Are women the trade union members of the future?

At its women's conference in March 1997, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) advised that the trade union members of the future are women. However, it warned that the unions have a lot of work to do if they are to attract women into the movement.

The typical trade union member of the future could well be a 30-year-old female VDU operator, balancing both work and family responsibilities, according to the TUC. A new report launched at the TUC's women's conference held in Scarborough on 12-14 March, argues that if unions can rise to the challenge, the number of women members could increase by as many as 400,000 by the turn of the century. According to the report (Women and the new unionism), women now make up half of the workforce, but only a third are members of a union. Young women are thought to be particularly difficult to organise. Only 6% of women employees under the age of 20 years are presently union members, compared with 24% aged between 20 and 29 years old.

The TUC seeks to explode the myth that women are inherently more difficult to recruit than men. It is hoped that recruiting more women will help to reverse the decline in trade union membership, but the TUC warned that this could mean facing some hard facts about how the unions must change. The TUC general secretary, John Monks, said that "with at least 400,000 women out there waiting to join, unions must start listening to women". Part of the process is to set up surveys and studies to identify how best unions can appeal to potential female members.

The table below gives the TUC's figures for potential female union membership figures for various occupations.

Occupation Women full-time employee union members in 2001 Women part-time employee members in 2001 Women all employee members in 2001
Column totals 2,259,000 1,289,000 3,548,000
Managers 236,000 49,000 285,000
Professionals 474,000 134,000 608,000
Associated professionals 475,000 264,000 739,000
Clerical/secretarial 499,000 257,000 756,000
Craft 71,000 13,000 84,000
Personal and protective services 203,000 223,000 426,000
Sales 51,000 121,000 172,000
Operatives 175,000 45,000 220,000
Less skilled 76,000 183,000 259,000

Source: TUC

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