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RecensionsBook Reviews

The Future of Worker Representation edited by Geraldine Healy, Edmund Heery, Phil Taylor, and William Brown, London: Palgrave, 2004, 325 pp., ISBN 1-4039-1759-0.[Record]

  • Miguel Martínez Lucio

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  • Miguel Martínez Lucio
    University of Bradford School of Management, UK

The book is the product of research from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council’s large “Future of Work” project directed by Professor Peter Nolan at the University of Leeds. There are 22 projects attached to this initiative. It represents one of the most significant research based initiatives directed at understanding the extent of change within British employment relations. There has been a range of texts produced by Palgrave under the heading, The Future of Work Series. This series represents one of the most significant sets of publications in British employment relations. The projects and the books aim to counter the sometime view that the nature of work is changing beyond recognition and that there has been a major rupture with traditional forms of regulation. Of the series, this must be one of the most important interventions. It brings together work on the subject of trade union renewal in a national context where trade unions and workers have seen some of the most extensive changes. The editors of this edition are leading figures in the area and have brought together an array of relevant commentators. The book looks at two issues: the new challenges to worker representation and the responses of trade unions to them. The question of how trade unions respond to change at work has been a focus of discussion for some time. However, the book manages to focus on the array of responses and the way in which the form of representation is being developed. So often the question of renewal is seen through the prism of traditional trade union structures and a uni-dimensional workforce. The editors have avoided this by starting with a selection of five chapters that focus on a variety of workers: IT specialists, call centre staff, employees in multi-agency environments, minority ethnic women, and non-standard workers. The chapters argue that there is ample scope for representation within such categories. Hyman et al. argue with regards to IT specialists that there is evidence of unions taking a broader view of the career and needs of workers, whilst the chapter by Bain et al. on call centres manages to outline how there is no singular type of worker or employment emerging from this new sector and that there are a variety of issues and experiences around which organized labour can engage. Such changes in the nature of work and their implications are discussed by Marchington et al. who see multi-agency environments as providing an organizational challenge to worker voice. This latter point is echoed by Heery et al. on non-standard workers who, whilst outlining novel trade union approaches, do acknowledge that the challenge to unions is a structural one and not just a strategic one. Meanwhile, Healy et al. discuss the collective interests of minority ethnic women and how these relate to the challenge of management and trade unionism. In discussing low-paid work, Wills presents a chapter which argues that the solution may emerge from beyond the workplace such is the nature of the challenge: she argues that the role of alliances and a more social-community approach are vital to any process of renewal. The second half of the book starts presenting the reader with a range of strategies that have emerged with regards to worker representation. Munro and Rainbird illustrate the role of voice-renewal in terms of how learning strategies may become a significant platform for developing a new relationship between trade unions and worker needs. However, they point to the need for a strong regulatory system of support to ensure that such a link can be clearly established. This question of unions responding …