Membership of DGB-affiliated unions falls again

According to the latest figures from the DGB trade union confederation, membership of its affiliated trade unions dropped another 350,000 in 1997 to stand at 8.6 million.

Total membership of the largest German trade union confederation, the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), stood at 8.6 million on 31 December 1997, a fall of 350,000 (or 3.9%) since 31 December 1996. Table 1 below provides details of changes in membership levels of the 13 DGB-affiliated industry unions since 1989. The 13 unions are:

  • IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU (construction and agriculture);
  • Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE (mining, energy and chemicals);
  • Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner Deutschlands, GdED (railways);
  • Gewerkschaft Erziehung Wissenschaft, GEW (education and sciences);
  • Gewerkschaft Handel Banken und Versicherungen, HBV (commerce, banking and insurance);
  • Gewerkschaft Holz und Kunststoff, GHK (timber and plastics);
  • IG Medien (media);
  • IG Metall (metalworking);
  • Gewerkschaft Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten, NGG (food and catering);
  • Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV (public services, traffic and transport);
  • Gewerkschaft der Polizei, GdP (police);
  • Deutsche Postgewerkschaft, DPG (post); and
  • Gewerkschaft Textil-Bekleidung, GTB (textiles and clothing)
Table 1. Membership figures of DGB-affiliated trade unions at year's end 1989-97 (changes 1991-7 and 1996-7 in %)
1989 1991 1993 1995 1996 1997 91-97 96-97
DGB 7,861,120 11,800,413 10,290,152 9,354,670 8,972,672 8,623,918 - 26.9 - 3.9
IG BAU* 504,376 911,761 770,451 725,576 692,466 655,356 - 28.1 - 5.4
IG BCE** 1,040,307 1,425,032 1,209,122 1,122,687 1,052,143 1,012,000 - 29.0 - 3.8
GdED 319,641 527,478 450,461 398,404 382,113 367,734 - 30.3 - 3.8
GEW 188,910 359,852 329,729 306,448 296,232 289,014 - 19.7 - 2.4
HBV 407,326 737,075 583,782 520,166 505,405 488,271 - 33.8 - 3.4
GHK 149,098 239,472 192,926 170,908 159,829 153,045 - 36.1 - 4.2
IG Medien 182,150 244,774 223,600 206,786 197,309 191,610 - 21.7 - 2.9
IG Metall 2,679,237 3,624,380 3,146,437 2,869,469 2,752,226 2,660,951 - 26.6 - 3.3
NGG 271,291 431,211 355,863 322,019 310,891 294,546 - 31.7 - 5.3
ÖTV 1,234,546 2,138,317 1,996,371 1,770,789 1,712,149 1,643,692 - 23.1 - 4.0
GdP 161,310 200,997 197,523 198,897 199,421 196,536 - 2.2 - 1.4
DPG 472,145 611,969 578,179 529,233 513,322 487,814 - 20.3 - 5.0
GTB 250,783 348,095 255,708 216,288 199,166 183,349 - 47.3 - 7.9

Sources: DGB, H-U Niedenhoff and W Pege (Gewerkschaftshandbuch 1997, Cologne), IW calculations.

* For the years 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995, membership figures of Gewerkschaft Gartenbau, Land- und Forstwirtschaft (horticulture, agricultures, forestry) and IG Bau-Steine-Erden (construction) are added. The two unions merged in 1996.

** For the years 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995, membership figures of IG Bergbau und Energie (mining and energy), IG Chemie-Papier-Keramik (chemicals, paper, and ceramics) and Gewerkschaft Leder (leather) are added. The three unions merged in 1997 ( DE9710233F ).

The main trends are as follows:

  • Since 1991, when membership of DGB-affiliated trade unions stood at a historic high of almost 12 million due to the absorption of the members of the former East German trade unions, the membership of DGB unions has dropped by 3.2 million or 27%. However, the annual membership figures of the DGB have not yet fallen below the 1989 pre-unification level, as the membership of several industry unions has done (IG Metall (DE9802147F), IG Chemie, and GTB). More than three-quarters of the post-unification net growth of nearly 4 million members has thus melted away.
  • Over 1991-7, all DGB-affiliated unions lost members, with an average loss of 26.9%. The unions that were hit hardest were GTB (-47.3%), GHK (-36.1%), HBV (-33.8%) and NGG (-31.7%).
  • As indicated by Table 2 below, the speed of membership losses has steadily decreased since 1992. In 1992, the DGB-affiliated unions lost 6.7% of their members (west: -0.2%; east: -18.4%). In 1997, the DGB unions lost 3.9% (west: -2.4%; east: -7.8%). In the west, the speed of membership losses stabilised in 1997.
Table 2. Speed of membership losses of DGB-affiliated trade unions 1992-7
West East Total
1992 -0.2% -18.4% -6.7%
1993 -3.2% -14.3% -6.6%
1994 -2.8% -10.9% -5.1%
1995 -2.6% -8.8% -4.2%
1996 -2.4% -9.1% -4.1%
1997 -2.4% -7.8% -3.9%

Source: DGB

Commentary

The dramatic decline in membership of DGB-affiliated unions may have serious implications for trade union finance and bargaining power. The DGB blames the decreasing number of jobs as well as the high level of unemployment for the drop in membership of its industry unions. Yet, there may be other explanations:

  • there may be a "back-to-normal adjustment effect" after the membership growth associated with unification, as was to be expected according to many observers;
  • there are changes in workforce composition in the direction of people who have a lower probability of being trade union members. Recruiting women, young people and salaried employees increasingly proves difficult for unions whose typical members are older male full-time manufacturing manual workers in large workplaces - IG Metall, IG Chemie and GTB may provide examples;
  • changes in job characteristics may make it more difficult to regulate the employment relationship with traditional collective agreements. Examples of such changes may be group work and telework;
  • structural change, mainly in the direction from the industrial to the service sector, but also within the industrial sector, challenges trade union organisation. There are old, traditional industries like coalmining and the steel industry with very high membership densities, and new industries, like information technologies and the temporary work sector, where the unions face tremendous organisational difficulties; and
  • members (and non-members alike) may not be satisfied with the union products and services or with internal decision-making procedures, and thus quit (or nor join).

A closely related problem that trade union strategists are currently facing is the increasing competition between unions for members. This happens not only between the DGB unions and other unions - those affiliated to the Christian Trade Union Federation (CGB) and the white-collar workers' union DAG- but also within the DGB between the different industry unions. Reasons for this include the development whereby demarcations between workers and salaried employees, as well as between the organisational domains between several DGB unions, become increasingly blurred.

If the DGB and its member unions are not able to tackle the membership challenges, the decrease in membership of DGB unions is likely to continue. It should be remembered that it is just the speed of membership losses that has stabilised in western Germany, not the membership level. (Stefan Zagelmeyer, IW)

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