The dynamics of shop steward organisation, activity and consciousness : the experience of three Merseyside manufacturing plants between the late 1960s and early 1990s
Enpirical case study analysis of shop steward organisation within three specific manufacturing plants in Merseyside has been conducted with the aim of contributing to an understanding of the dynamics of steward organisation, activity and consciousness within British manufacturing industry more generally. This involves not merely a snap-shot of contemporary developments but an historical overview of the past 20 years that will be of relevance to an understanding of potential future trends. Methods of data collection include extensive interviews - with shop stewards, union members, managers and full-time union officials - analysis of documentary evidence and personal observation. The research is informed by a Marxist analytical framework, namely that there is a contradiction in the nature of workplace trade unionism - between conflict and acconinodation in stewards' relationship to management, between democracy and bureaucracy in stewards' relationship to rank and file members and between independence and dependence in stewards' relationship to full-time union officials. Because the balance struck between these interrelated and overlapping tendencies varies, depending on the level of workers' confidence, activity and militancy vis-a-vis management, an evaluation is made of the different 'micro-level' factors which affect the balance of bargaining power in each workplace and of the way these are located within the much broader 'macrolevel' social, economic and political context of the changing balance of class forces in society, with a contrast being drawn between the broad upturn in workers' struggles during the 1970s and the downturn of the 1980g . A central concern is a critique of Eric Batstone's 'strong bargaining relations' model of pragmatic shop steward organisation, which, as the case studies illustrate, merely serves to reinforce the limitations and compromises of workplace trade unionism within capitalist society. The distinctive potential role of revolutionary socialist organisatlon and leadership is posed as a vital missing element.