A proud, strong and growing union

Hard work by our activists and stewards, branches, regions and staff is paying off – we grew again last year, for the second year running

UNISON in large letters with public sector workers

UNISON is a proud and strong union, speaking out on behalf of members and supporting them to defend their interests.

We’re also a growing union.

Despite a decade of austerity, job losses and cuts to the vital services our members provide, UNISON has bucked a trend. February’s NEC meeting, the first of the year, heard that membership has grown for the second year running.

Can we support our boast with numbers? We certainly can.
Last year saw a massive 176,469 people join UNISON, as reported in the year-to-date figures including December 2019. That’s 10,873 more recruits than for the same period in 2018, and an increase of 6.5%

December itself was impressive. Although it is traditionally a quiet recruitment month – with many UNISON activists, members and potential members taking leave – December 2019 saw more people join the union than in any previous December.

In all, 10,772 people joined in the last month of last year. That’s a 14.2% increase on the 9,433 who joined in December 2018, which was itself 10.7% more than the 8,519 who joined the previous December.

All the hard work by our activists and stewards, branches, regions, UNISON centre and staff is paying off. Face-to-face discussions, organising work, national advertising and media work – and our three ‘Go for Growth’ month-long recruitment and retention campaigns so far – are convincing more and more people to join, and stay in, UNISON.

Unsurprisingly, in an increasingly online and digital world, 25% of everyone who joined us last year applied with paper forms. The remaining 75% are joining us online or via UNISON Direct – and that is a number which is growing, particularly when it comes to joining the union using the web at join.unison.org.uk/.

And it’s worth remembering that recruits who join online do so because they’ve seen the union, in the workplace or in the media and deciding to join often comes after – or even during – a discussion with a UNISON steward or rep.

So where are these new members coming from?

Recruitment is up across the union, in all sectors and service groups. And this is no surprise in a year of record recruitment.

We are a public-service union, and most of our membership is still in the public sector. Recruitment there has risen from 104,072 in 2017, to 116,492 in 2018 and 123,008 last year.

Growth is particularly noticeable in health care: even with enormous pressure on the NHS and a reported 106,000 vacancies in NHS England alone. Recruitment there has gone from 61,902 in 2017 to 74,770 in 2019 – and that lead to growth in the service group membership rising from 2,844 in 2017 to 7,203 last year.

The other big driver for our growth is in the private and community sectors.

One consistent story over the last decade of austerity has been the rise in outsourcing and privatisation. And UNISON has a clear strategy to follow our members, and their jobs, when they are moved into the private, community or voluntary sectors.

Not only do we keep our existing members, we make a point of going out and recruiting new members as well. After all, these are often insecure jobs and the people doing them need the protection of UNISON at least as much – if not more – than most.

Members working for private employers account for a tenth or more of the union’s membership, and it is an area where we are consistently growing.

Over the past three years, annual recruitment in the non-public sector has risen from 45,072 to 53,461, and growth in each of those years has been 5,223, 8,702 and 7,835.

Finally, while it might be trite to say “young members are our future”, it’s also a truism.

As we mark the end of the Year of the Young Worker, it’s worth noting that recruitment among workers under 27 – UNISON’s definition of a young member – continues to rise.

From 2017 to 2019, we’ve seen an 11% increase in young members joining the union: rising from 28,624 to 31,976.

All in all, what the figures show is a healthy, growing and strengthening union. And, having turned a corner in growth, they give reasons to believe that UNISON can continue on the road to growth.

We just need to make sure our national and local campaigns, together with our organising work at workplace, branch, regional and national level, continues to reach out to, and connect with, the public-service workers who aren’t yet in a union.

Then everyone gets the chance to speak and stand together in UNISON.