ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Winter 1962


Henry Collins

Trade Union Facts


From International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962, pp.32-33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Trade Union Membership
Political and Economic Planning. 5s.

This broadsheet forms part of a three year study on Trade Unions in a Changing Society, financed by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. It is impossible to know how the rest of the study will turn out or what the Leverhulme Trustees will regard as value for money. So far there are few surprises.

Since 1948 the unions of manual workers have been static – gains in some, such as engineering and printing, having been offset by losses in others, notably railways and cotton. The increase of half a million in trade union strength has been accounted for by expansion among such non-manual unions as local government, teaching and banking. Since the proportion of non-manual to manual workers is rising here, as in all advanced economies, the unions must look to future expansion largely in the non-manual field.

Industries with a high degree of organisation, such as mining and railways, are in decline, while such growing industries as chemicals and distribution are poorly organised. This trend, together with the relative decline of manual workers in the economy, is unfavourable to the maintenance of even the existing density of trade union organisation. The fact that this presages a barely perceptible rather than a catastrophic decline over the next ten years means that the challenge may very easily be ignored.

An acceleration in the rate of economic growth combined with an increased concentration of capital – possibilities which are outside the author’s frame of reference – could offset the slightly unfavourable tendency derived from existing trends. Nevertheless, no socialist can be satisfied with the present strength of trade union organisation, and the fact that there is no indication of an improvement in the foreseeable future gives cause for concern.

In Britain, previous waves of amalgamation and rationalisation in trade union structure have accompanied and immediately followed the two world wars. A third might remove the need for trade unionism this side of the pearly gates. A revival of industrial militancy, comparable with that in the United States during the 1930s, together with an infusion of socialist consciousness which was notably lacking in the American scene, could inaugurate a new period of advance. Such considerations are also outside the scope of PEP’s broadsheet. Apart from an inexplicable statement (p.195) that the ETU’s membership is ‘largely middle-class’, the facts in the broadsheet seem reliable enough. In its modest way it provides figures and an analysis of trends which, if they confirm what was already known, at least do so with technical competence.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 19 March 2010