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Organizing Strategies In Uk Us And Australia Management Essay

During the 1990s, unionism in UK, USA and Australia faced severe problems with their membership, because of environmental (social, economical, political) changes in the international background. The route of their problems proved to be their organizing strategies or the lack of them. Nowadays, the unions seem to deal with the same problems. This paper highlights the contribution of the “organizing model” in the unions’ strategies back then and recognizes the help it can provide if it is modified for the current circumstances. The role these environmental changes played in the past, as well as in the present will be explored.

Unionism, membership, “organizing model”


Organizing is one of the most important factors each operation has to face and therefore it is also very important for the trade unions and their strategies. Trade unions all over the world have faced a dramatic decline especially during the first half of the 1980’s. Reasons for this decline can be considered the globalization, the technological change towards a more automatic industrial world, economic recessions, such as the turmoil in mid 70’s and of course in USA the Reagan era, and the Reagan National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). According to Hurd (2001), the changes described above, made the national union leaders to try to deal with the disadvantages in the existing union practice. As it was previously mentioned, reasons for this massive decline are the changes in economy and the labor market, the employers’ attitudes and the entrance of the big MNCs, the legislative and regulatory environment, and even the change of the workers’ attitudes, as the white-collar workers have progressively been more than the blue-collar ones.

Trade unions are supposed to be the “shelter” for all workers and therefore weak trade unions results in defenseless workers. After the recent economic crisis many businesses face financial problems and the workers are in a constant doubt about their working future. No trade unions, possibly means no workers’ rights. Governments also seem to promote stronger reforms for the workers, such as the pension reforms, or the working hours, as today part-time jobs tend to be the most popular job offer from the companies. As governments are thought to have lost their power in regulating markets, it is time for the trade unions to handle these situations and protect their members. In order to do that, unions have to change their way of organizing and renew their strategies. For these reasons the researcher decided to cope with this subject. In the past, similar environmental changes, as well as the lack of organizing strategies, endangered the existence of the trade unions. Today is there still such a danger?

In order trade unions to be strong, they need to have a large number of members who will support their actions. Trade union membership has dramatically declined during the 1980s and it seems that trade unions face the same situation today as union membership tends to be smaller year by year. The general background theory will be based on an approach regarding the organizing strategies of the trade unions in Britain, USA and Australia when the density of their unions was very low. With the help of the existing literature, this paper will try to explore, as to what trade unions have to change to their organizing strategies and become strong again. These countries have faced in the past problems with the membership numbers in their trade unions and were in a position to overcome them. Then, many people were in favor of unions focusing their organizing strategies to the existing members and try to make their role more vital or active, but after the hard numbers of labor’s dramatic decline, they changed their mind and turned to new methods of members’ recruitment. Trade unions’ difficulty in the maintenance of their membership levels and political influence has made them to turn to new ways of organizing. The US labor movement was one of the first ones which searched for new strategies, like the “organizing model” of trade unionism, which seemed to have affected also some other Anglo-Saxon movements, such as Australia and Britain. The organizing effectiveness through the strategies of each trade union will be an important part of the paper.

The sample of the countries is what makes this research different. The choice of these specific unions is not random, since the first two trade unions have played a huge role all these years internationally. Concerning the Australian trade unions, there is not much research about them, regardless the history of the Australian trade unionism. Until now, there is no other paper to examine these three countries together and present the common and the different reasons that led their trade unions organizing strategies to a change. The research will not be based only in historical or statistical data, but also to interviews and questionnaires that will give to the paper and even more personal and unique identity.

The researcher’s interest is focused on the following aspects. Economical, social, political events, or a combination of all the above have influenced the trade unions’ strategies? Can a change in the organizing strategies of the trade unions to prevent or at least minimize the effects of these environmental changes? The role the trade unions play today in their national context, allows them to organize strategies? Due to globalization, the MNCs are gaining advantages all over the world and therefore there is less space for the trade unions to be organized in a way that their rights will be protected. When they are under the fear that they can be replaced without second thought, than trade unions should be present and protect them, but are they? This is the reason why the researcher wants to examine today’s union organizing strategies and if there any nowadays. In the past trade unions played a very significant role and it is important to see what happened and this role changed so drastically.

