Unions matter because they provide a voice for workers at their workplace and often in their communities, sectors and in the economy more widely. But in most countries, union membership is ageing rapidly which raises questions about who unions speak for and who they speak to.
By and large, unions recognize the challenges facing them and have been trying to address them for some time. This has led to many unions and activists experimenting with new ways of doing things in an effort to engage young workers.
What’s different about young workers?
Our research looked at some of those innovations in the USA, UK, Germany and France and found that where initiatives were supported by the union, and were in sectors that had some history of bargaining, unions could be very effective at reaching out to young workers.
But it can be difficult to sustain these initiatives with the churn of activists and the precarious work that inevitably comes with working in some of the sectors targeted. Laws and restrictions on what unions do can also be a major hurdle. Nonetheless, our research suggests there is good reason to be optimistic that unions can target and represent young workers very effectively when they are open to new approaches.