The Mori survey found that a substantial majority of the electorate - including Conservative supporters - felt unions were doing a good job for their members. Only 16 per cent disagreed. In the most clear-cut expression of blame to date, almost two-thirds believed management rather than unions were responsible for the country's economic problems.
The poll, commissioned by the GMB general union, showed that most people no longer believe unions are dominated by extremists and militants. For the first time since regular polling began in 1975, it found those who believed the unions were controlled by extremists (34 per cent) were outnumbered by those who did not (42 per cent). Less than a quarter of the 1,852 adults questioned thought unions were too powerful - the lowest figure ever recorded.
The findings seem to support the view of union leaders that the latest proposed legislation aimed at restricting unions will find no popular appeal among electors.
The GMB said: 'They (the unions) are seen to be on the side of the underdog. These poll findings confirm what many commentators have said - the unions are no longer the bogeymen of British industry. Union-bashing is simply seen as bullying.'
A survey by Dr Helen Newell of Warwick University Business School, published in Personnel Management magazine, reveals a high level of support for unions on greenfield sites, although one- third of workers did not know whether the union 'was closer to the employees or the managers'.