Source: Needle (2004, p. 138)Table 2: Density of trade union membership among employees in Britain: 1989 – 2009 Membership density (% of employees)Average annual change (percentage change)19891998200320091989-19981998-20032003-2009All38.627.929.127.0-1.0-0.1-0.3Male*40.230.928.925.0-1.6-0.4-0.7Female *32.028.329.329.1-0.60.20.0Private sector**23.929.927.924.6-1.5-0.3-0.6Public sector*126.96.36.1996.3-0.8-0.2-0.5Manual43.129.927.924.6-1.5-0.3-0.6Non-manual35.329.829.928.4-0.60.0-0.3Age less than 3029.716.615.014.3-1.5-0.3-0.1Aged 30 – 4943.535.033.429.5-0.9-0.3-0.7Aged 50+43.934.435.034.5-1.10.1-0.1Notes: * series starts in 1992 rather instead of 1989, ** series starts in 1993Source: Bryson and Forth (2010, p. 4), originally from Achur (2010)Various reasons are attributed trade union membership decline. First is the composition of workforce and jobs whereby, if employment declines in traditional areas of high union membership, then total union membership declines (Gennard & Judge 2005, p.
159). For instance, according Schifferes (2004), UK labour unions were traditionally strongest in the old manufacturing industries such as coal, steel, engineering and the docks. However, by the 1970s these industries were on the decline and the recession experienced in the 1980s speeded up their demise, meaning that with this, many trade unions collapsed. The second reason is the business cycle, where it is noted that union membership increases at times of low and/or failing unemployment. Third is the role of the state as the government can influence membership directly through laws on recognition, and indirectly by creating the atmosphere in which issues that pertain to employees and the management are discussed.
Another point is about the role of employers as it is argued that employers have become hostile to unions. As well, many employees have become hesitant to join unions because of the reduction in the wage premium associated with joining unions. Last but not least, the role of unions themselves has been questioned since labour has moved from adversarial industrial relations towards greater collaborate between employers and employees in organisations (Gennard & Judge 2005, p.
159). Perspectives to explain the decline Unitary perspective Traditionally, employers have especially adopted a unitarist approach to the labour relationship (Bendix 2000, p. 20). Unitarism implies that the organisation is a cohesive entity in which all should work together to achieve a common goal. As such, there should be no real conflict of interest between employees and employers. Since it is perceived that there is no rift, there should be no power play between employers and employees.
Consequently, trade unions are regarded unnecessary. In fact, from this point of view, trade unions are often seen as troublemakers who cause gratuitous conflict between employers and their subjects (Bendix 2000, p. 20). Pluralist perspective Pluralism is premised on the conviction that democracy is best achieved by allowing free interaction between competing groups. This view accepts the existence of conflict but assumes that if the groups involved in conflict have more or less equal power, some form of compromise can be attained between them. The pluralist approach even accepts and encourages the formation of trade unions as competing groups to employers (Bendix 2000, p.
20). It is perhaps because of this point that Wachter (2007, p. 23) asserts that “unions are central to a corporatist regime”, meaning that organisations that promote corporatism are likely to promote the formation of trade unions. Radical perspective The radical perspective is rooted in the Marxist ideology which views the working class as continually exploited by the capitalists who own the means of production (Bendix 2000, p. 20). From this standpoint, there can be no acceptable accommodation or conciliation between capital and labour.
Accordingly, conflict is endemic within this system and is not resolved by negotiation between employers and unions. Therefore, for radicals, the role of trade unions is to challenge management power and to defend the interests of workers (Rowley & Jackson 2010, p. 86).