We recently offered this new analysis to a Unions21 conference on ‘the future of unions’. It sets out what recent falls in membership imply for the strength of the union movement in 2030.
We know, to put it simply, that today’s younger workers aren’t signing up in anything like the necessary numbers to replace older workers leaving the labour movement as they retire. So the analysis poses a simple thought experiment: what would have to happen to levels of unionisation among the young just to maintain today’s overall level of membership (given, that is, our projections for the loss of older workers). The answer is a stark one. Just to stand still we’d need to see an 80% rise (from 14% to 26%) in membership among the under 35s by 2030. We’re not aware of a union with a plan for achieving this (but stand to be corrected).
The analysis also summaries our more recent projections on trends in union membership, including a look ahead to what we expect the (soon to be published) official statistics on union membership in 2017 will say.
And here there are some chinks of light. Membership figures over the last year may have grown very slightly (in contrast to last year’s massive fall of 250,000). And, we also point out that private sector union membership among under 25s has at least stopped falling since 2010 (though it is stuck at a very low level). But these rays of hope are somewhat overshadowed by the forecast.
For those who want to see a vibrant and growing set of pro-worker institutions — particularly supporting those in insecure, low-paying employment — these projections are a stark reminder about just how much work needs to be done.