The purpose of this paper is to review historical and contemporary union driven advances in gender and race equality within the movement and the workplace in order to show how far unions have come in the last 50 years, but also to identify continuing equality deficits.
As well as reviewing extant literature in order to provide historical background, the paper draws upon original analysis of the series of biennial TUC Equality Audits, the latest SERTUC equality survey and interviews with national union officers responsible for equality in large-, medium- and small-sized unions.
Over the last 50 years, unions have made considerable progress in representing women both in leadership and democratic structures as well as in the workplace bargaining and consultative arena. However, BAME members remain underrepresented in both domains. A hostile socio-economic/political context threatens to hinder further progress.
It is quite clear that the authors cannot assess unions’ current record on equality by reference only to outcomes and benefits of big set-piece organisation, industry or sector negotiations. Future research could usefully explore in more depth unions’ qualitative contribution to workplace equality practices in context of challenges in the internal and external environments.
Unions need to step up commitment to integrating equality into the bargaining agenda. They also need to continue investing in campaigning activities and identify ways of making successful outcomes more visible within the union, to members and to non-unionised workers. Workplace unions need to develop strategies to confront the fact that strong equality policies do not necessarily translate into good workplace practices.
The paper provides a long-term evaluation of union progress on equality within the movement itself and the workplace.
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