Discussions about the position of British trade unions under Thatcherism continue to interest scholars and practitioners in the UK, and a variety of theories have been put forward which suggest that unions are becoming increasingly marginal to workplace employee relations. Three of these are focused on, namely, the roll‐back of union organisation, the separation of collective bargaining from strategic decision making, and the impact of employee involvement on union activity. These ideas are evaluated against data from a longitudinal study of four multi‐plant private sector organisations, each of which has high levels of union density and some forms of employee involvement. The data, which were collected in the late 1980s, suggest that simple monocausal correlations – such as employee involvement is directly undermining trade unions – are not robust enough to cope with the reality of organisational life. Much more credence needs to be given to the environmental and more broader managerial context within which employee relations takes place.
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