TRADE unionists from across Greater Manchester gathered in Bolton on 5 November to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Bolton and District Trades Council.

The event included marches, speeches, debates, and an appearance by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

Celebratory Cake. Credit: Andrew Sproat

On the day, one of the major points of discussion was what the future held for the trade union movement, in the North West, and across the UK, given the declining number of trade union members.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in 2015 there were 6.5m workers in trade unions, compared to 13m in 1979.

David Evans, of Unite the union, has pointed to the changing nature of the workplace, and the advancement of technology, as one of the factors in this trend.

In the case of car manufacturing, Mr Evans said: “Once upon a time there were dozens and dozens of workers on an assembly line, assembling cars.

Lively Debate. Credit: Andrew Sproat

“Now that work is done by robots.”

Mr Evans also mentioned the effect technology is having on office work, saying: “In the office environment, where you may have had a pool of typists, and they could have organised in a systematic way, you’ve now got maybe one ‘typist’ for four or five people, because of the advent of technology.”

Another issue affecting trade unions is de-industrialisation. With the decline of tradition, industrial workforces, such as miners, steel workers, and dock-workers, the trade unions have lost a large portion of their membership base.

On this subject, Bernadette Gallagher, secretary of Bolton Unison, said: “Previously, manufacturing industry was a closed shop, with highly unionised workplaces.

“They are now in the private sector, where something like 14% of workers are in a trade union.”

The trade union movement continues to thrive in the public sector, with 54.8% of workers in the public sector being members of unions, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.


However, Ms Gallagher has not given-up on trade unions growing their memberships in the private sector, saying: “With the commitment and the will, you can adapt and organise within other sectors.”

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