An ethnographical study of three small trade unions: With particular reference to their structure, workings and prospects for survival.

  • Brian R. Stenner

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research project is an ethnographical study of three small trade unions. There has been no research carried out on these organisations, except for a limited number of histories. Yet they form a large, though decreasing, percentage of the trade unions in this country. The lack of research is surprising in the age when we are moving back to the idea that 'Small is Beautiful'. This study will, hopefully, remove some of this ignorance and see if the adage is true for trade unions, and will show why small unions have occupied an important part of labour history. The first part of the thesis examines how the project was instigated; the arguments for and against small trade unions; the reasons for the diminution in numbers; and the topical subject of union democracy and how small unions might measure on the efficiency/democracy continuum. The final chapter of the first section outlines the research methodology. In each union the full-time officers and Executive members were interviewed, documents were studied and meetings attended over an extended time period. As a result Chapters 5, 6 and 7 are case studies of the three unions. The project examines the history; structure; motivation of interviewees; communications; effectiveness in meeting objectives; and relationships with employers; other unions and external bodies. Finally interviewees were asked questions on the industrial environment in which they operated, and the prospects of their union surviving in view of the failure of many other small unions. The concluding chapter will, hopefully, give some clues on the way to survive. The one outstanding conclusion is the importance of the role and influence of the general secretary or other leaders. Union survival mainly depends upon them, although, of course, other factors such as the industrial environment and economic recession are important.
Date of Award1983
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

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