Union activism : an exploration of the differential consequences of employee and freelancer experiences

Jones, Edith Ann (2018) Union activism : an exploration of the differential consequences of employee and freelancer experiences. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The aim of this thesis is to explore how employee and freelancer lay active members of the UK union BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union), who are not employees of the union, view the effects of their activism on their professional and personal lives. In doing so it discusses whether participants’ views are affected by their definition of the term ‘activist’, and by the nature of their relationship with the union. Central to this study is the question of whether participants’ responses might differ depending on their employee or freelancer employment status.

In order to contextualise the study background desk based research into the existing literature is undertaken. It explores the key themes of trade union activism and employee and freelancer employment status, and the relevance of a range of theoretical perspectives is discussed. Overviews of the relevant aspects of the UK broadcast industries, and of BECTU’s history and structure, are provided in order to further inform the research.

A combined methods approach is adopted, providing qualitative and quantitative data in order to deliver comprehensive answers to the main research questions. The primarily qualitative research involves semi-structured interviews conducted with high profile union activists. A questionnaire completed by delegates attending BECTU’s Annual Conference in 2014 provides quantitative data to complement and enrich the findings of the qualitative data.

This thesis contributes to the existing literature about trade union activism by uncovering how its participants define the term ‘activism’ and assessing the effects of activism on individual members rather than on unions as entities. It illustrates the importance of seeking to understand and utilise participants’ definitions of value laden terms, rather than depending on researchers’ initial interpretations. It finds that although there are some differences between the effects of trade union activism on employees and on freelancers, how individuals’ view their relationship with the union influences the importance that they place on those effects.

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