Contrast and Compare the Union Membership of Employment Relations in the UK and the USA

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According to Rose (2004), the study of the regulation of the utilization relationship between employer and worker, each collectively and separately, and therefore the determination of substantive and procedural problems at industrial, organisation and working place levels. Concerns about how work and employment relationships are regulated, experienced and contested (Williams 2013) can help people find out the inter relations and enlarge utilisations.

Although the study of employment relations focuses on work regulation, the broader economic and social influence on the relative power of capital and labour and the interactions between employers, workers, their collective organizations and the state must also be taken into account (Bamber and Lansbury, 2011).

No matter in which country, North and South, workers, employers and governments have both same and different interests, short term and long term. The different interests must be accommodated and reconciled. International comparisons will definitely bring out and explain where those differences and similarities of national industrial relations systems come from (Eaton 2000).

According to Frege and Kelly (2013), the Comparative Employment Relationship (CER) study must be based on the global economy and its impact on regional, national and sub - national employment relationship regulation.

This report will compare comparative employment relations in the aspect of union membership in USA and UK . It will illustrate the historical and political background of the USA and the UK respectively, the employment relations will be analyzed with the history and policies together. Then, a chart comparison of union membership between the USA and the UK will be illustrated. Some opinions and a conclusion will be given at the end of this report.


Since the late-nineteenth century, giant industrial enterprises were established with bureaucratized labour management systems and a high-wage system, which is also known as ‘Fordism’ (Frege and Kelly, 2013). Fordism is assembly line mass-production manufacturing for mass consumption, following Taylorist principles (like division of labour, planning, surveillance, and performance related pay). However, it was not the workers getting rich, it was their bosses. Those bosses had made large profits, by paying worker very low wages per hour. In the case of that, industrial workers had created unions to fight for their benefits, which is called labour movement. First, they accomplished the work-free weekends. They fought for reducing their working hours to make time for family relaxation. The most famous one was the Haymarket Riots, happened in Chicago on May 1st , 1886(YouTube, 2019). Child labor was also protected by labour movement. In 1886, unions forbade that kids under 14 were not allowed to be employed. Most of those protests had got results.

Right following the Pre-New Deal Industrial Relations Period (1886-1933), the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 marked the beginning of the New Deal Period (1933-1945). The National Mechanical Recuperation Act of 1933 (NIRA) was a US labour law and consumer law passed by the US Congress to authorize the President to direct industry for reasonable compensation and costs that would fortify financial recuperation. It protected collective bargaining and union organizing rights in the private sector. National Labour Relations Act of 1935 , which is also known as the Wagner Act, had set rules for union organizing, remains in part applicable to modern US employment relations. It set up a lawful right to creat independent unions to deal collectively with their bosses. Closed, union, agency and open shop four agreement types were raised. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act has been enacted. This law established ‘minimum wage,minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments’ (, 2019). In 1930s and 1940s, workers were also able to negotiate health benefits plan from their employers. Compared with the earlier period, the rate of unemployment had decreased and per capita income had grown dramatically faster during the New Deal era. Till nowadays, the union memberships are still undeniable. American live, work, even relax are all changed by the labour movement.

During World War II, National Labour Relations Act of 1935 did not contributed a lot. Instead, it was the War Labour Board that forced employers to recognize unions to ensure the labour rest time. Business Unionism Period (1945-1980) came after World War II. By 1947, employees in numerous northern businesses, involving rubber, steel and metal creation, trucking, mining, autos, and clothing, had shaped solid unions, but somewhere else, in retail exchange, office work, household benefit, and within the South as a entire, unions remained minimal. Business Unionism has established. Labor associations working as ‘businesses’ in which the unions give labourers with an cluster of administrations, involving the transaction of collective haggling understandings, and contract organization in trade for member’s union levy (Devinatz, 2013). According to Freeman and Medoff (1984), Unions and the New Deal state changed USA, raising efficiency and guaranteeing labourers of a reasonable share of efficiency picks up. Within enterprise, unions raised efficiency.

However, Race, gender and region were all limited The New Deal Industrial Relations System seriously. According to Frege and Kelly (2013), The Wagner Act, the Reasonable Labor Guidelines Act and the retirement and unemployment protections arrangements of the Social Security Act unequivocally avoided rural employees, household workers, and the representatives of the little foundations that utilized numerous Southerners, ladies, and African-Americans. Moreover, unions remained some problem in the south of the USA. Though the national legislation had already been extended to employees in South, its impact were still limited by racist and reactionary state officials. According to Friedman et al. (2000), New Deal Legislation actually had coverred many labourers in the region’s booming textile industry, but attempts to unionize foundered on the opposition of local and state officials. Unemployment insurance and Aid to Families having dependent kids in the south were supposed to benefit southern employees, however, local governments, who were in charge of those programme mentioned above, had limited access to workers’ benefits.

