Decline in union membership levels in 2006 less acute than in previous years

According to the latest figures from the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), the membership levels of its affiliated trade unions dropped by 2.8% in 2006, falling to 6.59 million members. However, although overall membership levels continued to decline, most DGB affiliated unions managed to at least minimise their losses compared with previous years. The German Metalworkers’ Union remained the largest DGB-affiliate with 2.33 million members, followed by the United Services Union with 2.28 million members. The proportion of women who are union members remained almost the same at 31.9%. Some 7% of members are aged 27 years or under.

Latest figures from the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) reveal that the total membership of its affiliated trade unions fell to 6.59 million members by 31 December 2006, following an overall drop of 192,864 members – the equivalent of a 2.8% decline. However, the decline in membership was lower compared with previous years: in 2005, a drop of 3.2% in membership levels was recorded, while in 2004, the decline in membership was considerably higher at 4.8%.

As indicated by the findings (Table 1), the falloff in membership remained strongest in the Trade Union for Building, Forestry, Agriculture and the Environment (Industriegewerkschaft Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU), although the union managed to reduce its membership decline by 1.4 percentage points. Contrary to all of the other affiliated trade unions, the German Police Union (Gewerkschaft der Polizei, GdP) and the rail transport union Transnet faced a stronger decline than in 2005. The German Metalworkers’ Union (Industriegewerkschaft Metall, IG Metall) maintained its position as the largest affiliated union in 2006, followed closely by the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di).

Table 1: DGB membership levels and decline, by affiliated trade union and sex, 2005–2006
Membership levels of DGB affiliated unions in 2006 and % change compared with 2005 and 2004
Trade union Total no. ofmembers Overall change 2005–2006 (%) Overall change 2004–2005 (%) Total no. of men Total no. of women Women as % of total Members aged 27 yrs and under as % of total
IG Metall 2,332,720 -1.8 -1.9 1,910,466 422,254 18.1 8.4
ver.di 2,274,731 -3.6 -4.0 1,141,768 1,132,963 49.8 4.9
Mining, Chemicals and Energy Industrial Union (Industrie- gewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) 728,702 -2.7 -2.7 589,446 139,256 19.1 8.6
IG BAU 368,768 -5.8 -7.2 308,156 60,612 16.4 10.1
Transnet 248,983 -4.2 -3.6 196,572 52,411 21.1 4.4
German Union of Education (Gewerk- schaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW) 249,462 -0.8 -1.2 77,641 171,821 68.9 3.4
Trade Union of Food, Beverages, Tobacco, Hotel and Catering and Allied Workers (Gewerkschaft Nahrung-Genuss- Gaststätten, NGG) 211,573 -2.1 -3.9 127,501 84,072 39.7 6.6
GdP 170,835 -2.3 -1.6 134,579 36,256 21.2 11.2
Total DGB membership 6,585,774 -2.8 -3.2 4,486,129 2,099,645 31.9 7.0

Note: Figures include pensioners and unemployed members. The 2005 data contain adjustments and therefore differ slightly from those given in last year’s report (DE0604039I).

Source: DGB, 2007

The slowdown in the overall decrease in membership levels is largely due to a reduction in membership turnover. The overall proportion of new members decreased slightly, despite several new initiatives by DGB affiliated unions aimed at organising and recruiting new members (Table 2).

Table 2: Number of new members in DGB and difference in levels, by affiliated trade union, 2005 and 2006
Comparison between number of new members in DGB affiliated unions in 2005 and 2006
Trade union No. of new members2005 No. of new members2006 Difference between 2005 and 2006
GdP 4,773 4,287 -486
GEW 11,150 11,212 62
IG BAU 20,639 20,826 187
IG BCE* 25,167 23,787 -1,380
IG Metall 91,214 91,938 724
NGG 14,856 16,767 1,911
Transnet 4,637 3,924 -713
ver.di* 110,163 108,599 -1,564
DGB 282,599 281,340 -1,259

Notes: *Membership is fully transferable between the DGB affiliated unions. Members coming from other DGB affiliated unions are not included in the above figures, except for IG BCE and ver.di.

Source: DGB, 2007

Within one year, the proportion of female trade union members increased slightly by 0.1% to a total of 31.9% (see Table 1). The GEW remained by far the union with the largest number of women: in 2006, more than two thirds of GEW members were women. Ver.di ranked second with almost half of its members being women. A particular challenge to German trade unions is attracting younger members. In GEW, Transnet and ver.di, less than 5% of members are aged 27 years or younger. In the case of GEW, this may be attributed to the length of training for teachers who comprise their main membership base. The trade union ver.di recognises, however, that it needs to increase its efforts to organise young employees, particularly in the private services sector.

Heiner Dribbusch, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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