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Genuine Renewal or Pyrrhic Victory? The Scale Politics of Trade Union Recognition in the UK

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There is an ongoing debate within radical geography concerned with the trade union response to the hegemony of business interests apparent under neoliberal capitalism. In this paper, I contribute to this debate by exploring recent attempts to renew trade union organisation in the UK following decades of decline. I argue that, despite recent successes in stemming falling membership numbers and signing new recognition agreements, closer inspection reveals flaws in the renewal process that reflect the underlying nature of scale politics within the union movement itself. In particular, centralised strategies at the national level are failing to re‐energise local‐level union organisation leading to a rather hollow and pyrrhic renewal process. Drawing upon both macro‐level analysis and evidence from a particular industry case study, I suggest that unions rethink their organisational geographies and scalar relations if they wish to re‐connect with the grassroots and at a broader level remain a progressive force in the changing economic landscape.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography and Geomatics, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK;, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2005


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