The strategic capacity of unions in different industrial relations ecosystems

2017-02-06T02:05:29Z (GMT) by Pekarek, Andreas Helmut
Faced with hostile conditions and declining membership, unions in Australia and many other countries have reconsidered and adapted the way they pursue their objectives. These developments have given rise to a growing international literature on ‘union revitalisation’ or ‘union renewal’. Much of this research has focused on identifying effective strategies for unions to reverse their flagging fortunes. One line of enquiry has highlighted the central role of unions’ ‘resources’ and ‘capabilities’ to their capacity to pursue different strategies (‘strategic capacity’). A number of significant theoretical and empirical gaps in the knowledge of union resources, capabilities and strategic capacity remain. The main aim of this thesis is therefore to investigate union resources and capabilities, and to develop a new conceptual framework for analysing the relationship between union environments and their strategic capacity. To this end, three research questions are posed, concerning: the nature of different union resources, capabilities and strategic actions; the relationship between contextual factors and union strategic capacity; and, the role of unions’ dynamic capabilities in adapting their strategic capacity. These questions are examined using case studies of four unions matched in two countries (Australia and Germany) and two industries (telecommunications and food manufacturing). The period examined spans the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. The two telecommunications unions are the Communications, Electrical, and Plumbing Union of Australia (CEPU) and Germany’s Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (United Services Union) – or ver.di as it is generally known. The two food manufacturing unions are the National Union of Workers (NUW) in Australia and its German counterpart, the Gewerkschaft Nahrung Genuss Gaststätten (The Union of Food, Hospitality and Allied Workers) – or NGG for short. The case studies are based on analyses of qualitative data drawn from multiple sources, including interviews, documents and observational techniques. The case studies highlight similarities as well differences in the strategic capacity of the four unions. The analysis shows that patterns in unions’ strategic capacity reflect common institutional and industry parameters to a considerable degree. In addition, the findings identify factors which facilitate and constrain the development of unions’ strategic capacity over time, thus shedding light on union innovation. Drawing on these insights, this thesis develops an innovative new framework based on the idea of ‘IR ecosystems’ for analysing the strategic capacity of unions in different contexts. The IR ecosystems framework is then used to generate a series of testable propositions which highlight its potential to contribute to the development of union theory and practice.