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Trade Unions

Union density in Spain is now around 20% and the results of elections to works councils indicate that unions have much wider support. There are two dominant union confederations in Spain, CCOO and the UGT, although there are other important groupings at regional level and in the public sector.

There are around 2.9 million trade union members in Spain and the latest official figures from the ministry of labour for 2010 show that 16.4% of all those in work are union members and 18.9% of employees in employment (the usual definition of union density) are union members.1 This is higher than the ICTWSS database of union membership, which put union density at 15.6% in 2010.2

Another measure of support is provided by elections to works councils, which can take place at any time but frequently occur over 15 months between September and December on a four-yearly basis. Most large and medium-sized organisations hold these elections – 47.4% of employees are in workplaces with this form of representation.3 Participation is relatively high, with around two-thirds of those entitled to vote doing so, and the overwhelming majority of those elected are trade unionists (98.1% in 2011).4 Using this measure, it is clear that unions have much greater support than the level of union density would indicate.

There are two main trade union confederations in Spain at national level, the CCOO and the UGT. Both have broadly similar levels of membership.

The CCOO reported to its Congress in February 2013 that it had 1,139,591 members at the end of December 2011.5 This is a fall of 53,000 (4.4%) on the figure in October 2008,6 but over the same period the number of employees in Spain fell by 11.4%. The vast majority of its members in 2011 were employed (86.4%), with 10.3% unemployed, 2.9% retired and 0.4% self-employed or is some other employment situation.

The membership of the UGT is similar. Figures produced for its congress in April 2013 show that it had 1,169,000 affiliates in 2012.7 This is 3.4% down on the 1,209,651 affiliates recorded in 2010, over a period when employment in Spain fell by 9.1%.

In terms of the elections to works councils, the most recent completed major round was for the period to 2011. Figures published by the CCOO on the position at the end of 2011 show that both main confederations have a very similar level of support.

In its report to congress in February 2013, the CCOO announced that, out of a total of 309,846 elected representatives, it had 117,016, compared with 110,759 belonging to the UGT. In terms of votes, CCOO received 33.54% and UGT 31.30%.8 These two confederations are well ahead of all the other union bodies (see below), with almost two-thirds of the votes and three-quarters of the representatives. They are also the only "most representative unions" at national level – a status which depends on their results in the works council elections and gives them rights in the area of collective bargaining (see section on collective bargaining).

All other union bodies received 35.16% of the votes and obtained 82,071 representatives in the works council elections, according to the CCOO figures. These bodies include the national confederations, USO, CGT and CNT, which are all much smaller that the CCOO and UGT, although USO is bigger than the others, in terms of its support in works council elections. There are also a number of unions which are strong in specific sectors. Probably the most significant of these is the CSI-CSIF in the area of public administration. However, there are also others, such as FETICO in retail and distribution.

This is the national picture but there are also important trade union groupings with a regional base reflecting these regions’ demands for greater autonomy or independence. The Basque nationalist ELA/STV is the strongest confederation in the Basque Country in terms of its vote in works council elections. Figures from the Basque government show that it had 39.8% of the elected works council representatives in the Basque Country at the end of 2011, double the number of the CCOO, on 19.9%% and even further ahead of the UGT, on 12.4%. ELA/STV has 105,312 members (figures for end September 2012 from website). The third strongest union confederation in the Basque Country is LAB, which is closer to those demanding complete independence. It had 17.3% of the elected works council members in the Basque Country at the end of 2008.9 ELA/STV and LAB both have the status of "most representative unions" in the Basque Country. In Galicia, the CIG is a significant union force with “most representative union” status in Galicia.

Relations between the two main confederations are normally good, although subject to certain tensions. For example, the government’s decision at the start of 2006 to return trade union property confiscated by Franco to the UGT, provoked criticism from CCOO, which argued that the form and timing of the measure was wrong.

However, the basic policy followed by both confederations is unity of action. They have acted together to organise general strikes against government policies on a number of occasions, most recently twice in 2012, on 29 March and on 14 November, and they have also reached a series of joint agreements with the employers providing a framework for annual pay increases and the structure of industrial relations in Spain (see section on collective bargaining).

All the confederations are structured on an industry basis with separate federations for different sectors such as metalworking, public services, communications and transport, and financial services and there have been significant mergers between the federations. Currently, following a number of mergers, the CCOO has 11 federations affiliated to it and the UGT has ten (although those for retired members, agricultural workers and the self-employed in the UGT are called unions). In both cases the affiliates include a grouping for retired members. However, these industrial groupings are better seen as sections of the main confederations rather than autonomous bodies. Spanish trade unionists are more likely to see themselves primarily as members of the UGT or CCOO than their industry federation. The regional structures of the confederations are also influential.

The ties between the two main confederations and their historic political allies – the socialist party for UGT and the communist party for CCOO – have weakened greatly in the past decades. Both dealt with the centre-right government, which governed Spain from 1996 to 2004, signing agreements on some issues and opposing the government on others, but, despite a general strike in September 2010, both worked much more closely with the government led by the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero from 2004 to 2011. The policies followed by the centre-right government of Mariano Rajoy, who was elected at the end of 2011, have resulted in increased conflicts with the unions.

Trade union membership in Spain was growing until recently, although in the last three or four years it has fallen as employment has fallen and for a period before that it did not rise as fast as employment. Expressed as a percentage of those in work, the official figures on the quality of working life show that the proportion of trade unionists has changed little in the period 2007 to 2010. It moved from 15.8% (2007) to 17.4% (2008), 17.2% (2009) and 16.4% (2010).10 The 2010 survey shows that men at (17.8%) are more likely to be in a union than women (14.8%), although the gap between the two is narrowing. In terms of sectors, the highest level of unionisation is in the public administration where 33.0% of those in work are in a union.

L. Fulton (2013) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.