Union membership continues to fall

According to the latest figures from the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), membership of its affiliated trade unions dropped by 199,000 (2.5%) in 2002 to stand at 7.7 million. While membership has continued to decline for over 10 years, the pace of decline slowed in 2002. Some unions have responded to falling membership by seeking to improve their recruitment strategies.

According to figures released in early 2003, total membership of the trade unions affiliated to the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) fell to 7.7 million in 2002, a decline of close to 199,000, or 2.5%, compared with 2001. As indicated in the table below, the decline was strongest in the case of the Building, Agricultural and Environmental Workers’ Union (IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU), a union which is suffering from the current major crisis in the construction industry, and lost nearly 4% of its members in 2002. However, some public sector unions such as the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW) and the Police Union (Gewerkschaft der Polizei, GdP) have successfully limited membership losses.

The data also reveal that unions with a high share of female membership – ie a share higher than the DGB average of 31.8% - seem to do somewhat better in terms of membership development than those with a comparatively low share of women in their ranks. It should be noted, however, that this might be due to the concentration of women in those mostly public sector occupations, where employment – compared with some industrial occupations – is more stable, rather than to a higher likelihood of women becoming union members.

DGB membership 2001-2
. 2002 2001 Change 2001-2 (%)
. Men Women Women as % of total Total 2002
Building, Agricultural and Environmental Workers’ Union (IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU) 423,436 66,366 13.5 489,802 509,690 -3.9
Mining, Chemicals and Energy Workers’ union (IG Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) 673,609 160,084 19.2 833,693 862,364 -3.3
Education and Science Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW) 84,576 180,108 68.0 264,684 268,012 -1.2
Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) 2,150,527 493,446 18.7 2,643,973 2,710,226 -2.4
Food, Beverages and Catering Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten, NGG) 147,524 97,826 39.9 245,350 250,839 -2.2
Police Union (Gewerkschaft der Polizei, GdP) 153,901 31,115 16.8 185,016 185,380 -0.2
Railworkers’ Union (TRANSNET) 236,427 60,944 20.5 297,371 306,002 -2.8
Unified Service Sector Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) 1,384,235 1,355,888 49.5 2,740,123 2,806,496 -2.4
Total DGB 5,254,235 2,445,777 31.8 7,700,012 7,899,009 -2.5

Source: DGB.

Although membership losses continue, DGB emphasised in a statement that the pace of decline has slowed down notably. As indicated in the figure below, since 1991 DGB has continuously lost members year by year (DE9908113F).

* Starting in 1980, the DGB figures also include the German White-collar Workers’ Union (Deutsche Angestellengewerkschaft, DAG) which became part of DGB in 2001 as part of the creation of ver.di.

Source: DGB, author's own calculation.

After the massive and positive effect of German unification and the resulting enlargement of DGB towards the east wore off, unions lost membership at a rate of 3.2% to 6.4% per year (DE0103210N). In 2002, for the first time in a decade, DGB’s affiliates lost less than 3% of their members. Some unions, such as IG BAU, IG Metall, and NGG, made progress in terms of membership recruitment, though this improvement was still short of what the unions needed to stop net membership decline. NGG initiated an organising campaign in 2001, which brought it some 25,000 new members, while IG BAU and IG Metall focused especially on the recruitment of young employees. IG Metall claims that since August 2002 almost 21,000 employees aged 27 or younger have joined the union, while IG BAU states that it successfully increased recruitment of apprentices by 25% between September and December 2002.

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