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Trade Unions

Probably only around one in seven employees in Spain (14%) are union members, although 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 no up-to-date official figures on union density (the proportion of employees who are union members) in Spain. The most recent official figures come from the 2010 Survey on the Quality of Working Life (ECVT), which the Spanish government has now discontinued. They show that in 2010 16.4% of all those in work were union members.[1] Looking just at employees – the usual basis for calculating union density – the percentage would have been higher, at between 18% and 20%, although the figure cannot be precise as not all union members are employees. However, union membership in 2010 was at record levels and figures published by the main union confederations show that membership has fallen by around 20% since that date (see below). At the same time, employee numbers have risen, after dipping between 2010 and 2013. By 2019, there were 6.9% more employees in Spain than in 2010.[2] As a result, union density has fallen.


Figures from the unions themselves (see below) indicate total union membership across all union groupings of around 2.8 million. This implies a union density of 16.8% in 2019, although not all union members will be employees and some of the membership figures may be overstated. The ICTWSS database of industrial relations statistics suggest a lower figure, estimating union density at 13.6% in 2018.[3]


Another measure of the degree of support for unions is provided by elections to works councils, which take place on a four-yearly basis. A relatively high proportion of employees vote in these elections. In 2015, a third (34.4%) of all private sector employees voted, equivalent to 41.1% of private sector employees in workplaces with a legal possibility of setting up a works council (six or more employees). The overwhelming majority of those elected are trade unionists (97.5% in 2015), with most belonging to the two main confederations.[4] On this measure, 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, CCOO and the UGT, although there are also other union bodies which play an important role. CCOO and the UGT have broadly similar levels of membership and support in works council elections, although CCOO is slightly ahead on both indicators.[5] The two confederations come from different political traditions (see below) but are able to work together successfully. They are also the only "most representative unions" at national level – a status which depends on having at least 10% of the representatives chosen in works council elections at national level – and this gives them rights in the area of collective bargaining (see section on collective bargaining).


The CCOO reported in December 2019 that it had more than 966,000 members.[6] This is a 6% improvement on the 909,052 members in December 2015, reported to the 11th congress of the confederation in 2017.[7]  But is fall of 18% on the figure of 1,171,858 in 2010, the last year for which official union density figures are available.[8] The 2016 figures reported to the congress in 2017 show that the vast majority of its members were employed (84.1%), with 10.9% unemployed, 4.9% retired and 0.4% self-employed or in some other employment situation.


In terms of support in works council elections, figures published by the CCOO and not disputed by other confederations, show it had the largest number of representatives elected in the four years from 2015 to 2019, just as it has in every electoral cycle since 1995. Out of a total of 273,955 representatives elected over this period, it had 97,086 (35.4%).[9]  


The size of the UGT’s membership is similar to that of CCOO. It states on its website that it has 941,485 members (November 2020).[10] This is slightly higher than the membership of 928,846 it reported for 2015, but 22% lower than the record membership of 1,209,651 it reported in 2010.[11]


In terms of the elections to works councils, the UGT is in second place, slightly behind CCOO with 87,663 elected representatives – 32.0% of the total.[12]


Although these two confederations dominate at national level, there are other important union groupings, as indicated by the fact that unions outside these confederations accounted for more than a quarter (29.2%) of all elected representatives in the period to 2019.[13]


These other union groupings fall into three groups:

  • national confederations, which compete directly with CCOO and the UGT across Spain;
  • regional confederations, which operate in some regions; and
  • individual unions or union federations, which organise in specific sectors, industries or occupations.


The three national confederations operating across Spain in competition with CCOO and UGT are USO, CGT and CNT. USO, which emerged in opposition to the Franco regime at the end of the 1950s, is the largest of the three, reporting a membership of 120,545 to the ETUC’s 2019 gender equality audit.[14] It gained 10,993 representatives in the works council election up to 2019 (4.1% of the total). The CGT emerged from a split in the anarchist CNT in 1979 and took the name CGT a decade later. It was reported to have 85,000 members in 2018[15], and has 5,435 elected delegates (2.0% of the total). The CNT, which has continued to exist since the split, is reported to have 50,000 members.[16] However, there are no figures on the number of the CNT’s elected delegates, as the CNT does not participate in works council elections.[17]  


The trade union groupings with a regional base reflect these regions’ demands for greater autonomy or independence. Although nationally these unions only obtained 6.8% of the delegates in the period to 2019,[18] within the regions in which they operate they sometimes have more support than the two main national confederations.


