Civil society organizations and the exercise of power in the employment relationship

Brian Abbott (Kingston Business School, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames, UK)
Edmund Heery (Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff, UK)
Stephen Williams (University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth Business School, Portsmouth, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 1 January 2012



This paper seeks to focus on civil society organizations (CSOs) and their capacity to exercise power in the employment relationship. In particular, the paper is concerned with identifying the sources of power, how it is exercised and whether CSOs can exert pressure on other employment actors despite their apparent lack of resources possessed by more established representative structures.


Findings are based on 139 completed postal questionnaires and 47 interviews, primarily face‐to‐face, across 34 different CSOs.


Adopting a resource dependence framework suggests that CSOs have the capacity to exercise power and influence key employment actors. However, the power of CSOs is undermined by the absence of an internal organizational presence, making it difficult to mobilize workers.

Research limitations/implications

The research highlights the role of an often‐ignored employment actor. To provide further insights further research is needed to garner the views of other employment participants.


In employee relations discussions of workplace power have typically focused on the power of the state, employers and trade unions. This paper adopts a novel angle by exploring the role of CSOs and their ability to exercise power.



Abbott, B., Heery, E. and Williams, S. (2012), "Civil society organizations and the exercise of power in the employment relationship", Employee Relations, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 91-107.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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