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Revitalising the trade union movement through internationalism: The grassroots perspective

Rebecca Ryland (Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
David Sadler (Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 4 July 2008




This paper aims to present an exploration of grassroots perspectives on trade union methods of organisational change management through internationalism. A case study of UNISON (one of the largest UK trade unions, representing public sector workers) is explored with the intention of identifying whether or not there are opportunities for the rebuilding of grassroots‐led collective identities, solidarity and community beyond national borders.


The paper is based upon a case study of UNISON's North West region in England. Participant observation was conducted and semi‐structured interviews were held with UNISON key informants. Focus group sessions were conducted with UNISON grassroots members.


There remains a big divide between the aspirations of unions such as UNISON, and the grassroots perspectives upon labour internationalism of many members. Nonetheless, as some trade unions increasingly recognise that the choice is between organisational change and growing irrelevance, we show that the way in which organisational change is understood by the grassroots is of growing significance.

Research limitations/implications

The research raises implications for understanding the relationship between international officials and others within union leadership roles; the meaning of internationalism at union branch level; and the impacts of new or emergent civil society agendas such as global climate change.

Practical implications

The research equips trade unions with a deeper understanding of how their organisational change management strategies are supported, or questioned, by members. It demonstrates the level of grassroots support for internationalism, enabling the identification of how members position themselves with respect to cross‐border solidarity, and how they interpret organisational change strategies.


There has been great debate as to the effects of globalisation and neoliberalism on trade unions and the strategies available to achieve renewal. One such strategy is trade union internationalism. Very little is known, however, about the extent and manner of membership understandings of internationalism. Do members support internationalism, or do they perceive it as a distraction from a core agenda? The paper explores this grassroots perspective.



Ryland, R. and Sadler, D. (2008), "Revitalising the trade union movement through internationalism: The grassroots perspective", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 471-481.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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