A new Ipsos poll shows that most Britons believe trade unions are essential to protect workers' interests, although many have concerns about their links to the Labour Party.
Around eight in ten (78%) Britons agree that trade unions are essential to protect workers’ interests while 14% disagree. Labour supporters (87%) and workers in the public sector (85%) are particularly likely to see trade unions as essential. This high level of support for trade unions has remained fairly consistent over the last four decades that Ipsos has been tracking public attitudes towards trade unions.
Despite the support for their role, 53% of British adults believe that the Labour party should not be so closely linked to the trade unions and only 28% disagree with the statement. This is in line with public attitudes in the mid-1990s but in 1977 two thirds of Britons (67%) believed Labour and the unions should not be so closely linked.
Labour’s links with trade unions is an issue that divides Labour supporters with 41% agreeing that Labour should not be so closely linked and 40% disagreeing. Similarly, Labour supporters are split on trade union involvement in selecting candidates: 42% agree it is a good thing for trade unions to play a role in selecting Labour party candidates, 42% disagree. On the whole, 55% of Britons do not think that it is a good thing for trade unions to play a role in selecting Labour party candidates while 28% agree.
Around one in three British adults (35%) believe trade unions have too much power in Britain today while 50% disagree. Concerns about the power of trade unions is much lower now than in the 1970s and early 1980s when up to eight in ten felt they had too much power, but it is higher than the mid 1990s when around a quarter said the same.
A quarter (23%) of Britons say most trade unions are controlled by extremists and militants though 60% disagree. This is the lowest level of agreement with the statement “Most trade unions are controlled by extremists and militants” that Ipsos has recorded since it first started asking the question in 1975.
It is interesting to note that Trade Unions/strikes were named as the most important issue facing Britain in the late 1970s but for the last ten years have not been mentioned by more than 1% of Britons as an important issue.
Head of Political Research at Ipsos, Gideon Skinner, said:
“At a time when unemployment is in the top 3 concerns of Britons, support for the need for trade unions to protect workers’ interests remains high. There has also been a steady decline in those who think they are controlled by extremists. However, their links with Labour do raise more concerns – with differences, as would be expected, along existing party lines.”
Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 13th – 15th July 2013. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.