The research project will therefore seek to explore and investigate the following:

To what extend the “organizing model” could have positive results today as it had in the past in the trade unions’ membership degree?

Is it possible for the trade unions today to handle the environmental changes and not be affected, as it has occurred in the past?

Literature Review

All trade unions around the world have faced a series of challenges in different ways and degrees. Distinct examples of these challenges, as were described in Frege and Kelly (2003) research, are the intensified internationalization of financial and product markets, the decentralization of neo-corporatist and industry level collective bargaining and finally the changing structures of employment (many women entered the labor market) as well as the European economic integration. European economic integration may not have affected directly the countries of this particular research, Britain, USA and Australia, but it has definitely influenced them because of the globalized world that the businesses operate today. The trade unions belonging in these countries have also experienced membership decline because of loss of effectiveness concerning the collective bargaining coverage and because of the heterogeneity of the possible members the trade unions are called to deal with.

In order for this situation to be reversed, trade unions have to take some action if they do not want their role to be completely eliminated. One solution for this could be the unions to be organized in a new base and plan their strategies in a better way. The meaning of organization for the unions focuses on the strengthening of membership, and perhaps, on the creation and strengthening of the representation of the unions in the workplace. This also may help the unions to succeed a better mobilizing activity and labor market power (Frege and Kelly, 2003). If the way trade unions are now organized were restructured, this could help unions to empower their organization in these areas, and according to Frege and Kelly (2003:9): “organizational restructuring could strengthen union organization through economies of scale and rationalization; could increase union labor market or political power, or both, by eliminating inter-union competition and division; and, lastly, the combination of additional resources and increased power could encourage more workers to join unions and boost membership”.

According to Poole (1986), labor strategies began with the cooperation of employers, management and the state (Frege and Kelly, 2003:11). Nowadays, that the role of these actors are not the same, as it used to be, social and economic changes are issues that definitely have affected the unions’ movements. Examples of these kind of change are first of all a tendency to services than manufacturing (white and blue collar employees), second the fact that more and more women have got into the labor market but many of them are still in part-time, many new small firms have been expanded, which are often difficult to be organized and finally the internalization of the industries have put much pressure to the markets (Frege and Kelly, 2003). As it is natural, these changes have not affected all the countries in the exact way and therefore the degree of effect ranges in each different country. For example, UK had one of the highest levels of unemployment in the OECD in the 1980s and a rate of manufacturing job loss above the average of the countries belonging in the OECD. In the USA this rate was not that bad. It is true that, in the more decentralized systems, Anglo-American systems, including UK, USA and Australia, bargaining coverage and union membership have a tighter bond, and as a result unions must organize also non-union workplaces if they want to keep the collective agreements in the same or even higher degree (Frege and Kelly, 2003). Consequently, according to Frege and Kelly (2003) organizing activity is far more important component of union action in the economies of USA, UK and Australia, which are considered to be liberal market economies.

In order to improve the membership of the unions, organizing techniques must be applied, in order to have positive results. Here are presented some of the techniques Heery (2002) suggested in his study, which include: “the ‘mapping’ of the targeted workforce to identify potential members and activists”, “the use of a representative ‘organizing committee’ to draw workers into the campaign”, “reliance on ‘actions’ to render the union a visible focus for worker identification”, “person-to-person and ‘like-to-like’ recruitment and the identification of ‘levers’ in the media and wider community that can be used to pressure resistant employers” (Heery, 2002:27). As a result the potential members must have a sense of injustice for the employers and also have the feeling that the trade union is strong and effective enough in order to protect them in any difficult situation that may occur. Trade unions must evaluate the traditional union strategies, their goals and their effectiveness and then find new strategies that could have substantial results on unions’ culture for a long run period (Robinson, 2000). According to Boxall and Heynes (1997), unions that are not supported by neither the employees nor the employers will not be able to survive.

