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Inside the Unions

A Comparative Analysis of Policy-Making in Australian and British Printing and Telecommunication Trade Unions


Ed Blisset

This book consists of a comparative analysis of policy-making in Australian and British telecommunications and printing trade unions. It tests the validity of different theoretical models of union policy-making and behaviour, whilst also assessing the strength of the book’s hypothesis, that informal micro-political influences inside unions – such as personal friendships, enmities and loyalties – affect union policy-making to a greater extent than has been previously acknowledged in the literature.
Two central questions lie at the heart of this book: How, and why, do unions adopt specific policies? What factors explain the different behaviour of similar unions, when faced with comparable policy choices?
As a former senior union officer the author realised that trade unions are often wary of publically disclosing those factors which informed their policy choices. For this reason an interview-rich methodology was adopted, which involved a seventeen-year longitudinal study, in which over 220 officers and staff of all the relevant unions, were interviewed in depth. The result is a book which throws new light on the rich and complex process of union policy-making.


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Chapter 1 Introduction


The questions that form the core of this book started to take shape in the late 1980s. At that time I was working for the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU) as a National Of ficial, having recently left the University of Warwick, where I had been a Research Associate in the Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU). During my time at Warwick, I had become increasingly interested in what factors shaped union policies and in those theories which sought to explain union behaviour. This inter- est heightened during my time at BIFU, where I participated in national policy-making and observed the inf luences on those of us who were making policy choices. The decisions that we made were often markedly dif ferent to those taken in similar circumstances by the other unions that I had been active within, the GMB and the TGWU. Significantly the reality of policy formation, in all three unions, did not seem to be explained by any of the analytical frameworks that had been put forward by scholars to explain union policy-making. It was this disparity between the theory and the real- ity of policy-making that prompted the following questions, which were eventually to form the basis of this book: how, and why, do unions adopt specific policies? What factors explain the dif ferent behaviour of similar unions, when faced with comparable policy choices? My interest and practical knowledge of trade union policy-making originated whilst I was a lay union activist. I joined the Transport and...

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