Ten things you need to know about the unions

Reporter’s Guide in association with Unite the Union

The biggest union is Unite created out of a merger between Amicus and the Transport & General with two million members. The second biggest is the public services union Unison.

• Unions established Labour in 1900 and have always been part of the federal party structure since.

• Unions command half the votes at the Labour conference, but most of the policy decisions are taken at the party’s national policy forum.

• The union and constituency sections of the conference are allowed a maximum of four ‘contemporary’motions each, but Gordon Brown is seeking ways round the rows created by such debates. The Government’s line is invariably defeated.

• The unions are the party’s biggest source of funds, although ‘New Labour’prefers to play down their contribution.

• Unions often act together oni ndustrial and political issues, but they can also see each other as rivals.

• Union membership has sunk to 6.5 million from a peak of 13 million in 1979, but the steep decline of the Eighties has levelled out.

• In the private sector only 17 per cent of workers are in unions whereas in the public sector the proportion is 59 per cent.

• The typical trade union member these days does not wear a cloth cap and work in a factory. They are more likely to be white collar workers.

• Unions are voluntary organisations with elaborate democratic structures. They negotiate with employers on their members’ terms and conditions. That’s called collective bargaining. They also provide individual services like representation and legal help.

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