Research Handbook on the Future of Work and Employment Relations
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Research Handbook on the Future of Work and Employment Relations

Edited by Keith Townsend and Adrian Wilkinson

The broad field of employment relations is diverse and complex and is under constant development and reinvention. This Research Handbook discusses fundamental theories and approaches to work and employment relations, and their connection to broader political and societal changes occurring throughout the world. It provides comprehensive coverage of work and employment relations theory and practice.
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Chapter 5: Union Strategy and Circumstance: Bank to the Future and Forward to the Past?

Gregor Gall


5 Union strategy and circumstance: back to the future and forward to the past? Gregor Gall INTRODUCTION Can labor unions1 act strategically? If so, what would this look like and under what conditions can this happen? These questions can appear simultaneously extremely pressing and of almost complete irrelevance. This is because around the globe, unions are now so weakened and enfeebled compared to thirty to forty years ago. Thus, on the one hand, unions dramatically need to increase their power resources in order to fulfil their historical mission of (effective) independent representation of worker interests. Meanwhile, on the other hand, unions may seem to have passed the point of ‘no return’ where they are so denuded that they cannot ever again deliver upon their historical mission and, therefore, other means of representation must now be contemplated, including those offered by employers and neoliberal states. Yet if the starting point is taken that unions – no matter their atrophy, decline and disorganization – remain by far the largest and most important representational bodies for workers’ interests, then on this basis alone there is always at least the potential for their revitalization and renewal. With what resources they still have, it is plausible to suggest they can generate more, and those resources are a key determinant of the ability to prosecute and attain their goals.2 The contention of this chapter is that analysis of the ways of the past can help answer the questions posed above as well as help illuminate the basis for...

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