• There is Power in the Union: negotiating the. employment relationship at two manufacturing plants

      Greene, Anne-Marie; Ackers, Peter; Black, John (University of Wolverhampton, 1999-06)
      In previous papers, we have challenged stereotyped policy responses, particularly those which posit the end of ideology and the demise of the age of trade unionism (Black, Greene & Ackers, 1997). Recent research has allowed a comparative approach, between two companies with similar historical and industrial backgrounds, exploring the ways in which the work place union organisation has adapted and responded to the specific changes and challenges which they have confronted. Longitudinal case study research has allowed us to qualify claims of either a dramatic or uniform change in the nature of work place unionism in response to the “Thatcherite” environment prevailing since 1979. This paper seeks to qualify and supplement the larger macro surveys which tend to obscure both the qualitative changes in the work place as well as the relationship between these changes and the local context (c.f. McCarthy 1994, Morris and Wood 1991). We place an emphasis on the way in which work place union organisation is constantly remade in accordance with local circumstances; absorbing local traditions, customs, and styles (Ackers et al 1996; Fairbrother, 1989). Consistent with the above quote from Ackers et al (1996), the pattern of employment relations, we argue, is worked out in the particular organisational milieu. Work place relations develop and change in response to the wider economic, political, legislative, and ideological environment, and are mediated by the nature of the particular workplace. Of particular interest in this paper are the issues of the interplay between union leadership style and the way in which the union/management relationship is viewed by the lay membership. We begin by introducing our two case studies. This is done in some depth, in order to provide the contextual background which is central to our analysis of the situation found at each firm. Our methodology is then briefly presented, before introducing the context of theoretical debates on union leadership. In the main body of the paper, we discuss the various aspects of the two case studies, drawing on analysis of workers’ opinions of their union organisation, and exploring possible explanations for our findings.