Partners or rivals?: civil society organizations and trade unions

E. Heery, B. Abbott, Stephen Williams

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    A major theme in the international literature on union revitalization in recent years has addressed the question of union-community coalitions. A strong prescriptive literature has emerged which argues that unions must act increasingly on the terrain of civil society and seek coalition partners amongst other social movements if they are to undergo revitalization. Writing from this perspective tends to be universalistic in its prescription but highly specific in the empirical examples on which it draws. A very general argument for the revitalization of unions is mounted on the foundation of limited and possibly idiosyncratic case study evidence. This paper will report original research conducted in the United Kingdom on the relationship between civil society organizations (CSOs) and trade unions, which has been collected in 2007-08 using a grant from the Nuffield Foundation. The focus of this research has been on more than 400 CSOs, embracing identity, advocacy, service-providing, lobbying, and campaigning bodies that to a greater or lesser degree engage with work and employment issues. Examples of the organizations researched include: Age Concern, Fawcett, Stonewall, Citizens' Advice, Liberty, the Methodist Conference, RNID, End Violence against Women, Ethical Trading Initiative, Amnesty International, Samaritans, MacMillan Nursing, National Group on Homeworking, ROSPA, and Low Pay Scotland. Using interview-based cases, profiles of CSOs compiled from websites and other sources, and a postal survey, the research will report on the extent, quality and pattern of CSO relationships with trade unions. It will seek to assess whether this relationship is cooperative, founded on a partnership, in which the two types of representative institution identify common or associated interests. It will also seek to identify cases of tension or rivalry between the two types, where their interests clash, and cases of indifference, where they address separate, non-contiguous interests. In addition, to mapping the pattern of CSO-union relations, the paper will identify the characteristics of CSOs that do develop coalitions with unions. In short, in contrast to the prevailing literature, the paper will offer an account of CSO-union relations that is drawn from a broad set of evidence and which will be receptive to issues of variation and complexity. More generally, the paper will contribute to the growing debate on 'new actors' in industrial relations, which is concerned with mapping new institutions, assessing their significance and understanding their pattern of interaction with the mature IR system based on trade unions and collective bargaining.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
    EventIndustrial Relations in Europe Conference (IREC): Nation States, Europeanisation and Globalisation - University of Greenwich, Greenwich, London
    Duration: 23 Jun 200825 Jun 2008


    ConferenceIndustrial Relations in Europe Conference (IREC): Nation States, Europeanisation and Globalisation
    CityUniversity of Greenwich, Greenwich, London


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