Employee status and collectivism: a study of managerial and professional trade unionism

Copley, Jane (2014) Employee status and collectivism: a study of managerial and professional trade unionism. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This research examines the managerial and professional status of members of three case-study unions: Nautilus International, Prospect and the Transport and Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA). It considers the extent to which members' behaviour in these unions constitutes a shift away from the individual and towards the collective. Where these members have traditionally sought to preserve their career and livelihood by reinforcing individualism and self-interest, a definitive set of circumstances driven by labour market and workplace change has produced an unlikely materialisation in the form of collectivism. This research demonstrates how facets that have previously characterised, in existing literature, the managerial and professional worker, are undergoing something of a reconfiguration. For example, attitudes towards political neutrality, preference for a non-militant, conciliatory bargaining machinery and aversion to industrial action are changing among members of the case-study unions. This sea-change is subtle, inconspicuous, at times tentative, and by no means indicative of a large-scale transformation, and yet it is notable in terms of identifying a behavioural and attitudinal move away from what have been considered to be the 'benefits' of individualism and towards support for a collective approach. The research focuses on the roles of key actors (predominantly managerial and professional-grade members of the three unions) and analyses the scope of change to which they have been exposed, and how this has informed an inclination towards collectivism. This process discovered three key themes around which key actors were found to cohere: partnership, industrial action and political profile and affiliation. How these aspects were addressed by the three unions provide a valuable insight into the way in which these unions are sustaining resilience against a more general backdrop of trade union membership decline. The study concludes that an aggregation of economic, political and work factors have combined to produce an environment that has become conducive to collectivism among managerial and professional workers in the three case-study unions. This process, termed sub-collectivism here, is sophisticated, and is found to occur in many cases almost by default; cultivated inadvertently as this group of workers attempts to harness stability in a workplace whose complexion is increasingly comparable to that of their manual, or blue-collar, counterparts and whose precariousness is undoubtedly gathering momentum.

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