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Trade union organising in private sector services : findings from the British, Dutch and German retail industry

[working paper]

Dribbusch, Heiner

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Corporate Editor Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut in der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung
Abstract "The aim of the paper is to take a closer look behind the curtain of low aggregate trade union densities in retail and to outline the major obstacles and problems trade union organising faces in the retail trades. Trade union organising and recruitment is analysed against the background of a 'two hurdle model of organising' (cf. Haas 2000, Dribbusch 2003) derived from explanations on trade union membership put forward by Green (1990) and Disney (1990). Within this framework the first hurdle to be taken is the establishment of a workplace presence as a precondition for any sustainable membership development. The second hurdle is then to convince the potential members in the workplace to join i.e. the recruitment. To perform the task of organising, the unions have to struggle with structural constraints, but they act as well as "architects of their own destiny" (Frege 1999) having a wide range of alternative policies at their disposal (cf. Heery et al 2000). Therefore, an analysis of trade union organising attempts and subsequent successes will have to combine both "structuralist" and "interventionist" perspectives (cf. Mason and Bain 1993; Kelly 1997). As organising and recruitment is a potentially contentious issue between unions and employers, the balance of power between the two parties has to be taken into account as well (cf. Kelly and Waddington 1995, Hyman 1996). The structural power of shop workers is weak as most of them are relatively easy to replace and the dispersion and fragmentation of the workforce make it particularly difficult to develop “associational power” (Wright 2000). The argument put forward is that despite structural obstacles organising and recruitment in retail is possible but that to successfully manage unionisation for more than a minority of workers will require institutional support through statutory protection and encouragement of trade union membership. This paper is based on the findings of a major research study on trade union membership and organising in retail (Dribbusch 2003). The study focuses on the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), the former Gewerkschaft Handel, Banken und Versicherungen (HBV) in Germany which merged with other unions in summer 2001 to build the 'Unified Union in the Service Sector' Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di and the Dutch FNV Bondgenoten (respectively its predecessor until 1998 the FNV Dienstenbond). All three are by far the biggest unions in the retail industry in Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Trade union data was used during the research to explore in some depth the development and structure of trade union membership in the retail trades. Furthermore it is based on more than 60 interviews with experts from the three unions. Those interviews included the leading national officials responsible for organising, full-time officers from the areas and districts and lay officials from different stores in each country." [excerpt]
Keywords retail trade; Netherlands; Great Britain; private sector; trade union; customs union; EU; economic union; economy; Western Europe; labor market; labor; unemployment; commerce; economic policy
Classification Organizational Sociology; Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture
Document language English
Publication Year 2005
City Düsseldorf
Page/Pages 29 p.
Series WSI-Diskussionspapier, 136
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications
data provider This metadata entry was indexed by the Special Subject Collection Social Sciences, USB Cologne