Renewing New Zealand Unions: The Service And Food Workers’ Union & Living Wage Aotearoa
Trade unions and trade unionism are under serious threat in most industrialised countries, in what has been referred to as the ‘crisis in trade unionism’. The crisis is common to trade unions across the globe, consisting of a decline in membership and density, coupled with a loss of political influence and social standing. The crisis has been caused by changes in the political economies of the industrially developed nations. Social Movement Unionism (SMU) is one of the strategies to combat this crisis which has been embraced by unions and union movements in many of the Liberal Market Economies (LME). In the context of New Zealand, Jane Parker has looked at the possibility of SMU at a union movement level. However, at a single union level, the Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) has engaged with this vision of renewal through participation in the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand (LWANZ).
This paper will seek to place the SFWU’s engagement with this campaign within a theoretical framework of union renewal; that is, a re-imagining of trade union relationships in order to (re-)gain power along various dimensions. We will further consider the SMU literature and will draw on three concepts identified by Ross in her analysis of social unionism: the ethos, or “collective action frame”; the strategies or “repertoire”; and, the “internal organisational practices”, and how these interlink with the literature on union renewal. Of particular note will be the response of both the union and non-union participants in the LWANZ to the development of their relationships, and whether and how this is contributing to the successes of LWANZ and of union renewal.
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