It is frequently suggested that economic changes have played a more important role than the new industrial relations legislation in weakening the position of British trade unions in recent years (see, for example Wedderburn, 1985, p.33). This chapter examines the economic changes that have occurred which have affected union membership and organisation. The next two chapters will then assess how far such changes, and indeed the Conservatives’ industrial relations legislation, has affected the unions’ collective bargaining position. This chapter is divided into five sections. The first section analyses changes which have occurred in the economic structure; most significantly the increase in unemployment and the processes of restructuring and deindustrialisation. The second section then looks at one of the major consequences of these changes, the decline of union membership. The third section examines the increased use of technology, while the fourth section concentrates upon the supposed growth of flexibilisation within the British economy. Finally, I identify the changes in economic policy since 1979.
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