Trade union community membership: exploring what people who are not in paid employment could contribute to union activism

Jane Holgate, Gabriella Alberti , Iona Byford, Ian Greenwood

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Abstract

The industrial relations literature tends to argue that the main reason workers become union members is primarily instrumental––to provide assistance if there’s a problem at work, yet this clearly doesn’t apply to those who are not in work. It is, in many ways, counterintuitive to join a trade union when not an employee or in paid employment, looking for a job, or retired––as there’s generally little material benefit in doing so. Other literature though has noted that personal values––particularly those who associated with the ideological left––can lead to a predisposition toward union joining that is not based on a purely material calculus. Yet still, this analysis usually applies to workers. The research reflected in this article aims to understand the motivation of people who are not in paid employment, such as jobseekers/unemployed, students and retirees, in joining labour unions and becoming active within them. It does so through a case study of the UK’s largest private sector union, Unite, and considers the contribution to, or rationale for, union activism within community membership and the possibilities for a rethinking of trade unionism beyond its traditional workplace base
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransfer: European Review of Labour and Research
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 31 May 2021

Keywords

  • activism
  • community organising
  • motivation
  • retirees
  • trade union membership

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