Then, Globalisation and Business Unionism Decline Period (1980-1995) had arrived. During this period, threats on both political and economical aspects were considered. For economical aspects, it was already more than 30 years after the World War II, the economy of a large amount of countries had already been recovered and raised up. Globalization is an inexorable historical trend, which has brought unavoidable problems, for instance, outsourcing/competition with cheap labour abroad, union busting consultants. In terms of political threats, Reagan, who is known as the Neoliberal President was elected. Meanwhile, union busting model has been established by Air Traffic Controllers Strike. What was worse, North American Free Trade Agreement exacerbated globalization threat to unions.

After Business Unionism Decline Period, Sweeney Social Movement Unionism Period (1995 – 2009), which is named after a labor leader and served as president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009, has arrived. Under Sweeney's tenure, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) created speedy gains in membership. The union began the last decade with concerning 625,000 members. however Sweeney began pushing for speedy enlargement into new sectors and base areas. SEIU joined with the National Association of Working Women to prepare workplace staff, and therefore the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to prepare home staff. The union additionally dramatically swollen its reach among maintenance staff within the health care field and business offices. Sweeney additionally pushed for mergers with variety of different unions, engrossing the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) and different public worker unions. By 1993, SEIU had over a meg members. it had been the primary federation union to succeed in the million-member mark in additional than twenty years. It additionally advocated for legally-mandated paid family leave, health care reform and a raise within the earnings. Internally, Sweeney devoted nearly a 3rd of the union's budget to organizing new members and pushed for stronger diversity within the union's ranks.

From 2009 to present, it is called Post Great Recession Period. Two presidents have to be mentioned here. President Obama has proposed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which helps file a pay discrimination claim at each new paycheck time by restarting the six months statute. Of limitations. Also, in April 2014, he has signed for Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information in Executive Order 13665. Taking the place of Obama’s position, President Trump fights alongside labour movement to achieve NAFTA re-negotiation. However, on the other hand, he also aims to reverse nearly every victory the Obama administration laid down that helps working people, especially vital members who had significant contribution to growing economy.

The UK

According to Fredge and Kelly (2013), some of the most crucial characterizes can be traced back to nineteenth century, British employees were seeking for ways to improving their terms and conditions of employment. By organizing collectively, weakness of isolated individuals had been overcome, so they tried to establish some unions and negotiate with their bosses. At the late of nineteenth century, those workers had reached some very limited legal freedoms, but meanwhile, their employers had also generated the significant mistrust of the legal system and the judiciary. Since there was not effective enough political voice to help workers protect their organisations and conditions by legislation, the labour party was not established until the beginning of twentieth century, which was tend to protect their rights by bargaining and strike, free from legal regulation. Any of government regulate issues programme related to low wages, firing employees were all strongly against unions. This situation lasted until the end of twentieth century.

During the World War II period, the ‘voluntarist’ system of employment relations was promoted by abundant employment. This kind of employment relations were also considered to improved labours’ power of bargain. Which is worth to mention that, most employers stood on the side of ‘voluntarist’ system as well, since they were very satisfied avoiding legal regulation, where unions had widely rights. Employers also preferred solving problems by bargaining just like unions. This system did not start to dissolve until 1960s.

Compared to the USA, the economic performance and productive growth of British were relatively low. From 1968 to the late of 1970s, there were attempts to organise some large-scale negotiated reforms of collective bargaining. However, they were failed because of strong resistance from those powerful unions.

Government policy within the Nineteen Seventies was powerfully influenced by the economist read that the key role of the state was to make sure economic condition through policies of demand management. one in every of the implications of economic condition was a strong trades union movement whose impact on wages, productivity and employment dominated governmental policy at that point. Governments appointed 2 committees of inquiry into industrial relations – in 1965 (the Donovan Commission) and 1975 (the Bullock Committee) – and additionally tried to restrain wage growth through state-imposed incomes policies limiting the allowable annual increase in wage rates.

