Study examines developments in union membership, 1980-96

Download article in original language : IT9803224FIT.DOC

The latest data available on the membership of Italy's main three trade union confederations show a slight increase in 1995 and 1996, after a period of decrease. This positive trend, however, is due to enrolments of retired workers, while membership among active workers is still diminishing, though at a slower rate than in recent years.

This article discusses data that are analysed at greater length in a chapter on membership of the Italian trade union confederations in the 1995-6 period - "Sindacalizzazione", L Codara, in "Le relazioni sindacali in Italia. Rapporto 1996-7", Cesos, Rome, Edizioni Lavoro (forthcoming).

Recent trends in confederal membership

Total membership of the three main Italian trade union confederations seems to have revived in 1995 and - even more markedly - in 1996 after two years of decline. The growth mainly concerned the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), which increased its membership by 1.1% in 1995 and 1.7% in 1996, while the membership of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) fell slightly (-0.2% in 1995, 0.5% in 1996) and that of the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) remained stable (-0.9%, 0.9%). Table 1 below provides more detail.

Table 1. Membership of Cgil, Cisl and Uil, 1980-96
Cgil Cisl Uil Total
1980-96** 612,518 13.3% 777,259 25.4% 246,715 18.3% 1,636,492 18.2%
Years Number % variation Number % variation Number % variation Number % variation
1980-4* 4,574,494 -0.2% 3,015,236 0.2% 1,351,634 0.0% 8,941,363 0.0%
1985-9* 4,775,269 1.9% 3,135,181 2.9% 1,358,587 2.0% 9,269,037 2.2%
1990 5,150,376 2.5% 3,508,391 3.8% 1,485,758 3.2% 10,144,525 3.0%
1991 5,221,691 1.4% 3,657,116 4.2% 1,524,136 2.6% 10,402,943 2.5%
1992 5,231,325 0.2% 3,796,986 3.8% 1,571,844 3.1% 10,600,155 1.9%
1993 5,236,571 0.1% 3,769,242 -0.7% 1,588,447 1.1% 10,594,260 -0.1%
1994 5,247,201 0.2% 3,733,007 -1.0% 1,594,105 0.4% 10,574,313 -0.2%
1995 5,235,386 -0.2% 3,772,938 1.1% 1,579,097 -0.9% 10,587,421 0.1%
1996 5,211,568 -0.5% 3,837,104 1.7% 1,593,615 0.9% 10,642,287 0.5%

* Mean of membership and average annual variation.

** Total variation both in absolute terms and in percentage.

Inspection of the figures for the entire period shows that between 1980 and 1996 confederal trade union membership rose by more than 1,600,000 units or 18.2%. Cisl achieved the best performance ( 25.4%), followed by Uil ( 18.3%) and Cgil ( 13.3%).

The main reason for this substantial growth of the confederal trade unions has been the marked increase in enrolments by retired workers (a distinctive feature of Italian unionisation), which has amply offset the inexorable fall-off in enrolments among active workers (-25.8% in the years 1980-96). Particularly striking (see Table 2 below) is the diminishing membership of Cgil (-1,160,698 units or -33.2%) and Cisl (-661,698 units or -25.3%), while the membership of Uil has dropped only slightly (-80,695 units or -6.4%). Analysis of the overall membership trend in the active labour force in the last four years reveals that the annual rate of loss has progressively slowed (from -4.0% to -1.2%), which indicates that the phenomenon is abating, although an upturn is still not apparent. It will be necessary to wait for the 1997 figures for confirmation of this.

Table 2. Membership of Cgil, Cisl and Uil among active workers, 1980-96
Cgil Cisl Uil Total
1980-96* -1,160,698 -33.2% -661,698 -25.3% -80,695 -6.4% -1,903,091 -25.8%
Years Number % variation Number % variation Number % variation Number % variation
1980-4* 3,272,033 -2.6% 2,453,731 -1.5% 1,247,690 -0.9% 6,973,454 -1.9%
1985-9* 2,810,128 -1.5% 2,159,775 -0.4% 1,172,260 0.7% 6,142,162 -0.7%
1990 2,739,700 0.3% 2,191,977 1.4% 1,217,682 1.5% 6,149,359 0.9%
1991 2,720,276 -0.7% 2,242,965 2.3% 1,231,720 1.2% 6,194,961 0.7%
1992 2,655,041 -2.4% 2,277,178 1.5% 1,251,202 1.6% 6,183,421 -0.2%
1993 2,540,437 -4.3% 2,164,001 -5.0% 1,231,134 -1.6% 5,935,572 -4.0%
1994 2,456,463 -3.3% 2,054,462 -5.1% 1,216,782 -1.2% 5,727,707 -3.5%
1995 2,387,820 -2.8% 1,965,753 -4.3% 1,187,434 -2.4% 5,541,007 -3.3%
1996 2,334,839 -2.2% 1,950,012 -0.8% 1,188,128 0.1% 5,472,979 -1.2%

* Mean of membership and average annual variation.

** Total variation both in absolute terms and in percentage.

Today, almost half (47.6%) of the membership of the three union confederations is made up of retired workers, whereas in 1980 this category accounted for less than 20% of the total. Detailed analysis of the three organisations shows that: in Cgil, the Trade Union of Italian Retired Workers (Sindacato pensionati italiani, Spi) has for some time surpassed the 50% threshold, and is now the largest union (54.5%) in this confederation; in Cisl, the National Federation of Retired Workers (Federazione nazionale dei pensionati, Fnp) accounts for 47.4% of members, so that this confederation reveals the same pattern as Cgil; whereas in Uil retired workers represent only one-quarter of the membership (25.4%).

