A new dawn for unions, or just business as usual?

Today you will have come to work as normal, sat down at your desk, drunk your cup of tea and opened your e-mails like you have done thousands of times before. You may have even rushed to open your weekly copy of Personnel Today.

Everything seems normal, the Earth hasn’t stopped spinning and your workplace looks and feels the same. But if you were to believe trade union propaganda, today (1 May) marks the dawn of a new era for the labour movement in the UK – and a black day for employers.

The language used by the leaders of the new ‘super-union’ is, at the very least, bullish. The new union will be “a progressive, organising, fighting-back industrial giant” and the “greatest campaigning force on behalf of ordinary people that has ever existed”.

The numbers are undoubtedly impressive: two million members, an annual income of £150m, with an eventual £15m spent on organising.

But the union chiefs really should not be getting too carried away.

Let’s take a look at some alternative numbers. In the ballot to approve the creation of the new union, the Transport and General Workers’ Union gave the go-ahead by 86.4% for merger and Amicus members voted 70.1% for merger. So far so impressive. Yet both unions achieved a less than impressive 27% turnout overall. So, in effect, less than a quarter of members actually approved the merger.

Hardly a resounding vote of confidence.

This is because the merger comes from a position of weakness, not strength. Official figures released last month showed union membership is steadily declining in the private sector. And the TUC is now targeting employers, not workers, in a bid to reverse the trend – a clear acceptance of the reality of the situation.

So it will be some time, if at all, before employers feel the force of the super-union.Look beyond the rhetoric and it seems it will just be a case of business as usual.

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