The Conservative government, elective in 1979, was the primary post-war administration expressly to abandon the goal of financial condition and to reject the standard knowledge that government ought to get to work with union power instead of curb it. below the leadership of Prime Minister Iron Lady, it pursued a neo-liberal policy of deregu- lating markets, reducing taxation and cutting public outlay within the belief these measures would stimulate growth and cut back state. One mechanism of public outlay reduction was the wholesale privatization of state industrial firms.

The Labour governments of 1997–2010 preserved most of the Conservative employment relations laws, however, it departed in three ways: first, a statutory national pay was introduced in 1998. Second, the use Relations Act (1999) introduced a legal procedure whereby trade unions might secure recognition from AN leader for talks. Third, the Labour governments reversed the Conservative 1992 opt-out from European policy and started to implement European Directives within the field of employment relations. These measures introduced a 48-hour limit on weekly operating hours, prescribed a minimum of twenty days paid annual leave, harmonious several of the use rights of part-time and full-time staff and set a four-year limit on the period of serial fixed-term contracts.

The Union Membership Chart Comparison

The dimension of two figures are different, so they can only be able to compared just by their tends.

The union membership in the USA is established earlier than it in the UK. From figure 1, it is found dramatically instability before 1933. It could be discovered that the beginning of Pre New Deal Period (1986) and New Deal Period had stimulated the increase of membership. The peak of the membership is at the end of World War II. It dropped mainly because of economical reason, the globalization.

Trade union membership has declined in both the USA and the UK since the early 1980s but the scale of decline has been more severe in the UK. Unlike the USA having a very unstable data, since 1945 the union membership in the UK can be broken down into four phases from figure 2. From 1945 to late 1960s, trade union membership has risen slowly and steadily from 8 million to 10.2 million. From 1968, the membership increased quickly, peaking at 13.3 million in 1979. Since 1979, the next two decades, the amount of membership has dramatically declined till 1997. Though both of the USA and the UK has dropped during this period of time, the reason are totally different. The membership in the UK has dropped because of the policy published by the conservative party. Then from 1997, it has continued decline but not as fast as the previous decades.


Emerging from war, in the 1940s, the United States got rid of exceptionalist visions, instead, it led the capitalist world to a brand new variety of capitalism, one of high wages and productivity sustained by long-term relationships and negotiation between organized labour and organized capital.

What Obama did for public schools, state-support for health care, and to protect unemployment insurance and social security in this era, can be considered equivalent to New Deal era programmes, which was for unions and allowance for employment-based health insurance and private pensions.

British employment relations have developed over the past 30 years or so. the British government continues to play variety of distinct roles working relations: it is always the most important employer in Britain, with about six million staff in 2011 (around twenty percent of total employment).

The failure of collective bargaining between 1968 to 1970s had prepared the way for Margret Thatcher, who came from the more radical Conservative Governments.

From 1979 to 1997, Conservative Governments tried to find a path to totally change the balance of power supporting employers and against to unions. They had abandoned the national support to full employment, approved statute to limit strike, and directed a extreme decrease in union membership and affects (Howell, 2009).

Compared with 1979, the number of union memberships in 2011 has only be half.

Nowadays, the UK is still in the midst of a economic recession (, 2019), the warning sign is the extremely low GDP increasing and severe weak services sectors. If the union membeship change or the strike policy easing would stimulate economy remains to be seen.


Bamber, G. and Lansbury, R. (2011). International and comparative employment relations. Los Angeles: Sage. Devinatz, V. (2013). The Significance of the Living Wage for US Workers in the Early Twenty-First Century. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 25(2), pp.125-134. (2019). U.S. Department of Labor - Wage and Hour Division - U.S. Department of Labor-Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2019]. Freeman, R. and Medoff, J. (1984). What unions do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Institute of Economic Research. Frege, C. and Kelly, J. (2013). Comparative Employment Relations in the Global Economy. London and New York: Routledge. Friedman, J., Hastie, T. and Tibshirani, R. (2000). Additive logistic regression: a statistical view of boosting (With discussion and a rejoinder by the authors). The Annals of Statistics, 28(2), pp.337-407. Howell, C. (2009). Trade Unions and the State. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hyman, R. (2001). Trade Union Research and Cross-National Comparison. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 7(2), pp.203-232. (2019). The UK is unprepared for another economic recession. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2019]. Rose, E. (2004). Employment relations. Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall. Williams, S. (2013). Introducing employment relations. YouTube. (2019). The Labor Movement in the United States | History. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2019].

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Contrast and Compare the Union Membership of Employment Relations in the UK and the USA. (2019, Feb 13). Retrieved September 24, 2023 , from

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