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Unionism and Economic Performance
by Peter Hall-Jones
  
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logoHow do union membership levels affect a country's economic competitiveness? Is there a general pattern? We have compared data from the World Economic Forum's last two Global Competitiveness Reports* alongside data on global union membership density. The results for both years told the same story. The higher a country's union membership is, the more economically competitive that country is likely to be.

For 2007 we had union membership data for 47 of the 50 most competitive economies (according to the GCR ranking). The top 5 economies have an average union membership density of 43%. Now watch what happens... The top 10 have an average of 38%. The top 20 have an average of 34%. The top 30 average is 31%. The top 40 average is 30%. The top 50 have an average of 29%. The pattern could hardly be clearer, could it?

For 2006 we found that the top 10 had an average of 37.9%. The top 20 had an average of 37.8%. The top 30 rate was 33%. And the top 40 had an average of 27.3. The pattern is tighter, but it tells essentially the same story.

Details are set out below. Density figures are clickable, and will take you to the most recent publicly-accessible source we have been able to find. A spreadsheet you can play with is available here. Please note that some of our membership density figures have been updated since the 2006 ranking, and so you will not be able to replicate our conclusions without reference to our earlier data set.

This is an open-source project, and we welcome your help in adding to, or correcting, the data on membership density. All we need is a reliable and publicly-accessible source (please see beneath the table for some additional notes). You can use this form, or email us here.

 


Country

Most recent union density % (1) Year of union density % Global competitiveness ranking 2007 (2) Global competitiveness ranking 2006 (2)
United States 12 2006 1 1
Switzerland 25 2005 2 4
Denmark 80 2005 3 3
Sweden 78 2006 4 9
Germany 20 2007 5 7
Finland 75 2004 6 6
Singapore 18.5 2006 7 8
Japan 18.7 2005 8 5
United Kingdom 28.4 2006 9 2
Netherlands 24.4 2006 10 11
Korea, Rep. 10.3 2005 11 23
Hong Kong SAR 22.1 2002 12 10
Canada 29.7 2006 13 12
Taiwan, China 38.3 2003 14 13
Austria 40 2006 15 18
Norway 62 2004 16 17
Israel 25 2006 17 14
France 8.2 2004 18 15
Australia 20 2006 19 16
Belgium 53 2006 20 24
Malaysia 17.5 2000 21 19
Ireland 35 2004 22 22
Iceland 88 2006 23 20
New Zealand 21.1 2004 24 21
Luxembourg 46 2007 25 25
Chile 12 2001 26 27
Estonia 11 2005 27 26
Thailand 3.3 2006 28 28
Spain 15 2005 29 29
Kuwait No data No data 30 30
Qatar 0 2004 31 32
Tunisia 15 2004 32 33
Czech Republic 14 2004 33 31
China 90.3 2000 34 35
Saudi Arabia 0 2000 35
Puerto Rico 14 2002 36
United Arab Emirates 0 2004 37 34
Lithuania 14 2006 38 39
Slovenia 45 2004 39 40
Portugal 17 2004 40 43
Slovak Republic 30 2004 41 37
Oman 0 2007 42
Bahrain No data No data 43 48
South Africa No data No data 44 36
Latvia 16 2006 45 44
Italy 33.7 2003 46 47
Hungary 17 2004 47 38
India 8 2001 48 42
Jordan No data No data 49 46
Barbados 34 2002 50 41
Poland 16 2006 51 45
Mexico 13 2001 52 52
Turkey 58 2001 53 58
Indonesia 14 2005 54 54
Cyprus 68 2002 55 49
Malta 59 2005 56 51
Croatia No data No data 57 56
Russian Federation 45 2003 58 59
Panama 11 2005 59 60
Mauritius No data No data 60 55
Kazakhstan 31 2002 61 50
Uzbekistan No data No data 62
Costa Rica 15 2002 63 68
Morocco 5 2000 64 65
Greece 30 2007 65 61
Azerbaijan No data No data 66 62
El Salvador 5.3 2003 67 53
Vietnam No data No data 68 64
Colombia No data No data 69 63
Sri Lanka 20 No data 70 81
Philippines 26.8 2002 71 75
Brazil 18.14 2002 72 66
Ukraine No data No data 73 69
Romania 30 2005 74 73
Uruguay 15.9 2000 75 79
Botswana 20 2006 76 57
Egpyt No data No data 77 71
Jamaica No data No data 78 67
Bulgaria 16 2001 79 74
Syria No data No data 80
Algeria No data No data 81 77
Montenegro No data No data 82
Honduras 14 2003 83 90
Trinidad and Tobago No data No data 84 76
Argentina 28.9 2002 85 70
Peru 5 2002 86 78
Guatemala No data No data 87 91
Libya No data No data 88
Namibia 32 2000 89 72
Georgia 80 2005 90 87
Serbia No data No data 91
Pakistan 2.5 2002 92 83
Armenia No data No data 93 80
Macedonia, FYR 75 2006 94 84
Nigeria 10 2004 95 95
Dominican Republic No data No data 96 93
Moldova 80 2005 97 86
Venezuela No data No data 98 85
Kenya 33 2006 99 88
Senegal No data No data 100
Mongolia No data No data 101 89
Gambia 20 2006 102 103
Ecuador 12 2002 103 94
Tanzania 5 2002 104 97
Bolivia 25 2006 105 100
Bosnia and Herzegovina No data No data 106 82
Bangladesh 35 2001 107 92
Benin No data No data 108 107
Albania 20 2006 109 98
Cambodia 1 2006 110 106
Nicaragua No data No data 111 101
Burkina Faso No data No data 112 114
Suriname 60 2006 113 104
Nepal No data No data 114 105
Mali No data No data 115 115
Cameroon No data No data 116 99
Tajikistan 90 2006 117 96
Madagascar No data No data 118 111
Kyrgyz Republic No data No data 119 109
Uganda No data No data 120 110
Paraguay No data No data 121 108
Zambia No data No data 122 118
Ethiopia No data No data 123 116
Lesotho No data No data 124 102
Mauritania No data No data 125 117
Guyana No data No data 126 113
Timor-Leste No data No data 127 120
Mozambique No data No data 128 119
Zimbabwe No data No data 129 112
Burundi No data No data 130 122
Chad No data No data 131 121
Angola No data No data No data 125
Malawi No data No data No data 117
Serbia and Montenegro No data No data No longer exists 87

