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22 June 2022

Countries with high trade union membership are more equal

Nordic countries have the highest rates of union membership and the lowest income inequality.

By Saywah Mahmood

UK rail workers walked out this week in their biggest strike for 30 years. The industrial action, organised by the RMT union, was called in response to threatened redundancies and real-terms pay cuts.

On the same day, the Communication Workers Union announced that more than 115,000 postal workers will vote in the next few weeks on whether to strike over pay.

There has been growing anger among employees over wages. Analysis of ONS data by the New Statesman found that public sector wages have fallen by 4.4 per cent since 2010, while private sector wages have risen by 4.3 per cent in the same time period.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that, in 2019, nearly a quarter of UK employees were members of a trade union; this is significantly lower than in many other European countries. The UK also has a higher Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality.


By contrast, many Nordic countries have far lower income inequality and higher trade union membership. In Iceland, where 92.2 per cent of workers belong to a union, the Gini coefficient is just 26.1, compared with 35.1 in the UK and 41.5 in the US, where just 10.3 per cent of workers are union members.

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[See also: Where does public opinion stand on the rail strikes?

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