Raising Lazarus: the future of organised Labour

David Coats


Coats argues that the unions have a vital role to play in the labour market, but must reform to reverse their declining fortunes. While support remains high for collective action, unions must alter their rhetoric and widen their appeal to respond to the realities of the new economy.

Why has union membership halved in a generation? Why do union leaders and a Labour government seem to talk different languages about the workplace? Do the unions even matter anymore?

Most people believe the trade unions, like Lazarus, need a miracle to come back to life. David Coats disagrees. He shows that the unions remain the masters of their own fate but must respond to the challenges of the new ‘hourglass economy’—with more jobs at the top and bottom end of the labour market and a hollowing out in the middle.

There are reasons for optimism about union renewal. Workers retain a strong support for the idea of collective action and solidarity—but are put off if unions don’t seem to offer to help them to ‘get on’ rather than ‘get even’. Several small and larger unions have found strategies for growth and renewal.

Reversing union decline matters in politics too. The link between the Labour Party and the trade unions can be strengthened only through union renewal —ensuring that strong, growing unions are an important force for progressive social change.

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