United Kingdom / Great Britain

  • Bernhard Ebbinghaus
  • Jeremy Waddington
Part of the The Societies of Europe book series (SOEU)


Britain was the first country to industrialize, and also trade unions and free collective bargaining emerged relatively early, with long-term consequences. British unionism grew gradually over almost two centuries, marked by the unionization of different groups in the work-force over successive phases; the decentralization of British unions; and relatively weak co-ordination in the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Some TUC unions founded and still support the Labour Party. Given a gradual democratic inclusion of the working-class and voluntarist traditions, the state abstained from direct intervention in industrial relations, while unions sought political influence via TUC and the Labour Party to advance union and social rights. The political debate centred on either broadening or restricting collective labour law, that is, the legal immunities granted to unions. Since 1979, the Conservative government made the legal environment for union action and membership recruitment more difficult. Unionization increased considerably until the late 1970s due to collectivist occupational traditions, organizational sectionalism, closed shop practices, high wage growth, and a large public sector and welfare state. After the winter of discontent in 1978–79 and the election of the new Thatcher government, union membership receded given the adverse political, legal and economic environment, increased decentralization of collective bargaining, flexibilization advanced by employers, and privatization and welfare retrenchment policies. Over the post-war period and most notably in union decline, concentration via mergers has gained in importance.


Public Sector Trade Union Industrial Relation Union Membership Union Density 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Jelle Visser 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernhard Ebbinghaus
    • 1
  • Jeremy Waddington
    • 2
  1. 1.United Kingdom
  2. 2.Great Britain

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