Unions are too vital to democracy to be allowed to gentrify and die

Kenan Malik in The Guardian:

Two reports last week exposed both the changing character of the labour market and the degree to which the power of the organised working class has eroded.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that there were just 79 strikes (or, more specifically, stoppages) last year, the lowest figure since records began in 1891. Just 33,000 workers were involved in labour disputes, the lowest number since 1893. Victorian conditions have returned in more ways than one.

It’s not just the number of strikes that has fallen. Trade union membership has too. The latest figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show that just 23.2% of employees were unionised in 2017, a half that of the late 1970s.

The fall has been greatest among the young. The proportion of union members under 50 has fallen over the past 20 years, while that above 50 has increased.

Strikingly, too, unions have increasingly become clubs for professionals. One in five employees works in professional jobs, but they make up almost 40% of union members. These days, you are twice as likely to be unionised if you have a degree than if you have no qualifications. It’s a far cry from the old image of the trade unionist as an industrial worker. Unions have not just shrunk – their very character has changed. Like politics, trade unionism has become more professional and technocratic.

More here.