The purpose of this paper is to reflect on how the UK’s Trade Union Congress, in the 150th year of its formation, has been responding to the significant changes in the labour market, working practices and union decline. The paper considers Trades Union Congress (TUC) initiatives to recruit and organise new groups of workers as it struggles to adapt to the new world of work many workers are experiencing. Although the paper reviews progress in this regard it also considers current and future challenges all of which are becoming increasingly urgent as the current cohort of union membership is aging and presents a demographic time bomb unless new strategies and tactics are adopted to bring in new groups of workers – particularly younger workers.
This is a review paper so it mainly draws on writings (both academic and practitioner) on trade union strategy and tactics in relations to organising approaches and in particularly the TUC’s initiatives from the period of “New Unionism” onwards.
The authors note that while unions have managed to retain a presence in workplaces and industries where they membership and recognition, there has, despite a “turn to organising” been less success than was perhaps hoped for when new organising initiatives were introduced in 1998. In order to expand the bases of organisation into new workplaces and in new constituencies there needs to be a move away from the “institutional sclerosis” that has prevented unions adapting to the changing nature of employment and the labour market restructuring. The paper concludes that in order to effect transformative change requires leaders to develop strategic capacity and innovation among staff and the wider union membership. This may require unions to rethink the way that they operate and be open to doing thing radically different.
The paper’s value is that it provides a comprehensive overview of the TUC’s role in attempting to inject an organising culture with the UK union movement by drawing out some of the key debates on this topic from both scholarly and practitioner writings over the last few decades.
Simms, M., Holgate, J. and Roper, C. (2019), "The Trades Union Congress 150 years on: A review of the organising challenges and responses to the changing nature of work", Employee Relations, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 331-343. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-09-2018-0242Download as .RIS
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