As union membership continued to decline, many unions decided to follow another way of organizing, namely the “organizing model”. As it is stated in Cregan (2005), the organizing model started in the United States with the creation of the Organizing Institute in 1989, and until 1995, with the help of John Sweeny’s “New Voice” leadership, and caused a major change in the way unions were organized (Cregan, 2005). Referring to the model, in more details, its target was to recruit new members and provide them will all the available union services, and not stuck only with the existing members. The “organizing model” paid attention to the role the workplace leaders were playing and how they could help in bringing new members to the union. This new system had as a result a decentralization of power the leaders of the unions used to have. The new activity the union officials had to accomplish was to organize a recruitment effort that was to be made by the union members themselves in the workplace mostly (Cregan, 2005). The “organizing model” was not just a new model that was applied for some time, but it actually brought change in union priorities and strategies. The recruitment of new members is the priority now and not just the “servicing” of the existing members. Applying the organizing model, it means that workers have now more power to their hands as their attempt to persuade new members make them more active and give also a sense that the whole trade unions become stronger, as now workers can solve their problems on their own without external representation (Cregan, 2005).

The people that supported the “organizing model” from the very beginning claimed that unions needed to change their strategies and pay attention to the growth of their density, by activating in their workplace in order to have access to more potential members, and ensure a future for themselves (Cooper, Patmore, 2002). According to the “organizing model”, in order to succeed in strengthening the union density, the members should be active in their unions and try all of them to recruit new members. Therefore, what the officers should do was to make the existing members more active in order to persuade new people from their workplace to the union, and the officers, by their turn, to create a “culture of collective identity” among the workers (Cooper, Patmore, 2002:9). In order to create this unity in culture among the members, the new union campaigns should include the meanings of “justice”, “dignity” and “respect” (Cooper, Patmore, 2002:10). The “organizing model” could give to unions a real chance to be strong again and find new ways of organizing, as not to face again the decline that was described during the past decades. The unions should now be more prepared to face any environmental changes and grow stronger through them. According to Cooper and Patmore (2002), the “organizing model” represents the “good” side of the unions. During the decades of the membership decline, members were passive towards the activities of their unions, even when these concerned the strategic directions of their union, and they were only enjoying the benefits from them. In the twentieth century, unions turned to be bureaucratic organizations without contact with their members. All this “bad” union behavior is described by the “servicing” model (Cooper, Patmore, 2002:10).

In this research there will be examined the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: If the trade unions are in a position to adjust the environmental changes that affect them, then their membership degree will be eventually increased.

Union membership in Britain showed a decline from 1979 until 1998. The causes for this result are described by Charlwood (2001) and are summarized in the fact that the unions did not manage to have a bargaining presence in the new forms of the workplaces that were created by the social and economical changes. Namely, the macro-economic changes, the changes in the workplace as well as in the legal framework by the state, the changes in the industrial relations and the management practices and finally the recruitment activities from the unions are some of the most important reasons for the decline of membership in the trade unions in Britain (Charlwood, 2001).

The environmental changes, either social or economical, brought to the US trade unions a wave of mergers by the end of 1990s, which turned the largest and most powerful US unions into “general” unions having as members workers with varying skills in various sectors (Robinson, 2000). These “general” unions organized the unorganized members, provided labor-management partnership and as it is stated by Robinson (2000), the direction of change in the 1990s woke up the leaders of the trade unions as to give life again to the labor movement and as a result to create again powerful American trade unions. Trade unions decided to give a considerable amount of resources in order to find new ways of organizing in areas and groups of people that were innovative for those times. The women and the people of color gave a big boost to the union membership growth.

Australian trade unions were also affected by the socio-economical changes, since the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) noticed by the late 1980s that the members of the unions were decreasing significantly, and it was not until 1993 that the ACTU decided to start organizing the unions. ACTU emphasized the benefits of the workplace activism, the organization of the workers that were not members in any union or were outside the workplace, as well as the use of advanced technology combined with management techniques (Carter, Cooper, 2002).

Hypothesis 2: The implementation of the “organizing” model in the trade unions’ strategies today in a modified form, will bring positive results to their union density.

