Labour Research September 2009


Union revitalisation in advanced economies

Assessing the contribution of union organising

Edited by Gregor Gall, Palgrave, 240 pages, £55.00

It is 11 years since the launch of the TUC Organising Academy, marking an era of self-conscious union organising in the UK and other advanced economies.

This volume attempts to make a methodological assessment of this period of union organising with contributions covering Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand. It should be noted that this is a collection of academic discussion papers rather than a guide to the “organising model” for union activists.

It is clear from the various contributions that the union movements in all these countries are struggling to revitalise themselves, and that the “organising model” does not offer a unique solution to membership decline.

One contributor discussing the UK experience, Simon de Turbeville, goes as far as to argue that the “organising model” is not a credible union renewal strategy at all but merely a loose combination of activities that is present to a certain degree in most union practice.

However, other authors suggest that organising model principles, applied and interpreted in different contexts, have been necessary to union renewal albeit with varying characteristics in different circumstances.

A case study of the RMT rail union, for example, argues that the organising approach, coupled with militant mobilisation, has been crucial to the atypical success of that union, in terms of growing membership, bargaining gains and the vibrancy of union organisation.