Labor Demographics

A Shrinking Labor Movement

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Trade unions rely on strong membership to give them more collective bargaining power. Shrinking numbers could adversely affect their influence.

  • Facts


    • IG Metall, Germany’s biggest trade union representing workers from carmakers and other industries, gained only 290 new members in 2016.
    • The union will invest €191 million over the next nine years in trying to increase membership.
    • Thanks to Germany’s dual education system, 44,000 students are members of IG Metall, nearly five times as many as 10 years ago.
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main source Daniel Reinhardt DPA ID 74892060 – Demonstration IG Metall union members Jan 2015 higher wage increase demands
With declining membership, demonstrating for wage increases might not as effective as in the past. Source: Daniel Reinhardt / DPA

When Jörg Hofmann, the head of the IG Metall labor union, recently looked over last year’s balance sheets, he said he liked what he saw. In particular, the fact that membership numbers had stayed remarkably steady.

At the end of 2016, there were 2,274,033 members in one of the world’s largest labor unions – just 290 more than the previous year. IG Metall was lucky, though. Almost every union within Germany’s Trade Union Confederation (DGB) shrank during the same period. The only organization that saw numbers rise significantly was the German Police Union, bolstered by fears over national security.

Meanwhile, Germany’s labor market seems to know no bounds. Almost 43.6 million people were employed in December, with unemployment falling to its lowest level since reunification, in what’s Germans are referring to as a “job miracle.”

However trade unions are having trouble translating that into good times of their own. IG BCE, Germany’s third-largest trade union, for the mining, chemical and energy industries, was hit hard by the end of coal mining, with membership sinking by just over 1 percent. It would have fallen further if it weren’t for new membership in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sectors.

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