Explaining union participation and citizenship: Implication for union strategy

Ed Snape

    Research output: Working paper


    Unions in the UK, the USA and elsewhere have been in crisis in terms of membership trends, union density, and both economic and political influence. “Union renewal” has been an ongoing project for some time, linked to an attempt to focus more strongly on union organizing, rather than simply servicing existing members (e.g. Heery et al, 2000). A key concern is with the extent to which unions can wield the necessary resources to maintain their existing organisation and to organise new sectors, especially given the limited numbers of employed union officials and their dependence on lay activists to shoulder much of the burden of member servicing and recruitment (Gall and Fiorito, 2012b). Although some have suggested that member activism is not necessarily the key to union renewal in every situation, with central leadership strategy and the role of full-time officer involvement more significant in some campaigns, member activism emerges as a key factor in many cases (Hickey, Kuruvilla and Lakhani, 2010). Furthermore, in recent years, lay activism itself has been in decline as members are more reluctant to take on active roles (Gall and Fiorito, 2012b). Hence, in focusing on members’ union participation, this chapter deals with an issue of key importance to the future of unions.

    The chapter considers the factors associated with members’ commitment to and participation in their unions. Participation is conceptualised broadly to encompass formal and informal activities, including what may be considered as pro-union “citizenship”, in the sense of behaviours likely to benefit the union that are voluntary on the part of the individual. Key findings from the research literature are highlighted and the policy implications for unions are discussed, addressing Gall and Fiorito’s (2012b) suggestion that the union commitment and renewal literatures need to be better integrated if they are to provide effective guidance to unions. The aim is not to provide a meta-analysis of the studies, nor even a comprehensive review. Rather, the chapter provides a selective but reasonably representative review of the research, with a focus on drawing out the implications for union strategy. There is also a discussion of future research needs, outlining what needs to be done if the literature is to provide more specific guidance to unions.

    Draft submitted for the edited book by Gregor Gall (editor) Handbook of Labour Unions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 2024

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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