The Basque nationalist ELA is the strongest confederation in the Basque Country by a considerable margin, in terms of its vote in works council elections. The CCOO figures for the cycle ending in 2019 show that ELA had 7,038 elected works council representatives (41.0% of the total) in the Basque Country, more than double the number of the CCOO, with 18.6% of elected delegates and even further ahead of the UGT, on 10.7%. In fact, the second strongest union confederation in the Basque Country, in terms of elected representatives, is LAB, which is close to those demanding complete independence. It had 19.1% of the elected works council members in the Basque Country.[19] Because they have at least 15% of the delegates elected at regional level, ELA and LAB both have the status of "most representative unions" in the Basque Country. The ELA website states that ELA had 98,960 members in March 2017.[20] The LAB website states LAB has 45,000.[21]


In Galicia in the north west of Spain, the Galician union confederation, CIG, is the largest union grouping in Galicia, in terms of representation, with 4,595 elected representatives (28.8% of the total). This puts it ahead of the UGT, in second place with 4,445 (27.9%), and CCOO, in third place with 3,993 (25.0%) Like ELA and LAB in the Basque Country,  with more than 15% of the elected delegates in Galicia, CIG has “most representative union” status in the region. There are no published figures on membership, but CIG’s general secretary stated in 2018 that it had more members in Galicia than both UGT and CCOO. Given that CCOO reported a membership of 42,311 in Galicia to its congress in 2017, this suggests an affiliation level for CIG of perhaps 45,000.[22]


Among the union bodies which operate only in specific sectors, industries or occupations, the most important is CSIF in the area of public administration. In the four years to 2019, it had 10,283 elected representatives, which calculated across the whole economy, was 3.8% of the total, but amounts to a much higher percentage in public administration. As a result, government figures on the election of representatives in central government (known as AGE) in 2019 show that CSIF representatives were the largest grouping by a slight margin. They accounted for 27.6% of the total, ahead of both the UGT (25.9%) and CCOO (24.2%).[23]  After several years of growth, CSIF’s membership was reported to have reached 192,655 by the end of 2017.[24]


However, CSIF is by no means the only union body to have an influential role in a specific occupation or industries. In retail and associated industries, FETICO negotiates alongside CCOO and the UGT, together with another union body FASGA. FETICO reports that it has 66,000 members, and the CCOO’s figures show that it has 4,818 elected representatives (1.8% of the total) across the whole economy.[25] In health, there is a separate union, SATSE, which organises nurses and physiotherapists. It reports that it has 124,000 members,[26] and has joined with another union for teachers, ANPE, with 67,000 members,[27] and a third doctors’ union to form a federation for unions in education and health, FSES, which, on the CCOO figures, has 1,889 elected representatives (0.7% of the total). There is also a separate union for those working in private education, FSIE, with 4,728 elected representatives (1.8% of the total).


There are many other smaller unions outside the main confederations, such as the pilots’ union, SEPLA, a union for flight attendants, STAVLA, a union for train drivers’ SEMAF , an important grouping of unions in education, STEs, and a union for bank staff, FITC. In total, figures from CCOO indicate that nationally smaller independent unions obtained 8.3% of the delegates in the round of works council elections which ended in 2019, and in individual companies or organisations they can be much more significant.


Despite the existence of these smaller unions, the legislation which states that unions must have at least 10% support in works council elections nationwide to be nationally representative, gives a dominant position to CCOO and the UGT the two confederations with this level of support. A recent attempt by USO, the third largest confederation, and six other independent unions to challenge this situation seems unlikely to be successful.[28]


Relations between the two main confederations are normally good, although subject to certain tensions. They have 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). They also both signed a tripartite agreement with the government and the employers on remote working arrangements in September 2020.[29]


All the confederations are structured on an industry basis with separate federations for different industries, and in both CCOO and the UGT number of federations has fallen in recent years, as the result of mergers.


In line with the plan of action approved at its congress in 2013, the CCOO has reduced the number of its federations and now has only seven, including one for retired members. All manufacturing industry, for example, is now covered by a single federation, CCOO de Industria, formed through a merger of two separate federations in February 2014.


The situation is similar in the UGT. It only has six federations, and, with one each for agricultural workers, retired members and the self-employed, almost the whole of the economy is covered by three federations, one for  public administration, health and education, one for other services, including transport, and one for manufacturing, construction and energy.


