Trade union organisation 2

Release of the 'Pentonville Five', 1973



This was generally used in negotiations with Employers on greenfield sites. It appealed primarily to the more moderate unions including, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Electricians and Engineering unions, and the leading private sector white collar union. But at one time or another in the 1980s and early 1990s most of the large general worker unions also entered or tried to enter into such agreements.

The agreement usually had the following elements:

- single union recognition
- strike free negotiations
- arbitration (conventional or pendulum)

It could also culminate in a "beauty contest" as unions competed to offer an employer the "best deal" in exchange for sole recognition. In one notorious and unusual case, seeing it was not a greenfield site, the Electricians signed a single union deal with Hitachi in 1984 which resulted in five other unions being derecognised.


This was similar to the business model in as much it was used by unions to persuade Employers of the benefits of unionisation. However, it was not just used when seeking to enter a new job territory, but also for retaining recognition in existing territories.

It was in its infancy in the early 1990s (but refined and promoted very enthusiastically after New Labour won the 1997 election).

In 1992 it emphasised the advantages to both employers and unions of co-operation based on joint management and union commitment to;

- the success of the employing organization;
- the recognition of each parties (union and employers) legitimate interests;
- guaranteed employment security;
- good quality of working life;
- operating in a transparent manner;
- and jointly adding value.


This varied from the above two models in several important ways. Most significantly it was intended to help the direct recruitment of Employees, rather than being used to persuade Employers to recognise or to continue to recognise a trade union.

The proposal was fundamentally one which saw members as consumers of a union's services. This had two elements;

- the provision of a range of insurance type services plus the traditional union services as outlined at the start of this paper by reference to members` "bread and butter" interests;
- the professional servicing of members in face to face meetings with employers in, for example, discipline cases and the processing of grievances.

This was a strategy already established in many Professional Associations and some leading white collar unions in the Civil Service. However, it came with a relatively high subscription rate at a time when many unions were finding it difficult to retain existing staff never mind expand the full time officer corps.


This was again an emergent rather than fully fledged strategy but it "took off" in the later 1990s when the TUC threw its weight and some resources behind its development and implementation.

It focussed on:

- the direct recruitment of Employees;
- stressed the importance of involving existing members and activists in recruitment (like recruits like);
- aimed to develop shop stewards and lay activists as "recruiters";
- required full time officials to liaise with local workplaces and direct and co-ordinate recruitment activities;
- encouraged activists to engage management and, if appropriate, confront management if workers had relevant grievances.

Unions towards the more traditional end of the spectrum and previously committed to sustaining an active local organization and empowering its shop stewards obviously found such an approach attractive.

Another consideration, of some importance to most unions looking to directly recruit members, was that this also promised to be the cheaper option to operate as compared to the Servicing Model.


Most of Britain's largest unions, in both the private and public sectors, between 1979 and 1995:

- changed their internal governance systems and structures;
- sought and secured mergers which radically changed the scope of their job territories;
- deployed one or more of the above recruitment and retention strategies to try and stem what was a constant loss of members.

In this last very challenging period unions also began to draw on a wider literature, look abroad for new approaches and to employ a range of different management techniques to develop a more strategic approach to the key problems of the period.

This led to the production of a range of strategy papers by the leading unions, including the Transport and General Workers` "Focus for the Future"; the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union's "MSF into the 21st Century; and the General, Municipal and Boilermakers` "Shaping up for the Next Century". As the aggregated membership figures show this did not stop the very heavy loss of members between 1979 and 1995. However, it probably helped slow the rate of decline and it also put the leading unions into better condition to take advantage of any favourable change in the political climate should the Government change to their advantage in the later 1990s.

Roger Undy, University of Oxford

Associated Narratives: Trade union organisation