The principal reason for the negative trend in membership among active workers is the steadily shrinking share of employees in the total, due to the changes in the composition of the labour force, with the decline of sectors and occupations where confederal unionisation was traditionally stronger (as in the case of blue-collar workers in the metalworking sector).

Table 3. Unionisation rate for Cgil, Cisl and Uil among employees
Year Unionisation rate*
1980 49.0%
1981 47.6%
1982 46.1%
1983 45.2%
1984 44.9%
1985 42.0%
1986 40.3%
1987 39.9%
1988 40.0%
1989 39.4%
1990 39.2%
1991 39.1%
1992 39.1%
1993 38.6%
1994 38.0%
1995 37.2%
1996 36.6%

* The unionisation rate is calculated from national accounting data. Further information on the methods used to calculate the rates is provided in a methodological note in the chapter by Codara (forthcoming) referenced above.

From Table 3 above, it is possible to see that the trend in the unionisation rate in the period 1980-96 (calculated on the basis of national accounting data) shows a progressive - albeit discontinuous - decline in confederal unionisation among employees. During the period examined, this decrease amounted to fully 13.4 percentage points. After the marked slowdown in the early 1990s, in the last four years the rate has once again started to decrease sharply, at between -0.5% and -0.8% per year.

Analysis of sectoral data for 1996 reveals significant differences: although the unionisation rate in agriculture was 2.6% less than in the previous year, levels were still very high (93.2%); in second place, with 45.5%, is the sector of "services, not for sale" (which is substantially the public administration), closely followed by industry (41%). The least unionised sector (at least as regards the confederal unions) is "services, for sale" (transport, commerce, banks etc) with 21%. As Table 4 below shows, all the rates have declined with respect to the previous year, which is indicative of a membership crisis which affects every sector, albeit to different extents (see the marked decline - already mentioned - in agriculture).

Table 4. Membership of Cgil, Cisl and Uil by sector, 1996, and variation on 1995
Cgil Cisl Uil Total Unionisation*
. 1996 % variation 1996 % variation 1996 % variation 1996 % variation 1996 % variation
Agriculture 269,156 -5.3% 214,430 -7.7% 134,787 -2.2% 618,373 -5.5% 93.2% -2.6%
Manufacturing 1,112,477 -2.9% 643,595 0.5% 375,273 0.1% 2,131,345 -1.4% 41.0% -0.2%
Services, for sale 494,820 0.1% 414,368 0.3% 262,522 0.4% 1,171,710 0.3% 21.0% -0.5%
Services, not for sale 457,731 -1.3% 563,658 -0.7% 325,830 -0.1% 1,347,219 -0.7% 45.5% -0.2%
Total employees 2,334,184 -2.2% 1,836,051 -0.9% 1,098,412 -0.2% 5,268,647 -1.4% 36.6% -0.6%
Total self-employed 655 18.4% 113,961 1.6% 89,716 3.0% 204,332 2.3% - -
Retired workers 2,842,195 1.0% 1,817,171 4.8% 405,487 3.5% 5,064,853 2.6% - -
Not working 34,534 2.3% 69,921 -5.5% . . 104,455 -3.0% - -
Total 5,211,568 -0.5% 3,837,104 1.7% 1,593,615 0.9% 10,642,287 0.5% - -

* The unionisation rate is calculated on national accounting data.

Commentary

To summarise, the memberships of the three trade union confederations in the period 1980-96 displayed the following three principal trends: the progressive replacement of active members by retired workers, whose constant increase in numbers gives rise to a numerical growth in overall membership, compared with a constant fall in the rate of unionisation among employees.

The trends confirms the growing difficulties that confederal unions are facing in representing employees, also because of the competition from autonomous trade unions, particularly in some tertiary sectors, such as transport. Probably the greatest challenge for Cgil, Cisl and Uil will be their ability to be responsive to the new needs which are arising from the changes taking place in the labour market and in production processes, avoiding resort to defensive practices. If the traditional forms of employment are fading away, at the same time new. though more challenging, opportunities emerge for confederal unions: we can think, for instance, of the representation needs of workers engaged in new forms of work "midway between" employees and self-employed (IT9709310F), or of temporary or fixed-term workers. This new role implies a great responsiveness on the part of Cgil, Cisl and Uil.

Another important point refers to autonomous trade unions. Even if data on non-confederal unions' membership are not generally available, in the public administration they represent a relevant proportion of workers. Furthermore, in the transport sector the presence of autonomous unions is substantial and it has a great impact on industrial relations and conflict (IT9707209F). Therefore, non-confederal unionism has to be taken into account when considering these two sectors. However, the recent reform of representation in public administration (IT9711217F) and the ongoing privatisation processes in the transport sector (as well as in other public utilities and the banking sector) might also have an important impact on unionisation patterns. These possible effects are difficult to determine and will depend also on the ability of confederal unions to represent workers who formerly related to autonomous unions. Of course, it is a very difficult task, since these unions are mainly occupational or even craft unions, usually with a strongly "particularistic" attitude in terms of their demands (Lino Codara, University of Brescia).

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Tilføj kommentar