Union Response to the Recession – Negotiating for Jobs and Peace

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Joe Dromey is Head of Policy and Research at the IPA

Ahead of the Chancellor speaking at the Economy Session at Conservative Party Conference (1100-1230), Joe Dromey writes on how unions have helped protect jobs during the downturn.


Despite the right wing press warning of growing union militancy, this recession has been notable for the lack of industrial unrest. On average, there have been 734,000 working days lost each year to strike action. That sounds a lot. But it is the lowest rate of any recession on record. During the recession of the 80s, the figure was 4.3million days per year, and in the 70s it was a staggering 9.9million.[i]


There are two very obvious differences between that era and today. First, union membership has fallen from a peak of 13.2million in 1979 to its current level of 7.3million.[ii] Second, unions are acting within a more restrictive environment following the toughening of labour laws during the Thatcher era. But neither of these factors can explain the scale of the change. With days lost to strikes at just 7% of the level of the 70s, something else is at play here.

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