In both CCOO and the UGT, these federations 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.


Both confederations also have regional structures, which correspond to the country’s regional divisions, and play an important role.


Historically the two main confederations had different political links – with the socialist party (PSOE) for UGT and with the communist party (PCE) for CCOO. However, a 2018 study for the ETUI suggests that these political and ideological differences are today “only minor” and that both are broadly social democratic organisations.[30] The Basque and Galician confederations, ELA, LAB and CIG, are politically aligned to calls for greater autonomy or in some cases independence for their communities, and the occupational and industrially based unions outside the main confederations place great emphasis on their political independence.


Trade union membership in Spain was rising before the economic crisis in 2008, with  official figures from the Quality of Working Life survey showing that the proportion of trade unionists among those in work increased from 15.8% in 2007 to 17.4% in 2008. It then fell slightly to 17.2% in 2009 and 16.4% in 2010, the last year these figures were published.[31] Figures from the two main union confederations after this date indicate a further fall in their membership from 2.38 million in 2010 to 1.84 million in 2015. Since then, their membership has increased, rising to 1.91 million by 2019.[32] Similar figures are not available for the smaller union groupings, but figures from some of them indicate a growth in recent years.


Both main confederations have emphasised the need to increase affiliation. The CCOO, in the document to be presented to its 2021 conference points first to its low level of affiliation, which it estimates to be 4.9% of employees, as a limit on its negotiating ability.[33] And the UGT, in a document for its congress in 2021 described “encouraging membership” as a priority for the union.[34]


There are no official figures later than 2010 on the proportion of men and women who are union members. The 2010 figures from the Quality of Working Life survey showed that 17.8% of men in employment were in a union, compared with 14.8% of women. Figures submitted to the unions themselves to the ETUC’s annual gender audit show that, in 2019,44.1% of CCOO’s membership was women, 36.8% of the UGT’s, 40.0% of USO’s and 45.2% of ELA’s.[35]


[1] Encuesta de la Calidad de Vida en el Trabajo (ECVT) (2010) Table 5.10 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/ecvt/Ecvt2010/IN5/index.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)  http://www.1mayo.ccoo.es/nova/files/1018/Portada201208.pdf (Accessed 11.05.15)

[2] Figures from the Encuesta de población activa (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) which show that there were 16.67 million employees in Spain in 2019 and 15.59 million in 2010

[3] Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. Version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019

[4] La representación sindical en España: cobertura y límites by Pere Jódar, Ramon Alós, Pere Beneyto and Sergi Vidal, in Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales 36(1), 2018 https://cedproves.uab.cat/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cuadernos-de-Relaciones-Laborales_2018_36_1_Jodar_Vidal-et-al.pdf  (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[5] For an analysis of the situation and development of Spanish unions see Spain: a peripheral economy and a vulnerable trade union movement by Holm-Detlev Köhler and José Pablo Calleja Jiménez, in Rough waters: European trade unions in a time of crises, edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten, ETUI, 2018

[6] Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 409,  December 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/bc6d78a4dbdce411e085b37ecb69ec3a000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020))

[7] Memoria de Actividad, 11º Congreso Confederal, CCOO, 2017 https://www.ccoo.es/0279d2e4901465674f6d9c0c5a745ea5000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[8] Memoria de Actividad, 10º Congreso Confederal, CCOO, 2013  http://docpublicos.ccoo.es/cendoc/035875XCongresoCSCCOOMemoriaActividad.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[9] Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 432, June 2020 https://www.ccoo.es/c2085d8a95b4589b418baf794f5b99c9000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[10] ¿Qué es UGT? https://www.ugt.es/que-es-ugt (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[11] Nuestras cuentas: Información económica de la CEC, Unión General de Trabajadores, 2016  http://docplayer.es/74293457-Nuestras-cuentas-informacion-economica-de-la-cec.html f (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[12] Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 409,  December 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/bc6d78a4dbdce411e085b37ecb69ec3a000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020))

[13] This and subsequent figures on the number and proportion of representatives elected in the period up to 2019 come from details published by CCOO in 2019  https://www.ccoo.es/05719941f755aa9b2aec7e126c36227d000001.pdf . They differ slightly from the 2020 figures quoted above, but are used because they provide more information on smaller union organisations.

