Does the Decline in Strike Activity in the Uk over the Last 25 Years Denote Increased Harmony and Cooperation? Critically Examine the Arguments for and Against This Idea

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Date Submitted: 06/19/2011 01:50 PM

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The purpose of this essay is to examine some recent explanations of the decline in trade union density in Britain in the 1980s and see if this decline denotes increased harmony and cooperation in the UK over the last 25 years.

The UK trade union movement seemed at the height of its power in the 1970s bringing down government and recruiting union members in their millions. However, after 1979 nowhere in Western Europe saw a sharper decline in unionisation than the UK, where trade unions were confronted by an intense neo-liberal attack after the election of the conservative party in the same year. The twenty-year period between 1979 and 1999 saw the longest stint of decline in union membership falling from 66% in 1979 to just 36% in 1999.

Existing theories of macroeconomic conditions, the changing composition of employment and changes in labour legislation have been largely successful in explaining these trends over time. It is argued that no one explanation of union decline is successful in establishing what caused the downward trend in strike activity, but several factors played a part in the decline. For example, many think that union membership decline is caused by shifts in unemployment, prices and wages thus affecting strike activity. While others think that the shift away from manufacturing to private sector services worked against trade union organisations causing union weakness, and thirdly some others say it might have been legislation somewhat shaping the character of strikes rather than directly effecting strike activity itself. However, no matter the different views, these factors influencing the level of union membership may well have had different degrees of importance in different periods.

Before going on, however, it is pertinent to define the term strike. Strike is defined as a temporary stoppage of work by a group of employers in order to express a grievance or enforce a demand from an employer or management. Between 1950 and 1980, labour...