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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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Trade Union Revitalisation:Trends and Prospects in the United Kingdom 145


PETER FAIRBROTHER Trade Union Revitalisation: Trends and Prospects in the United Kingdom 1. Introduction The prospects for British trade unions are unclear. Established in the 19th century, unions shaped the modern industrial relations structure of Britain for most of the 20th century. Moreover, they helped fashion the prevailing features of social democratic politics in Britain. How- ever, unions now face declining memberships, uncertain relationships with employers, and an organising terrain on which they seem ill- equipped to operate. Further, a number of unions have troubled rela- tionships with their political partner, the Labour Party. In this context, unions have begun to re-evaluate their forms of organisation, their approaches to management and their relationships with the major political parties. This chapter explores these developments, placing them in their historical context and considering possible futures. 2. The Place and Position of Unions The history of British trade unionism has been uneven. From hesitant beginnings, unions established themselves across most sectors of the economy and forged close institutional and ideological links with the Labour Party. There were of course setbacks and uncertainties, most notably following World War I, when sections of the working class sought to establish more active forms of unionism, building on syndicalist political traditions, as well as drawing on emergent and Peter Fairbrother 146 contested communist political practices and approaches. During World War II many unions were able to expand through active partici- pation in joint consultative committees. In the period immediately after the war, public sector unions established themselves...

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