Power and participation in a general union : patterns of organisation and democracy in three GMB regions
This study is about the organisation and government of the General Municipal and Boilermakers' from 1970 to 1985. Its focus is, as far as is known, unique in that it concentrates primarily on government at the regional level, examining the GMB's Birmingham, Liverpool and Northern regions. Rather than focusing explicitly on the policy issues related to recent legislation, it analyses the wider issues of power and participation relevant to the debate on union democracy. The thesis adopts an eclectic approach to union democracy, synthesising previous approaches within the framework of the vertical and horizontal dispersion of decision making developed by Undy et al, which is given a prescriptive dimension. The regional focus, and secondary focuses on intervening variables within the framework, are principally examined through conducting structured interviews with members and officers at all levels of the union. The research work is divided into four chapters, which follow chapters reviewing the literature and presenting the research focus, and giving an historical overview of the union up until the research period commences. The first examines the national level changes since 1970 and membership participation in the national political system. The other three chapters have a specific regional focus analysing regional variations in membership growth and participation at the local level; the locus of regional power and variations in participation in regional government; and membership participation in collective bargaining. The research contributes to knowledge of trade union government at the regional level; an almost completely explored and, it is argued, an important area which requires further research. It demonstrates the significant extent of regional variations within a single union and shows how these have led to markedly different levels of membership participation in decision making structures in the three regions. It shows that the commonly held view that GMB regional secretaries are barons of their own area is misplaced, noting constraints which prevent oligarchic domination of regions. It also highlights the pervasive, but long since neglected, influence of union constitutional provisions as a factor affecting union democracy. Finally, it suggests that the eclectic framework could be usefully adopted by future contributions to union democracy research.