Trade union identities and the role of niche unionism
: exploring contemporary United Kingdom trade unions

  • Robert Smale

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis explores three closely related questions in order to further the understanding of contemporary United Kingdom trade unionism and make an original contribution to knowledge. The first relates to understanding the distinct identities which trade unions project in the public domain. The second relates to those trade unions that display what will be called a niche union identity in order to organise a sector of the labour market, and which are therefore axiomatically not general in character. The third relates to what will be called niche unionism, which is a broader concept incorporating those unions that seek to organise niches through sectionalised structures.
    The work both acknowledges extant literature and advances knowledge in the field of industrial relations, and draws upon contributions from other disciplines where these inform the intellectual discussion. It is argued that existing theoretical approaches are inadequate for understanding the identities projected by contemporary UK Certified trade unions, and that the concept of niche in relation to trade unions has received minimal consideration in industrial relations literature. Therefore it is argued that a new conceptual framework is required.
    The methodological approach adopted was empirical pragmatism, with data being collected using mixed methods. The work was limited to certified unions operating within the United Kingdom and to data collected between October 2008 and August 2015.
    The work makes an original contribution to knowledge by introducing a multidimensional framework for the analysis of trade union identities based upon a limited number of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sources that determine the territories within which unions organise, together with certain ‘additional’ sources. This framework then facilitates the recognition of both niche union identity and the practice of niche unionism.
    Date of AwardMay 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorStephen Williams (Supervisor)

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