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Radical Unions in Europe and the Future of Collective Interest Representation


Edited By Heather Connolly, Lefteris Kretsos and Craig Phelan

This book analyses contemporary trends in radical unionism in Europe. It contains nine country case-studies that probe the limits and possibilities of trade union renewal with a focus on radical activity. The editors follow a broad definition of radical unionism, including trade union organisations that can be characterised as radical either in terms of ideology and political identity or in terms of organising and mobilising activity. The ongoing economic crisis and consequent austerity measures, and employers’ strategies for increasing labour market flexibility have encouraged the deregulation of capitalism in Europe. The question this book asks is whether radicalised unionism, political action and grassroots activism present opportunities for union renewal and collective interest representation in this economic context. This question is examined in nine national contexts with diverse industrial relations frameworks and trade unions. The editors assess the degree to which we are witnessing the emergence of ‘radical political unionism’ as an alternative model of trade unionism in Europe, focused on class struggle, engagement in social movement activity beyond the workplace, and politicised union strategies aligned to new left-wing political formations.
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Britain: Striking Unionism With a Political Cutting Edge



Compared with the wave of general strikes that have swept across Europe since 2009, the response of UK trade unions to the global financial crisis and government austerity measures has been rather more muted. However, in March 2011 there was the largest ever trade union protest demonstration in Britain’s history involving half a million workers, which was followed in November by a one-day public sector general strike of 2.5 million workers which represented the biggest industrial confrontation since the miners’ strike in 1984–5 and the biggest single day of strike action in Britain since the 1926 General Strike. Although nowhere nearly as extensive or prolonged as Greek, Spanish or French-style union organised resistance, the rising levels of strike activity against austerity have led to an upsurge in membership levels for a number of unions combined with renewed levels of engagement and collective organisation (Labour Research, February 2012).

Of course this recent spate of union militancy in Britain has occurred against a backcloth of many years of union decline and retreat on a much greater scale than elsewhere in Europe, the broad contours of which include: a decline in strike activity to its lowest ever historical levels; the steepest ever sustained decline in union membership and density levels, with union presence narrowly confined overwhelmingly in the public sector; a substantial fall in the coverage of collective bargaining and number of workplace union reps; and the hangover from the defeat of the miners’ strike...

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