North America was the first to promote and implement the “organizing” model during the 1990s, a model that was imitated by trade unions in other countries of the world too as well as a turn from a “servicing” to an “organizing” model (Robinson, 2000). This new era brought changes also in the trade unions as their targets were to organize the unorganized workers and give them public benefits, even if they were not members, women could be not only members but also have a chance of a leadership position and finally they tried to promote policies that would benefit all the workers around the world, concerning the international competition. All these innovations that the US trade unions promoted had also many positive impacts to the affiliates in AFL-CIO.

According to Heery (2002), most British unions have tried hard to turn their organizing plans into practice because full-time union officials did not think that recruitment activity would have positive results and it would be a waste of time and resources. Since then the numbers of the union density continued to become lower and therefore the unions had to spend more time and resources to improve their previous performance in this area. Therefore, the unions decided to develop training courses for their members, to spend more money into recruitment efforts and finally more dedicated organizing officials have been hired (TUC, 2000b). One of the reasons for this situation is the fact that the British unions were not able to control their responses to the environmental changes, described above. As a result, it is of equal importance both the changes in the environment that the unions face but also the reaction the unions have in these changes. British unions were not able to respond adequately to these conditions during the 1980s. According to Charlwood (2001), British unions that are capable of implying an organizing model, will have less difficulty to face hostile employers and therefore workplace.

During the 1990’s, the “organizing model” influenced also the union movements in Australia. In 1993, unions’ officials decided to run a survey of the levels of membership in North America, and the results showed that in both countries the reason for this membership decline was the lack of organizing culture (ACTU 1993: 35). Therefore, in 1994, it was established a program, called Organizing Works, which was for “young organizers modeled on the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute” (Carter, Cooper, 2002). “Organizing Works” was meant to develop the organizing and communicating skills of the affiliate unions. The results of this effort, from 1993-2000, are described below. “Organizing Works” succeeded in increasing the number of the new members and the organization of some successful campaigns especially in health and retail sector (Carter, Cooper, 2002). The numbers are impressive, since by the end of 2000, “over three hundred Organizing Works trainees had infiltrated every union in the country and became the reference point to everyone who wanted to become part of the union movement. Despite the change of an era in the Australian trade unionism, there is not much research on this particular subject.

For the examination of these two hypotheses the researcher will depend on the literature review that was described above. It is also important to mention the fact that the national context of each trade union will be taken into consideration and events that may have caused a certain outcome of the country’s trade unionism.


The methodology that will be applied by the study has been chosen in order to select information and reach conclusions about the organizing strategies the trade unions follow in UK, USA and Australia and what affects them and the role unions used to play in the past. The idea of this research started from the fact that trade unions all over the world face enough problems because of their membership decline, which is caused by environmental changes. Even trade unions with significant power have difficulties to struggle with these situations. The difference with the smaller unions is that in the big countries the unions have the power to be organized and change their fate. Then, the smaller countries could be able to do the same, by following their examples. As it was mentioned before, these countries are the most appropriate ones for the research, since they have a long history of unionism and consist example for other unions too. There are also enough data for them and resources, so the research will be more reliable. The number of the countries used for this paper is three because first it would be interesting to see how changes affect the unions in countries that are so far away one from the other and second what points these unions have in common. There is no other paper that compares the three particular countries together. But the question here is whether the unions in these countries, which should be an example for the rest, are in position to solve their problems.

The main purpose of this study is to obtain an insight into the practices the trade unions moved to, such as recruitment methods, in order to react to the declining membership they faced in the past and which is their position nowadays. Since the problems they face today are of the same nature the implementation of similar policies could help them. For this reason, this research will take an exploratory form. According to Sekaran (2002:123) an exploratory study can be done when there are not many information about the subject, or when no information is available. The purpose will be to gain familiarity and a deeper understanding about the issue.