 

You will note that there are still many countries for which we do not have density figures. This is because we have decided to only use data from after 2000. Those already familiar with our work will understand why. To put it simply, the general view that unionism is internationally declining is false. In fact the global trend has been one of membership increase since about 2000 (if not before). Using data from before 2000 is likely to lead to a false result. Also, the competitiveness index of countries change fairly regularly. To try and associate this with out-of-date union membership figures would only be a waste of time.

Unfortunately quantitative work on union membership has radically declined in recent years. National statistical digests have generally ceased to include it. International institutions have put it in their "too hard basket", and many governments have reduced their analysis to the point where it is simply insufficient to get a meaningful picture. The media are thus free to run their own narrative, which is inevitably the pre-2000 one of union decline. As an example of how misleading this is, in the U.S. union membership is now disallowed for a full 25% of workers. This figure has been rising rapidly over recent years. Various other factors have also combined to artificially lower membership numbers. But the ubiquitous message does not consider this. Unions are portrayed as ailing and failing, with workers "voting with their feet" and leaving them behind.

The lack of reliable information is allowing the public to be misinformed.

 


 

Notes

* The Global Competitiveness figure takes into account: Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomy, Health and primary education, Higher education and training, Market efficiency, Technological readiness, Business sophistication and Innovation. Details from the 2007 Global Competitiveness Report are available here. The 2006 Global Competitiveness Report (and earlier ones) are available here. New Unionism makes no comment on the views expressed or the methodology used.

** Union density is generally taken to mean unionised workers as a percentage of the workforce. However there are many shades of grey, if not a widespread psychedelia, in the way details are derived and combined. At times we have also had to guess at the exact year for a figure, based on publication date, other references cited, and context. Building this data set will be an ongoing job.
Where the link takes you to http://www.ilo.org/public/english/support/lib/resource/subject/labourstat.htm, this is so that you can request a copy of the ILO Bureau of Statistics Union Membership spreadsheet, as noted on that page. This document cites hard copy references, most of which are from statistical yearbooks.

  

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