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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 6 The British Telecommunication Unions: Pre-1980


Introduction At the beginning of the 1980s British Telecom was the publically owned, monopoly supplier, of Britain’s telecommunication services. The telecom- munication unions who organised its staf f had operated solely within the public sector for over seventy years, following the Government’s nationali- sation of all telecommunication services. This chapter charts the develop- ment of the structures and political processes of the telecommunication unions and considers how they were af fected by organising only workers who worked for one specific public sector organisation. The focus then shifts onto how the labour process, recruitment and amalgamation poli- cies of these unions evolved. How these policies, structures and political processes helped to shape the attitudes and beliefs of contemporary policy makers, and the strategies they adopted, is then analysed. Finally the manner in which British telecommunication union polices either varied from, or was similar to, those of the British and Australian printing unions, will be examined. Structures and political processes The British telecommunications unions, unlike the print unions, did not have hundreds of years of guild organisational history, to provide a blue- print for their contemporary structures and political processes. Instead the 102 Chapter 6 telecommunication unions grew out of small linesmen’s associations, who organised within regional telegraph companies in the early decades of the nineteenth century. These associations were not particularly large or ef fec- tive, and it was only after 1870 when the British Government nationalised the telegraphy service, owing to its inef ficiency, that the industry grew rapidly. This...

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