Workplace Industrial Relations in the General Print Sector Covered by National Bargaining
Set against a background of technological change, national bargaining and union merger, this thesis considers the impact of a changing structural, economic and political climate on the resilience of national pay bargaining within general print, a little documented but important section of the economy. It seeks to examine contemporary workplace industrial relations where, against national trends, national bargaining has been resilient. It is in the light of there being a long association with strong, regulatory unionism within the sector that this study seeks to explore the reality of workplace industrial relations under national bargaining. There has been a wealth of theoretical and empirical data produced on the background to the wider debate on the declining influence of multi-employer bargaining across the UK economy. However, little work has been committed to the general printing sector that investigates why, in the face of fundamental changes to industrial relations practice, the national agreement for this sector appears to have continued relatively unscathed. The thesis draws on the experience of twelve branches with respect to the impact of the national agreement; three case studies in general print sector companies located in the South West, Humberside and Anglia regions; and on documentary evidence and participant observation. Analysis of the thesis was informed by classical and contemporary writers on industrial relations. The thesis finds a shift from traditional adversarial approaches to partnership in national agreement negotiations. The thesis reveals that at the workplace level, the chapel structure remains intact with its traditional, hierarchal structure and the accompanying issues of gender segregation and worker exclusion remaining firmly embedded within chapels. Behind this appearance of chapel strength an air of apathy and poor organisation impacts on union activity and local bargaining. The thesis concludes by critiquing shifts away from traditional bargaining and questions the state of workplace organisation with changes in union structure. Importantly, the thesis presents data on the state of collective bargaining in the sector, and in particular identifies a shift from the traditional adversarial approach to partnership in the national agreement; it also identifies the difference in the image and reality of workplace organisation in the sector where behind the appearance of chapel strength lies an air of apathy and poor organisation that ultimately impacts on chapel activity and local bargaining. Using Kelly’s model for union renewal the thesis assesses the level of union activity and considers the likelihood of increased union activity in the workplace in the general print sector.