Much current debate on the experience of trade unionism in the 1980s and its prospects for the 1990s involves the clash of simplistic generalisations. The problems of numerical decline and lack of internal cohesion are widespread, but not universal afflications. Individual unions, and different national movements, vary considerably in the efficacy with which they have responded to changes in the economic and political environment and in the nature of the workforce. To understand such differences we need to develop subtle analyses of what are complex and contradictory tendencies; and to propose credible scenaries of the next decade we need to be able to separate cyclical (and potentially reversible) from secular trends in the environment of industrial relations. Comparative research is only beginning to suggest the basis for a more scientific approach to the questions discussed above.
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