New technology, industrial relations and white collar trade unions : the case of the National and Local Government Officers Association
The decade since 1979 has seen the most rapid introduction of microelectronic technology in the workplace. In particular, the scope offered for the application of this new technology to the area of white collar work has meant that it is a sector where trade unions have been confronted with major challenges. However the application of this technology has also provided trade unions with opportunities for exerting influence to reshape traditional attitudes to both industrial relations and the nature of work. Recent academic research on the trade union response to the introduction of new technology at the workplace suggests that, despite the resources and apparent sophistication of modern trade unions, they have not in general been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered during this period of radical technological change,the argument being that this is due both to structural weaknesses and the inappropriateness of the system of collective bargaining where new technology issues are concerned. Despite the significance of the Public Sector in employment terms, research into the response of public sector white collar trade unions to technological change has been fairly limited. This thesis sets out the approach of the National and Local Government Officers Association (NALGO), the largest solely white collar union in the world with over three quarters of a million members employed in a wide range of public service industries. The thesis examines NALGO's response at national level and, through detailed case studies, at local level in respect of Local Government and Water Industry NALGO members. The response is then evaluated and conclusions drawn in terms of a framework based upon an assessment of the key factors relevant in judging the ability of NALGO to respond effectively to the challenges brought about by the technological revolution of the last ten years.