Ageing Australian Unions and the 'Youth Problem'
Trade union membership, both in aggregate numbers and in density, has declined in the majority of advanced economies globally over recent decades (Blanchflower, 2007). In Australia, the decline in the 1990s was somewhat more precipitate than in most countries (Peetz, 1998). As discussed in Chapter 1, reasons for the decline are multifactorial, including a more hostile environment to unionism created by employers and the state, difficulties with workplace union organisation, and structural change in the economy (Bryson and Gomez, 2005; Bryson et al., 2011; Ebbinghaus et al., 2011; Payne, 1989; Waddington and Kerr, 2002; Waddington and Whitson, 1997). Our purpose in this chapter is to look beyond aggregate Australian union density data, to examine how age relates to membership decline, and how different age groups, particularly younger workers, are located in the story of union decline. The practical implications of this research are that understanding how unions relate to workers of different age groups, and to workers of different genders amongst those age groups, may lead to improved recruitment and better union organisation.
Young Workers and Trade Unions: A Global View