The adoption of new management strategies and flexible working practices in the manufacturing industry has caused a fragmentaion of the traditional collective base of British trade unions. Such changes have led some commentators to argue that, in order to survive, manufacturing unions must reject oppositional stances and instead offer support for company objectives, work reforms and partnership relations with management at the workplace level. This article compares the responses of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) and the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union (MSF) to the rapid and wide-ranging restructuring of the UK's aerospace industry. The article questions current typologies of union policy and identity and associated prescriptive analysis of appropriate union strategy. We argue that such prescriptive analysis understates the complexity of union behaviour at the workplace level. Our findings suggest that the local traditions of workplace organizing far outweigh the influence of national union strategy. In the case of the MSF, the workplace unions failed to engage with the restructuring of work and were constrained by technical union traditions of sectionalism. By contrast, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) workplace unions were able to adapt their historical form of organizing, based on work group representation and job control, to maintain significant constraints against managerial prerogatives.
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