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Organising to beat the Trade Union Act (2016) voting thresholds: a case study of organising and tactics from the University and College Union

James Richards (School of Management and Languages, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)
Vaughan Ellis (Department of HRM, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 14 September 2021

Issue publication date: 13 December 2022




A retrospective action-research case study of one branch of the University and College Union (UCU) is used to show how threshold requirements of the Act can be systematically beaten.


The paper responds to calls for “best practice” on how trade unions may react to member voting threshold requirements of the Trade Union Act 2016 (the Act). A broader aim is to make a theoretical contribution related to trade union organising and tactics in “get the vote out” (GTVO) industrial action organising campaigns.


Findings are presented as a lead organiser's first-hand account of a successful GTVO campaign contextualised in relation to theories of organising. The findings offer “best practice” for union organisers required to beat the Act's voting thresholds and also contribute to theories surrounding trade union organising tactics.

Research limitations/implications

Further development and adaptation of the proposed model may be required when applied to larger bargaining units and different organising contexts.

Practical implications

The findings can inform the organising practices/tactics of trade unions in relation to statutory ballots. The findings also allow Human Resource (HR) practitioners to reflect on their approach to dealing with unions capable of mounting successful GTVO campaigns.

Social implications

The findings have the potential to collectively empower workers, via their trade unions, to defend and further their interests in a post-financial crisis context and in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.


This is the first known empirical account of organising to exceed voting thresholds of the Act, providing practical steps for union organisers in planning for statutory ballots. Further value lies in the paper's use of a novel first-hand account of a GTVO campaign, offering a new and first, theoretical model of organising tactics to beat the Act.



Richards, J. and Ellis, V. (2022), "Organising to beat the Trade Union Act (2016) voting thresholds: a case study of organising and tactics from the University and College Union", Personnel Review, Vol. 51 No. 9, pp. 2294-2311.



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