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The changing role of Trade unions in the UK: Focus on Unite the Union

| March 12, 2015

Unite the Union, often referred to as Unite, is a British and Irish trade union with approximately 1.5 million members in diverse workplaces. Established in 2007 as a result of a merger between Amicus and Transport & General Workers Union (T&G), it was formed with the prospect of solving predicaments faced by employees in the European labour market (Unite the Union 2012). The primary motivation for the two unions to emerge together was to create one of the largest and strongest trade unions in Europe. Their goal was to strengthen their bargaining power with employers in order to achieve common objectives such as better working conditions, job security, adequate wages, unfair dismissal, provision for better training facilities, higher maternity and paternity leaves, better compensation in case of injury and reduce unequal employer opportunities.
(Wood 2002)
Organizational Structure
Unite’s structure is one in which members are encouraged to become involved and have their say. It is structured as an open and democratic organization where members have complete freedom to express their concerns associated with their workplace. Unite the Union aims at having a larger member force through which they can increase their bargaining power and thus establish a fairer society. This would prove as an advantage for the long run for Unite as recent studies claim that future trends show diminishing membership rates among unions because of bureaucratic barriers and policies (Gospel and Wood, 2003).
Members of Unite are given the option to bring forward workplace concerns and issues through the policy-making mechanisms present in each industrial sector. Unite also provides the opportunity for its members to raise concerns through conferences that are held for each industry sector every year. This is to ensure that the organization receives important input from its members and campaign for the rights or concerns that are relevant for its members. The decisions made in the industrial conferences are moved forward for debate in the organizations national conference that is held every two years. Through this method, Unite ensures that its members get a chance to actively participate and involved to help shape the union’s actions. (Wood 2002)
Mission of Unite the Union
Unite aims to build a society that provides mutual benefits for both the employees and the employers, and by doing so hopes to enhance the success of the economy. Unite the Union continuously works towards attracting more employees by its open-door policy and engaging them effectively into the decision making process. This ensures that the union becomes stronger through its sound membership and convincing powers to amplify their voice. (Metcalf 2001)
Objectives of Unite the Union
The organization wishes to expand its services to individuals beyond the UK and Ireland and broaden their mission globally (Metcalf 2003a). Currently, Unite operates in many various countries in Europe and has succeeded in establishing the highest number of European Works Councils as compared to other unions. The greatest milestone achieved by Unite is the foundation of Worker’s Uniting in collaboration with United Steal Workers (USW) (Pencavel 2003).Worker’s uniting is a new international trade union, comprising of more than three million workers from different parts of the world, who work in various sectors of the economy. In alliance with Unite, USW fight towards human right issues for labourers around the globe, and campaign against unethical work standards and concerns in developing countries such as Bangladesh (i.e. child workers) and China (i.e. sweatshops) (Gospel 2003).Moreover, Unite the Union aims to create a single and powerful, global trade union that will create a solitary platform for labourers belonging to different economies (i.e. Workers Uniting – an alliance union working under Unite). In order to achieve such an objective, Unite is extending a hand to other various trade unions in various other countries, helping them with resources and policy-making in order to one day unite all trade unions together. (Metcalf 2003b, 2003c)

Therefore, Unite the Union does not restrict its operations towards the protection of its own members, but extends its services towards the protection of rights and interests of workers around the globe. There are certain objectives set by Unite the Union that will eventually overcome certain trade union related obstacles surfacing and strengthen the power of the organization in terms of memberships. Ebbinghaus and Visser (2000) indicate in their study that a trend towards de-unionisation is set to occur due to the privatisation of industries, which will pose difficulties in recruiting members. However, through the organisations open-door policy, it is effectively retaining its members and providing them added benefits for joining the union (i.e. lower insurances, healthy benefits, etc) (Metcalf 2001). Another prominent future trend in trade unions is initiation of recruiting female members in trade unions. Unite hopes to conceptualize on this by campaigning against equal rights for women (Charlwood 2002). Also, another growing concern for the trade union movement is the absence of young members. Young individuals are reluctant to join unions for two main reasons, most are unemployed in the contemporary marketplace and because the see trade unions as something primitive, offering no benefits for their needs. Unite hopes to mobilize on young members by investing heavily in promoting education and training for its members. Through its alliance groups, such as First Worker’s Association (FWA) that provide education and training for its members by operating a number of training colleges and centres, Unite hopes to retain the attention of young members and attain their interest in memberships. (Arulampalam 2000)
To conclude, Unite the Union claims that the creation of FWA and Workers Uniting is only a stepping stone for their future endeavours to overcome trade union barriers. They have more powerful and stronger international union formation plans in the pipeline, which once formed will achieve more goals globally with a wider worldwide impact. (Diamond 2003)


Arulampalam, W. and Booth, A.L. (2000) ‘Union Status of Young Men in Britain: A Decade of Change’, Journal of Applied Econometrics, 15 (3): 289-310.

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Diamond, W. and Freeman, R. (2003) ‘Young Workers and Trade Unions’, in H. Gospel and S.J. Wood (eds) Representing Workers: Trade Union Recognition and Membership in Britain, London: Routledge, forthcoming

Gospel, H. and Wood, S., (2003) Representing Workers: Trade Union Representation and Membership in Britain, London: Routledge.

Metcalf, D. (2003a) ‘Trade Unions’, in P. Gregg and J. Wadsworth (eds) State of Working Britain, London: Macmillan.

Metcalf, D. (2003b) ‘Unions and Productivity, Financial Performance and Investment: International Evidence’, in J. Addison and C. Schnabel (eds) International Handbook of Trade Unions, Edward Elgar.

Metcalf, D., Hansen, K. and Charlwood, A. (2001c) ‘Unions and the Sword of Justice: Unions and Pay Systems, Pay Inequality, Pay Discrimination and Low Pay’, National Institute Economic Review, April 176: 61-75.

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Unite Union Urges ‘no’ vote in Fiscal Compact Referendum. Irish Examiner Available at:
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