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Union Voices

Union Voices: Tactics and Tensions in UK Organizing

Melanie Simms
Jane Holgate
Edmund Heery
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Union Voices
    Book Description:

    In Union Voices, the result of a thirteen-year research project, three industrial relations scholars evaluate how labor unions fared in the political and institutional context created by Great Britain's New Labour government, which was in power from 1997 to 2010. Drawing on extensive empirical evidence, Melanie Simms, Jane Holgate, and Edmund Heery present a multilevel analysis of what organizing means in the UK, how it emerged, and what its impact has been.

    Although the supportive legislation of the New Labour government led to considerable optimism in the late 1990s about the prospects for renewal, Simms, Holgate, and Heery argue that despite considerable evidence of investment, new practices, and innovation, UK unions have largely failed to see any significant change in their membership and influence. The authors argue that this is because of the wider context within which organizing activity takes place and also reflects the fundamental tensions within these initiatives. Even without evidence of any significant growth in labor influence across UK society more broadly, organizing campaigns have given many of the participants an opportunity to grow and flourish. The book presents their experiences and uses them to show how their personal commitment to organizing and trade unionism can sometimes be undermined by the tensions and tactics used during campaigns.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6602-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    This book tells the story of what is, in our view, probably the most significant development in British trade unionism of recent years: the increasing focus on organizing activity. We do this by reflecting on the impact of the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) Organising Academy (OA), the participants in the training program, and the organizing campaigns that union organizers have run. We explicitly want to give voice to these union activists who have worked so hard to recruit and organize new union members. Much has already been written in the United Kingdom (often by us) about these developments but...

  5. 1 From Managing Decline to Organizing for the Future
    (pp. 18-34)

    The steady decline in British trade union membership from 13.3 million in 1979 to 7.2 million in 1996 led the Trades Union Congress to launch the New Unionism initiative, not only to provoke a debate on how to revive the future of trade unionism but also to provide guidance and support to unions on developing new renewal strategies. As highlighted in the introduction, New Unionism was far broader than just a focus on organizing. It was a broad-based effort at using a range of strategies to promote revitalization. So, for example, the development of the Organising Academy sat alongside an...

  6. 2 The TUC Approach to Developing a New Organizing Culture
    (pp. 35-58)

    We want to start our evaluation of UK experiences of organizing by looking at the attempts by the Trades Union Congress to promote and develop organizing from the mid-1990s onward. Of course, we are not suggesting that organizing did not exist before then. Rather, we believe that the New Unionism initiative and the related development of the Organising Academy represented a turning point in ideas within the UK union movement about how renewal and revitalization might develop. One of the central objectives of the academy was to recruit and train a new cadre of people to work in British unions....

  7. 3 The Spread of Organizing Activity to Individual Unions
    (pp. 59-89)

    This chapter looks at how organizing ideas and practices have spread beyond the TUC and into individual unions. In 2010, the TUC had fifty-eight affiliate unions. Some large unions are not affiliated to the TUC, most notably those that have a dual representation function both as a professional regulator and a trade union. These are mainly health service unions such as the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association. Our attention here is on TUC-affiliated unions because these account for the bulk of UK union membership, and it is here that membership decline has been particularly problematic, thus...

  8. 4 Union Organizers and Their Stories
    (pp. 90-117)

    Right from the outset of the Organising Academy, it was clear that the main role of the new organizers was to be “agents of change” within unions. We have been at pains to point out that, of course, organizing activities were taking place in UK unions prior to the mid-1990s. What changed with the development of the academy was a clear view that these new and relatively junior recruits would provoke a debate about the practice and importance of organizing activity within unions. Underpinning those ideas was the intention that the central objective of the process of change would be...

  9. 5 Organizing Campaigns
    (pp. 118-150)

    So far, we have looked at the rise of specialist organizer training in the United Kingdom over the 1990s and into the 2000s, and how those ideas and practices have spread into different unions. We have also looked at the challenges of being a specialist organizer. But what has been missing so far is a discussion of the day-to-day practice of organizing. In this chapter, we look at organizing campaigns and how practices are applied at the level of the workplace. Our starting point is to make it clear how the practices of organizing are often specific to the UK...

  10. 6 Evaluating Organizing
    (pp. 151-172)

    Throughout the decade of the development of specialist organizing activity, we have noted a marked change in approach in British unions. The early years of organizing activity prompted many comments and stories from organizers and senior policymakers about the lack of overarching strategic direction to much of the organizing activity taking place. A fairly typical example was a “hot shop” campaign where workers in a call center were dissatisfied about their working conditions (see Simms 2006, 2007b). In brief, the union involved was approached primarily because the husband of one of the most vocal workers was a member, and the...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-184)
  12. Index
    (pp. 185-190)
  13. About the Authors
    (pp. 191-191)