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Trade unions and economic inequality

Hard copies of this publication are available at a discount rate from the Institute of Employment Rights here

This accessible pamphlet by leading academics Lydia Hayes and Tonia Novitz looks in depth at the role of trade unions in the economy and the link between strong trade unionism and more equal societies.

Despite the consistent public popularity of trade unions, this pamphlet highlights how trade union membership has declined and the number of workers who currently have their terms and conditions of work negotiated by a trade union has fallen dramatically. This decline has been shaped by trade union laws which inhibit trade union recruitment, activity and collective bargaining.

The result has been a dramatic increase in levels of economic inequality, reflected in the fact that income differences between top earners and those on the lowest wages are now higher than at any time since records began. The UK now ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the developed world and, according to the authors, current levels of inequality have far exceeded the point at which inequality is proven to be socially corrosive.

Through reviewing the evidence, the authors find that collective bargaining by robust trade unions is an essential aspect of achieving greater economic equality.  According to the report, as reflected in many of the statistics and graphs provided, there is an historic link between strong trade unionism and more equal societies. In addition, the public policy influence of trade unions promotes the delivery of public services such as education, healthcare, housing support, pensions and social security for all working people.

In an effort to re-boost the role of trade unions in society, the authors conclude with a 6 point policy programme aimed at ensuring that trade unions are once again at the heart of economic, social and industrial policy in the UK.