Last week the STUC hosted an event on strike-ready unions. It was an energising day hearing from union organisers about how they are taking industrial action and winning.
From the inspirational Bifab ‘work-in’ led by GMB and Unite workers; to CWU’s threshold defying ballot for strike action; the EIS FELA college dispute; PCS’s consultative ballot; and the recent UCU strike, it seems workers are increasingly willing to stand up, fight for their rights and withdraw their labour.
The link between trade union membership, collective bargaining and inequality is well-established. However it is not simply through having high membership levels and collective bargaining coverage that unions reduce inequality. The reality is that without the threat of strike action, workers power is limited. So while we need high density unions, we also need active, high participation unions.
The table above shows that as the number of strikes has fallen, the Gini coefficient has increased. This doesn’t mean that in order to reduce inequality all unions should go out on strike. Indeed, low membership levels are inherently linked to declining industrial action. However, it does suggest that it is important for unions to think about how they effectively organise large numbers of workers to be able to take industrial action in the workplace, rather than simply a servicing offer for workers.