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CEP discussion paper

The Anatomy of Union Decline in Britain: 1990-1998


To what extent can the decline in British trade union density between 1990 and 1998 be attributed to declining opportunities to unionize compared to declining propensity to unionize among workers with the opportunity to do so and to compositional change? This question is answered using data to from both workplaces (from 1990 and 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Surveys) and individuals (fro m the British Household Panel Survey). Results show that both falling opportunities and falling propensities to unionize accounted for membership decline during this period. Membership fell because unions lacked the power to maintain bargaining relationships with management, to organize new workplaces, or to uphold the ¿social custom¿ of union membership among new workers who took union jobs. However, there was little evidence that declining union membership was the result of a change in employee attitudes towards unions.


A Charlwood

December 2003     Paper Number CEPDP0601

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This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.