Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Why Join? Why Stay? Instrumentality, Beliefs, Satisfaction and Individual Decisions on Union Membership

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Why Join? Why Stay? Instrumentality, Beliefs, Satisfaction and Individual Decisions on Union Membership

Article excerpt

Union membership is a function of an array of interacting forces operating at the level of the individual, the workplace, the enterprise and the national and international economy. Most studies, which have focused either on the macro level or on the micro level, have rarely acknowledged the other. To disentangle and dissect all these influences would require, amongst other things, a thorough analysis of the determinants and processes of union and employer strategies, the political economy of the state, and historical and emerging technological, structural and social change. Such a comprehensive task is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I focus on the micro level--in particular, on the attitudes and behaviour of individual employees, primarily in response to perceptions of unions, their jobs and management--but in doing so emphasise that this represents only a partial analysis of the determinants of union membership. Several key questions about the micro-determinants of union membership are asked, and addressed using a unique dataset.

1. Literature on the determinants of union membership

As this study focuses on the way in which perceptions of the union, the job and management affect union membership, this brief overview of the literature does not, therefore, canvass the other explanations, including the structure of the labour market, the business cycle and the role of the state, that have been posited to influence union membership.

A number of studies have distinguished between 'ideological' and 'instrumental' reasons for belonging to a union. To make these conceptual distinctions researchers have used various names with varying degrees of elegance--such as 'enterprise unionateness' and 'society unionateness' or 'social unionateness' and 'instrumental unionism' and 'social unionism' (eg Prandy, Stewart and Blackburn, 1974, 1982). In this paper, the term 'union sympathy' is used to describe the general, ideological views about unions held by employees, (1) and 'union instrumentality' to describe the extent to which employees consider they have benefited from union membership.

Some studies show measures of the general image of unions to have been strong influences upon the likelihood of union membership or propensity in the US (Schriesheim, 1978; Getman, Goldberg and Hermann, 1976; Youngblood etal, 1984; Deshpandeand Fiorito, 1989; Fiorito, 1992), UK (Beynon and Blackburn, 1972) and Belgium (Geves, 1992). However, ideological motivations appeared to be less important than other considerations for union joiners in other studies from the UK (Goldthorpe et al, 1968; Mercer and Weir, 1972; Cooketal, 1975; Waddington and Whitston, 1993), Belgium (Baupain, 1992), and the Netherlands (Van de Vail, 1970). Several Australian studies have shown the importance of ideological views of unions in influencing membership of Australian unions (Christie and Miller, 1989; Christie, 1992; Deery and DeCieri, 1991; Grimes, 1994), but they are silent on whether they affect decisions to join or leave unions or both.

Union instrumentality--the perceived ability of unions to deliver benefits for members--is the variable that is most consistently related to: union support in US studies (Fiorito and Greer, 1982; Fiorito et al, 1986; Wheeler and McClendon, 1991; Farber, 1990); pro-union voting, joining and propensity to join (Premack and Hunter, 1988; Montgomery, 1989); and union satisfaction (Glick, Mirvis and Harder, 1977; Guest and Dewe, 1991). However, union sympathy and instrumentality may vary between situations and countries (Gallagher and Strauss, 1991). The balance between social and instrumental motivations may also vary between different types of workers (eg Batstone, Boraston and Frenkel, 1977). There is no Australian evidence on the balance of instrumental and ideological motivations for union membership or the mechanisms by which they work.

Satisfaction with a member's union has been shown to be an important determinant of the decision to stay in or leave a union (Klandermans, 1986) and in hypothetical or actual behaviour in union ballots in the US (Bigoness and Tosi, 1984; Leigh, 1986). …

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