For the purpose of this research, and in order to achieve the objectives there will be collected and will be used both primary and secondary data. The secondary data will give to the researcher the opportunity to form background information which are necessary as to have a completed project for both the researcher and the reader. Regarding the primary data, they will be collected in two ways. Firstly, a questionnaire survey will be conducted with the members and non-members of the unions in each of the three selected countries. This questionnaire will include questions about the reasons of the declining membership nowadays, how similar are things today compared to the past, why someone should or should not join a trade union, as well as suggestions about the recruitment methods the unions should follow. The workers can be both blue and white collar workers, in order to compare their answers. Secondly, phone interviews will be also take place with the leaders of the trade unions’ councils. From the leaders it will be asked a brief description of the situation today, the strategies they follow concerning their existing members as well as future members, the services they provide and how they deal with any unexpected situations. In order to be able to come to contact with all these people, the researcher will sent emails to the leaders of the trade unions and phone them in order to inform them about the research. Looking also to the websites of the trade unions of each country, someone can follow them either on facebook, or even twitter, so the communication and approach will be much easier. Hopefully, they will be able to help and provide the questionnaire to their members.

The sample of the research is the next thing to think about. As Rescoe (1975) cites in Sekaran (2000:296), “sample sizes larger than 30 and less than 500 are appropriate for most research”. Considering this, the researcher would like to gather at least 30 questionnaires of each country in order to have reliable results. Regarding the interviews, if one representative of each trade union will be able to give an interview, then the researcher will be able to compare the comments between them and see also what role the national context plays to their decision strategies. The interviewing technique is one of the most productive methods of communication and it has the advantage to lead the discussion to the point the interviewer wants, so the target of the interview theme will not be lost. In this way, many different opinions from different people that are all influenced by the trade unions’ strategies will come into light and taken into consideration.

The method of research with questionnaires and interviews has advantages and disadvantages. Beginning with the advantages, there is a large amount of information on the one hand, but without being too much on the other. The responses are gathered in a standardized way, so questionnaires are pretty objective. Furthermore, questionnaires are familiar to most people and they also reduce time pressure. Finally, it is important that the researcher's own opinions will not influence the respondent to answer questions in a certain way. Many different opinions or many similar opinions lead to a reliable result, which every researcher needs for his study. Continuing with the advantages of the interviews, they are versatile, there is always the ability from the interviewer to guide the discussion where he wants and also has the chance to get more ideas that he might not have thought, as the person who is interviewed has more specific knowledge to the subject.

On the other hand, there are also disadvantages in both questionnaires and interviews. Namely, questionnaires do not have the ability to explain any points in the questions that participants might misinterpret. Furthermore, respondents may answer superficially especially if the questionnaire takes a long time to complete or if the respondents are not well aware of the answer and they just want to finish it. There is always the possibility that the respondents will give an answer in order to promote a particular idea. On the contrary, in the interview process it is possible the respondent to give just an answer in order to please the interviewer, not to mention that interviews can be costly time consuming. It is not always possible for the both sides to have free time the same period. No study method has only advantages or disadvantages, but for this particular case, it is in the researcher’s mind that the method of the questionnaires and the interviews is the most appropriate one.

Because of globalization trade unions still face difficult times as well as problems of declining membership. Therefore, this study will give an incentive to the officers or the leaders who are responsible, as to know how to deal with these kinds of problems. It is even important for the employers or the managers of the companies because it is also for them crucial to know how to handle various situations and prevent bad outcomes related to the trade unions. Furthermore, the research will add more information to the strategies trade unions implement today and what they can do in order to improve their density, especially when we talk about the three of the most important trade unions around the world, which set an example for the rest of the unions. Trade unions used to play a very important role and provide safety for the employees. It would be very disappointing to see them not be able to survive through their difficulties. Further research could be conducted for other unions around the world, such as the ones who belong to countries in the European Union and compare their practices to the policies the trade unions of this research implement.

One of the most important difficulties in this research is to reach the respondents of the interviews and questionnaires. It is true that it is not easy to persuade people to give someone a phone interview without knowing you, but the purpose of the study and the final result will be reasons to make people help. If this way of research will not be successful, then the researcher will probably have to eliminate the study to secondary data, such as strategies and policies of the national union organizations (AFL-CIO for America, ACTU for Australia and TUC for Britain) as well as statistical data and other surveys related to the subject.

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