecting employment growth there."
However, why is there such disparity? How can unions continue to do well in the public sector and not so in the private sector?
Well, despite having the apparently union-friendly Employment Relations Act 1999 to assist unions, their main problem is outlined succinctly in an article called Collectivism fails to find favour by David Bradley, writing on behalf of People Management. The main problem is said to be:
"Where a new relationship is required, unions have to convince both the employer and the employees of the benefits of a formal collective relationship before new recognition deals can be struck and membership increased. "
In other words, it is management attitude to trade unions that is dictating attitudes to collectivism, i.e. where it is on offer the majority sign up for it and in the rest of the cases employees don't get much of a choice. Funny how this doesn't a mention when employer and employer groups make statements about trade unions being irrelevant in today's business climate.