[14] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019  https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 04.09.2020)

[15] Los sindicatos recuperan afiliados por segundo año consecutivo, Expansión, 04.02.2018 https://www.expansion.com/economia/2018/02/04/5a76ee98268e3ecc738b45d9.html (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[16] Del 8M a Amazon: CNT y CGT resucitan a costa de los dinosaurios sindicales, El Confidencial, 25.03.2018  https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2018-03-25/cnt-cgt-sindicatos-ugt-ccoo-huelga-amazon-feminismo_1540327/ (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[17] ¿Qué es CNT? https://www.cnt.es/que-es-cnt/#elecciones (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[18] ibid

[19] Resultados de las elecciones sindicales. 31-XII-2011, Departamento de Empleo y Asuntos Sociales, Gobierno Vasco, April 2012 http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2015/03/04/paisvasco/1425501954_026895.html

[20] La afiliación y representación en cifras https://www.ela.eus/es/sobre-ela/afiliacion-en-cifras  (Accessed 04.11. 2020)

[21] Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak https://www.lab.eus/es/langile-abertzaleen-batzordeak/ (Accessed 04.11. 2020)

[22]La CIG ya es el primer sindicato de Galicia en delegados y delegadas, Galici@press, 08.06.2018  https://www.galiciapress.es/texto-diario/mostrar/1107530/-cig-xa-e-primeiro-sindicato-galicia-delegados-e-delegadas (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[23] Avance provisional de resultados elecciones a órganos de representación del personal al servicio de la Administración General del Estado, Ministerio de Política Territorial y Función Pública, 19.06.2019  https://www.mptfp.gob.es/dam/es/portal/funcionpublica/funcion-publica/dialogo-social/Elecciones-sindicales-2019/Avance_provisional_resultados.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[24] Los sindicatos recuperan afiliados por segundo año, tras la fuga de la crisis, EFE, 04.02.2018 https://www.efe.com/efe/espana/economia/los-sindicatos-recuperan-afiliados-por-segundo-ano-tras-la-fuga-de-crisis/10003-3513517#:~:text=Desde%20entonces%2C%20el%20n%C3%BAmero%20de,peor%20momento%20de%20la%20crisis (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[25] FETICO – historia  https://www.fetico.es/conocenos/historia (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[26]  SATSE aumenta en un 23 por ciento el apoyo logrado en las elecciones sindicales, SATSE (12.06.2019) http://www.satse.es/comunicacion/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/satse-aumenta-en-un-23-por-ciento-el-apoyo-logrado-en-las-elecciones-sindicales  (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[27] Afiliación - ANPE sindicato independiente https://anpesindicato.org/afiliacion/index.php/inicio/mas (Accessed 04.11.2020)  

[28] USO, Fetico, Satse, ANPE, CCP, Gestha y CSL "unen sus fuerzas" para acabar con el 'bisindicalismo' La Vanguardia, 03.07.2019 https://www.lavanguardia.com/vida/20190703/463276626877/uso-fetico-satse-anpe-ccp-gestha-y-csl-unen-sus-fuerzas-para-acabar-con-el-bisindicalismo.html

[29] Las Ejecutivas de UGT y CCOO ratifican el acuerdo para regular el teletrabajo, Europapress, 22.09.2020 https://www.europapress.es/economia/laboral-00346/noticia-ejecutivas-ugt-ccoo-ratifican-acuerdo-regular-teletrabajo-20200922112057.html (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[30] Spain: a peripheral economy and a vulnerable trade union movement by Holm-Detlev Köhler and José Pablo Calleja Jiménez, in Rough waters: European trade unions in a time of crises, edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten, ETUI, 2018

[31]Encuesta de Calidad de Vida en el Trabajo (2006-2010)   http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/ecvt/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[32] CC.OO. y UGT llegan al Primero de Mayo con menos afiliados que antes de la crisis, ABC, 01.05.2018 https://www.abc.es/economia/abci-ccoo-y-llegan-primero-mayo-menos-afiliados-antes-crisis-201805010145_noticia.html (Accessed 12.05.2015) plus figures at the start of this section.

[33] Propuesta de ponencia 12 Congreso, p. 46 Consejo Confederal, 20.10.2020  https://comisionesobreras.congresos.ccoo.es/e2f70522d1a4a1380fccc941df5cc297000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[34] Normativa interna p. 65, Comisión de propuestas 43, Congreso https://www.ugt.es/sites/default/files/normativa-interna-43-07092020.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

[35] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019  https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.