• Analysis: Voices from the movement: What can the Trade Union Act (2016) tell us about trade union organising?

      Porter, F.; Blakey, Heather; Chater, M.; Chesters, Graeme S.; Hannam, M.; Manborde, I. (2017)
      Introduction It is easy to think of the Trade Union Act (2016) as ‘Thatcher Round 2’: the economic strategy of austerity once again pits the haves against the have-nots, creating the potential for a re-invigorated trade union movement to return to its economically disruptive habits, which the government seeks to constrict. Thus, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady condemned the Conservatives for ‘refighting the battles of the 1980s’ instead of taking a more constructive approach (O’Grady, 2016). However, while the trade union legislation of the 1980s followed a decade marked by entrenched union disputes, the Trade Union Act (2016) has been introduced against a very different backdrop. The UK currently has historically low levels of industrial action, stagnating levels of union membership and limited areas of union density (DBIS, 2015; Godard, 2011; Dix et al, 2008). Could it be that the Trade Union Act (TUA) has more to tell us about trade union weakness than their strength? The Act comes at an important moment in the history of the labour move- ment. The Conservative austerity agenda not only attacks living standards, but reduces union membership through extensive job losses. The significance of this for the movement is exacerbated because the public sector is the most heavily unionised sector. This matters for many reasons, not least because the movement’s ability to resist the worst excesses of the austerity agenda rests on its membership and strength. This situation in turn shines a spotlight on what is perhaps the most pressing question facing the movement – the need for a model of unionism which can reach beyond the public sector, and in particular which meets the needs of the ever-growing body of precarious workers.