‘Never been a more important time’

Union membership is up as people see value in joining

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“It’s never been more important to join a union,” commented TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, reacting to the new office for national statistics (ONS) trade union membership figures – which show a 2019 membership increase of 91,000 new trade union members.

So far this month, the TUC reports that traffic to the it’s Join a Union page is up by more than 500 per cent compared to May 2019.

And the official stats don’t lie. The 91,000 new members brought the total union membership up to 6.44m – a rise for the third consecutive year since 2016.  The proportion of workers who were trade union members increased to 23.5 per cent in 2019, up slightly from a year earlier.

It appears that the rise was driven by the increase in women members, up 170,000 on the year to 3.69m – the highest figure since the records began in 1995.

Trade union membership levels rose by 74,000 on the year among public sector employees to 3.77m, accounting for around 80 per cent of the overall increase in membership levels.

In the private sector there was also a small rise, with 17,000 new members among a total of  2.67m.

The TUC said union membership had increased by 211,000 over the past three years.

“Today’s figures show that union membership was growing before the coronavirus crisis hit,” said Frances O’Grady, “and we know that in the last few months, thousands of workers have been turning to unions to protect their jobs, defend their rights and keep their workplaces safe.”

She continued, “The hard work and dedication of millions of workers has brought us through this crisis. And together – in our unions – we can work our way out of recession.”

But, she added, “Ministers must put workers’ voices at the heart of their strategy, including through a National Recovery Council bringing together unions and employers.”

‘People see the value in unions’

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was also heartened by the increase in new members.

“This continued year on year increase in trade union membership shows that people are seeing the value of unions to protect their jobs and wages and keep them safe at work,” he commented.

“That’s the case never more so than now and Unite alone has put on many thousands of new members since the lockdown.

“Government ministers have rightly acknowledged the key role unions have been playing through the pandemic, and we urge them to continue to recognise our place in national life and our communities by taking up our offer of deploying our army of health and safety reps to get people back to work safely, and giving us a permanent seat for us at the table to ensure we continue to be part of the national conversation about how we build our way out of this health and economic crisis,” he added.

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Compiled by Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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