Union strength grows in UK and Sweden

British worker

Over the last year, union membership in the UK has increased by 91,000, reaching a total of over 200,000 new members since 2017.There has been a surge in affiliations since the start of the pandemic in Britain, although in some other countries unions are suffering due to soaring unemployment.

The biggest change in the UK came from a rise of 170,000 in the number of women workers joining trade unions. There are now more women carrying a union card than at any time since 1995.

With 6.44 million members in both the public and private sectors, unions in the UK have now largely recovered from the loss of 216,000 members in 2016. Just over 23% of workers now belong to a union.

The proportion covered by union collective agreements also rose, and they earn higher pay - 3.6% more in the private sector. “These are very encouraging figures for a movement that, if it were ever in doubt, has restated its importance and relevance over the last few months,” said the TUC. “Unions were at the forefront in protecting jobs and livelihoods and are now leading the way in making sure that workers return to safe workplaces.”

A similar surge has taken place in Sweden, where Unionen received more than three times the average number of applications at the beginning of the corona outbreak: 18,000 in a month compared with 15,000 more members over the whole of last year. LO had four times as many membership applications as the same period last year, and the hotel and restaurant union almost five times more.

Martin Linder, President of Unionen, confirmed that unions have an important role to play in times of crisis. "It is a huge pressure on us. We have to do everything we can to deliver on the enormous demand for union support and union negotiations," he said.

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Read more (Sweden)

Graph: Trade union membership and density 1995 - 2019